Switching from a Swift. Silent. Deep. – Jackson Hole Air Force style mentality (The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Jackson Hole Air Force..) to the style of a skier who publicly wrote about and photographed his ski descents and adventures took a number of years. In the meantime, I sometimes wondered ‘Why blog about skiing?’
It wasn’t a consideration I took lightly. Trumpeting one’s ski descents seems incongruous to me; the descents should speak for themselves. I’ve historically been pretty low-key about things I’ve accomplished. Creating my personal history has gone that way. But history is the record of deeds that have been done. If I didn’t document the skiing, it seemed that no history would really exist. As the snow melted or the winds blew, the ski tracks would disappear just as surely as memories become fuzzy. This (largely but not exclusively) ski oriented site is an attempt to demonstrate my acceptance that I don’t live in a vacuum. I’m interested in what challenging ski routes other people have managed; it seemed that others would be interested in the limits I’ve pushed, and the gear I used to get it done.
The skiing itself hasn’t changed; I’m continually pushing my own limits. It’s the sharing aspect that’s new. To that end, I’ve done the majority of my ski descents without bringing a camera along. Unfortunately, those descents are only in my, and my partners’, memories. Perhaps I’ll do some picture-less posts sometime. Otherwise, I’ll keep plunging forward, camera in hand, having left behind the ‘Silent.’ aspect of the J.H.A.F. Swift. Silent. Deep. motto.
Of my descents for which a camera was present, these are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed skiing them!
Chouinard Couloir – Middle Teton, Teton Range: Named after the famed Yvon Chouinard, I had eyed this couloir ever since my foray down the Ellingwood Couloir right next to it. Narrow in spots and steep, with an aesthetic view of the Southern end of the Teton Range’s Cathedral Group Peaks, it’s everything your parents suggest you don’t ski.
Ford Couloir – Grand Teton, Teton Range: It’s more technical getting to the Ford Couloir than to some other descents, but once you arrive, you feel pretty special. Although the Grand Teton is skied regularly now, this South facing descent is still a large endeavor, and generally not crowded. It’s not the steepest of ski descents, but the exposures are about as large as you’ll find anywhere. The mountain, including the Ford, Chevy, Stettner route has yet to be skied in its entirety without either a downclimb or a rappel along the way.
Heart of Darkness, the Diving Board, and Rampage – Monte Cristo Ridgeline/Unnamed Peak, Wasatch Range:
HoD: As you top out on what people call Superior, the Heart of Darkness comes into view towards the West. It’s actually heart shaped on the Eastern side. This all changes when you peer down the West facing ski descent. Tighter than the seal on a packet of peanuts, steep, and either a burly downclimb or a rappel entrance keep this one from getting moguls. You’ll have to chop a ledge to put on your skis, too.
D.B. and Rampage: The exposures on these ramps carved into the side of a cliff aren’t as enormous as on the Grand Teton, but if you blow a turn and sail off the edge, your capability to create memories will be finished. In shade for much of the winter due to their position, the snow here can be perfect powder when other slopes have developed a crust. Unfortunately, these lines can also develop strange, windloaded layers that don’t exist elsewhere. Digging a snow pit is recommended!
Upwop-ular Couloir* - Upwop Peak, Wasatch Range: With its sunbaked Southwest aspect, it can be hard to find this couloir in ideal conditions. Named for its position and lack of name – Un-named Peak West of Pfiefferhorn – this summit doesn’t get a lot of attention from skiers. That could be due to the massive cliffs which encircle much of the peak! (* – unable to find a previous name for the line)
Hellgate Couloir – Cardiff Peak, Wasatch Range: Perhaps nearly equal parts exhilarating and intimidating, this line involves skiing above a massive cliff, then traversing ledges until reaching one of several rappel stations. From there, it’s down, down, down via rope until reaching the very narrow couloir which then awaits. With its location across the street from the Snowbird ski resort, this is a rare technical Wasatch line in sight of a large audience.
Bent Elbow* – Pfeifferhorn Peak, Wasatch Range: Branching off from the ultra-classic Northwest Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn, this obvious line has its own feel as it switches directions from due west to northeast, with a 70+ foot rappel at the intersection of compass lines. (* – unable to find a previous name for the line)
Ciochetti’s Ribbon – Devil’s Castle, Alta: This very technical line is less about turns and more about keeping the nerves from fraying while wearing skis. It’s more akin to ski rock climbing due to the constantly roped travel and exposure during the traverse. Intimidating enough that ski guru Andrew McLean saved it as the last ski descent to accomplish out of his book, the Chuting Gallery. Enough said.
Owen Spalding (from the Upper Saddle) - Grand Teton, Wyoming: Getting onto the Grand Teton from any angle is a beautiful thing. It’s especially nice to have brought a pair of skis along for the descent.
Cocoa Puffs Couloir* – Upwop Peak, Wasatch Range: Long, tall, and slender like bamboo (and only a bit wider), Cocoa Puffs suggests an affinity for ropework to get the line accomplished. Multiple lengthy rappels drop one deep into this narrow cleft. Once reaching a skiable point, the snow drops away beneath one’s feet in a pleasant, rewarding fashion. (* – unable to find a previous name for the line)
Memorial Couloirs #6, #7, and #8 – Exploring steep lines within sight of your home is a rare opportunity. Here, over the course of several days, three different challenging lines about which zero information was known, came together.
Snorkel Meter 3 in the Directissimo – Perhaps the least steep line in this compendium, but we got it in the best conditions I’ve probably ever had on a line this steep. Certainly the best on a ski descent with a mandatory rappel. Positively blower, in the best of ways.
As the Lighter, Faster, Farther movement has taken more solid hold in my thinking, the possibilities have broadened. Some favored ski linkups and long days:
White Pine Basin Peak Linkup – Little Cottonwood Canyon, Wasatch: Enchaining four peaks and catching them in wonderful late season powder conditions made for a great day of ‘light is right’ mountain movement.
5 Chutes – Knocking off four solid chutes in a day used to be the stuff of my dreams. Here, we added another one as the cherry on top.
Lone Peak Linkup – A long, multipeak tour in the Wasatch.
12, Make that 11 Hours of Brighton – Borrowing from race formats made for a long day of skinning and skiing.
Baldy Main Chute 10x – When snow is rare, and quickly disappearing with the arrival of summer, the diehard skier move is to find a long patch of snow and lap it. 10 laps made for an honest effort.
Lone Peak to Box Elder – Solo outing covering some mileage and plenty of undisturbed ground between two fun peaks in the Wasatch.