The fun part about skiing early season is that some lines are more technical and less filled in than they are the rest of the winter due to the low snowpack. The not-so-fun part about skiing early season is that some lines are more technical and less filled in than they are the rest of the winter due to the low snowpack. The trick is picking the ones that are more interesting with less snow in them, yet are still worthy of checking out.
The avalanche danger seems to be on the decrease on some aspects here in the Tetons, so I figured with a high pressure day forecasted over the weekend, it was a good time to try to get on some steeper terrain. The goal was the South Couloir of the East Prong, a point located between Mount Owen and Teewinot Mountain. In mid-season, the South Couloir becomes a pretty wide run or face, but in the early season, it tends to be a bit more couloir-like and has caught my eye over the years.
I was skiing with a young buck on this day, and Dorian Densmore and I started at sunrise as the Grand Teton and the surrounding peaks turned pink with alpenglow. After a short shuffle on the flats, we were soon skiing into the throat of Glacier Gulch and making our way up to Delta Lake. The snowpack was pretty thin on this section of the approach, which was a bummer because it was obvious we would really need to ski the lower part of the run rather slowly and cautiously, so as not to hit the many rocks and boulders still protruding from the snow. When we arrived at Delta Lake, the snowpack increased in depth, but there were still lots of obstacles we would need to avoid on the moraine up towards the Teton Glacier.
Since we were on south facing slopes, the sun was shining and it was rather warm, which felt great. When we arrived below the South Couloir of the East Prong, we saw that there was a 2â€™ avalanche crown across much of the face. This made us feel pretty good, since the line had already cleaned itself out, but there was still some hang-fire lingering above, which kept our attention. After a short skin up through some cookies below the couloir, we switched to booting as the slope steepened.
Booting went smooth and rather quick, and we stayed near the rocks on the side of the couloir where the snow was a bit firmer, more south facing and exposed to the sun. However, about 10-20â€™ from a col at the top of the couloir, a rocky protrusion pushed us into the middle of the line and onto some punchy wind-slab. Not wanting to push things too much, and since I have already surfed a releasing slab not too far from this location in the past, not to mention all the signs of avalanches on similar aspects, we decided to play to safe and ski from where we were.
The skiing was okay, and the snow was kind of a mix between dense powder, breakable crust and wind slab, pretty much the entire gamut of snow conditions. But, it felt great to be skiing down a steep Teton line under the warm sun once again, regardless of what the snow was like. Iâ€™d happily take a bit more snow though, since about 2-3000â€™ of the 5000â€™ decent was spent kick-turning and slowly negotiating our way through boulders and deadfall. Iâ€™m happy to pay-to-play for my turns, but it will be nice when we can just shred right to the valley, unhindered by a low snowpack. Come on snow!!!