Marmot Isotherm Hoody
As we huddled at the foot of a 15-foot icefall at the base of a couloir in Grand Teton National Park, small chunks of snow and ice pelted us from above. The kernels striking my helmet sounded like popcorn and felt like hailstones. We were roped in, skis on our backs, with crampons and ice axes ready to ascend the icy wall as soon as the spindrift and snow chunks subsided.
The point of being in this somewhat precarious spot was to hopefully ski it, of course, but also to test a couple of the latest apparel items from Marmot and Polartec. Given the situation--and no doubt the performance of Marmot's Nabu Jacket and Isotherm Hoody--I forgot all about what I was wearing. The only things on my mind were snap, crackle and pop of the ice hitting my helmet and the staggering beauty surrounding our group of four as we waited for our Exum guide, Zahan Billimoria, to make the final decision to go, or turnaround.
We had just skinned and booted more than 1,000 feet to the base of a line called the Rapture, near the mouth of Death Canyon. It is intimidatingly steep and mostly hidden from view next to the bigger, though only slightly less scary, Apocalypse Couloir. Wearing the Nabu ($350) as my outer layer (over a single base layer called the Marmot Thermo), I wasn't clammy or sweaty or cold. This two-layer waterproof/breathable garment is made from Polartec's outstanding Neoshell softshell and weighs only 1 pound, 5 ounces. It fit nicely with my harness and I could still access the deep chest pockets while wearing my pack. The interior is lined throughout, including the fixed hood, with a soft, supple fleece-like fabric. I could move freely without unnecessary bulk or constriction. In other words, I felt quite comfortable in the chilly shade of the canyon, which is exactly what you want in unforgiving terrain.
After waiting a minute or two for the cascading ice to subside, "Z," as he is known, made the call: The Rapture would not see tracks today.
"When the mountains are talking, it's good to listen," he said with a smile. With that, we down-climbed 50 feet to the runout of the couloir. Still feeling the pull of the mountains, we decided to climb up the Apocalypse, just next door.
I've looked at this couloir at least a thousand times. It beckons your attention from the Teton park road and surrounding hiking trails. But due to its steep and inhospitable nature, and my general lack of ski mountaineering skills, I never even considered skiing it. So with Z leading the way, it was wild to be kicking steps through a veritable tunnel of blue ice and looming cliffs. (For an excellent trip report on how to properly ski the Apocalypse, click-in to TetonAT. The author, Steve Romeo, was killed in an avalanche in 2012, but his passion for backcountry skiing lives on through his blog. And this is one of his classic trip reports.)
With the Teton snowpack around 130 percent of normal, we found the couloir stacked. Another skier in our group, local patroller/writer Jeff Burke, had skied the Apocalypse a handful of times before, and said he'd never seen it with so much snow. The crux of the couloir--a steep, narrow section a few hundred feet above the base--usually challenges skiers and climbers with a strip of blue ice. But we had it with nearly two feet of powder. On the way up, Z and Jeff conducted quick snow pits, and found favorable conditions.
As the afternoon waned, we grew reluctant to linger in such a dicey zone, and finally clicked into our skis about 800 feet up. Had we found a safe zone for a break, I would've pulled the Isotherm Hoody ($225) out of my pack, as I had done during other lulls in activity the last two days. Utilizing Polartec's new Alpha synthetic insulation, the Isotherm is lightweight and cozy throughout, yet doesn't weigh you down or constrict your physical activity. The best part is that it can be worn as an insulating piece on a windy summit, or as a stand-alone layer on colder approaches. It's not as warm as down or as breathable as a softshell, but you get attributes from both in one jacket. While I did not wear it while skinning, others in the group did to positive reviews.
With Z tail guiding, we leap-frogged each other down the couloir, relishing the powder turns and relatively easy skiing conditions in a freakishly stunning location.
At the bottom of the canyon, we ran back into the sun, where we applied skins for the short climb back up the moraine and onto a gentle descent through a lodgepole forest to the trailhead.
Not a bad day for testing gear. The skiing was pretty good, too. And having used the Nabu and Isotherm during several days of rigorous backcountry skiing, I'm confident the two items will have regular use not just in winter, but throughout the year due to their many lightweight applications in the mountains.