By Catie Collins
Capitalizing on the record snowpack in the Tetons and the first steady high-pressure system of summer, ski mountaineers have been able to climb and ski the Ford/Stettner route of the 13,770-foot Grand Teton faster than ever before.
On June 25, Nate Brown of Salt Lake City established a new speed-record on the Ford/Stettner—seven hours, 15 minutes. Some 48 hours later, the Dorais brothers, Andrew and Jason, and Jared Inouye shaved nearly two hours off Brown's solo time—five hours, 17 minutes. Of note, Brown's record was set exactly 10 days after the 40th anniversary of the first ski descent of the Grand by Bill Briggs on June 15, 1971.
"The skiing traffic on the Grand Teton this year has been unprecedented, with multiple descents every day for the past three weeks," says longtime Jackson local and TetonAt.com founder Steve Romeo.
During the 2010-2011 winter season, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort received a total of 558 inches, the second highest total ever at the resort. And the mountain personnel stopped recording snowfall after their April 3 closing date. Winter raged on into spring, adding snow to the already fat snowpack. Teton news outlets have reported that the surrounding mountain snowpack hovers 800 inches. According to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel Network, the snow water equivalent of the snowpack in the Snake River Drainage was over 800 percent of a 30 year average. With ample snowpack and good weather (temperatures soared to nearly 75 degrees Fahrenheit in town on June 25), ski mountaineers have certainly taken advantage and practically ran to the top of the Grand.
As for Brown, Inouye, and the Dorais brothers, it has only been recently that they have decided to try and set timed records. Prior to Monday's new record, Inouye's previous best was seven hours, 21 minutes.
Making speedy work of the Grand, it seems, mirrors a marked perception shift, too. “I think it's the standard of evolution for anything," says mountaineer Christian Beckwith, the founding editor of Alpinist magazine and outerlocal.com, an online outdoor adventure rag. "Once someone does it, it becomes eminently doable."
The Dorais brothers did not have a specific training program for the Grand, but they skied solely in the backcountry over 100 days this past season. Additionally, both record-breaking parties used new ultra-lightweight gear. The record-breakers also noted that the hardest part was running the four-plus miles back to the car with packs, skis, and boots. The descent, they said, was "easy and skiing the hard pack was enjoyable." To boot, Brown and partner Zahan Billimoria, Communications Manager at JHMR and Exum Mountain Guide, plan to circumnavigate the Grand this upcoming weekend, climbing and skiing multiple couloirs.
With temperatures in Jackson soaring into the 80s this week, can the records be eclipsed? According to Brown, snow conditions would have to remain as they are now in order to make it back to the trailhead. Nevertheless, “skiing on the moon,” as locals like to call the Grand experience, has never seemed so possible.
Check out the Dorais brother's blog at slcsherpa.blogspot.com for more from their GFT mission.