Words: Kim Havell
Spring skiing in Jackson, Wyoming, isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Long approaches, big vertical gains, early “alpine” starts, and run-ins with wildlife are part of the investment, but the return can be thousands of vertical feet of powder and corn skiing, and stellar lines off big peaks, like the 13,776-foot Grand Teton.
In the spring, the snowpack gains stability. After a few freeze/thaw cycles, it can be safer to get up high and ski complex, committing lines with less concern for slab avalanche danger. Wet slides remain an issue, but early morning summits and ski descents can circumvent many threats. You just have to get out of bed. In the Tetons, you are rewarded for the early effort.
Endless choices and few crowds exist in the spring. Backcountry travelers can pick from the Gros Ventres, the Snake River Range, the Wind Rivers, and Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). Many of the routes and objectives are off of some of the most striking summits in the country, and the descents are steep, continuous, and exciting.
I moved to Jackson two weeks ago. When I arrived, ski partner Dan Hehir came up for a visit from Telluride. We got further acquainted with the ultra classic Middle and Grand Tetons, as well as Garnet’s North and South Forks with some laps in Garnet Canyon in the GTNP. The next week, Pete Gaston, Aspen-based skier and co-owner of Strafe Outerwear, stopped in and we ventured out to some new peaks. For creative access to some of these remote locations, skiers will use a canoe or watercraft, or, if you’re new to town like us, an intense bushwhack.
Some of the United States’ finest mountain athletes and guides reside in this area. Skiing out of Garnet last week, we bumped into Exum Guide Doug Workman climbing with one of his two clients that would complete a ski descent of the Grand Teton this spring season. It is also not uncommon to witness passionate solo adventurers topping out on peaks, dropping into lines out of sight, and then returning to work before you’ve had your first PROBAR of the day.
The vertical relief is deceptive and so are the approaches. As temperatures increase, skiers log mileage on trails and in the woods on foot to access higher objectives for the snowline and better conditions. Navigation skills are a prerequisite. To get into the more serious terrain, experience is a must or a guide is necessary.
Even the most seasoned newcomer must approach with caution. Route finding can get complicated, and picking an aspect to ski can be the single most important choice depending on wind, snowfall, and sun. Backup plans and exit strategies are crucial. With long days up high, a wrong turn can lead to thrashing through the dense, thick canyon woods in an incorrect drainage thereby losing valuable time. You’re either too late to summit or you just added a few extra hours to your return home.
Spring has provided a further introduction to the immeasurable possibilities of these mountains. And Jackson offers the opportunity for deep exploration. Getting to know you, Jackson, will take a long, long time.