WORDS: Clare Menzel
Editor’s Note: We were informed after publication of Johnstone’s feat that Hayden Wyatt climbed and skied the Grand at age 14 in June 2012 alongside his dad, Rick. First or second, well done, kids.
On Sunday, May 25, five skiers--one slightly smaller than the others--climbed and skied the Grand Teton. It would have been any other ordinary summit, except in the group was 15-year-old Sasha Johnstone, who may have set the record for the youngest person to climb and ski the Grand.
Though no official records are kept for youngest skier, Exum Mountain Guide Zahan Billimoria confirmed that Sasha is the youngest he knows of to have both climbed and skied the iconic peak.
Grand Teton, which towers over Grand Teton National Park, stands at 13,775 feet and is the highest point of the Teton Range. The group skied down Ford Couloir, a narrow route which winds down the southern face. With its steepest sections at 55 degrees and sides that either drop off completely or tip into jagged boulders, falling is not an option.
Skiing the Grand Teton comes with the territory of being a Johnstone from Jackson, Wyoming. It is safe to say that Sasha's father, Hans Johnstone, who competed in the Nordic Combined at the 1988 Olympics and is an Exum Mountain Guide, has skied down just about every possible route. He and his wife Nancy, who competed in the 1992 Olympic Biathlon, have passed on a love for the mountains by making skiing, climbing, and camping a part of their regular family routine.
Their recent climb was like any other Johnstone family expedition, except this time, Sasha set his own record on the Grand. The Johnstones and two family friends, mountain guide Greg Collins and photographer David Gonzales, camped Saturday night at High Camp. Sunday morning they woke at 4 a.m. and began their climb after a quick breakfast of strong coffee and oatmeal. They summited four hours later and started their descent of the precipitous Ford Couloir by 8:30 a.m., skiing down the Grand before most ninth graders were even awake. The broken record was in the books by 11 a.m.
"Sasha ripped it," Collins said of the run. "He was skiing so fast."
POWDER: What was the preparation like for the trip?
SASHA: I felt more than prepared, but there is always some uncertainty that we won't make it because of the snow conditions, or the weather.
HANS: Sasha and I had tried it last year and had had some tough conditions on the mountain… We were really punching through. So we bailed last year and thought we'd have another whack at it this year. We both ski a lot. Sasha skis in Park City all winter and, as a family, we do a lot of climbing trips. Over spring break we went to Europe and skied for a couple of days. That was big training, but it was nothing specific. Just doing what we do.
What was the mood like at the summit? Were you scared?
SASHA: I don't believe that I was scared. It was more just pure excitement from reaching the top after the exhausting climb up. I just kept thinking, “We got here. We made it. The hard part is over.”
HANS: Good and quite happy.
Because of the bailed trip last year, was the reward that much sweeter?
SASHA: Going up this year was awesome in that we got to try it again… At the top, I felt like I was on top of the world--truly an amazing view.
HANS: It certainly was for me. Having failed once makes it that much more challenging.
How does this trip stack up to other ski mountaineering you've done in the Tetons, France, and Switzerland? Did you know that Sasha would break a record?
SASHA: It was pretty awesome to go up, but I didn't think I was going to be the youngest kid.
HANS: It is what we do… [but] it's not old hat. I don't think any kids have ever skied that...and I don't think any woman Nancy's age  has ever skied it. Getting to the top was kind of a standout moment. I figured that would be the crux, getting everybody up there--it's not easy. I felt pretty confident about the skiing part because Sasha's quite a talented skier.
What do you love most about a trip like this?
SASHA: Nice slushy snow, not too slushy, but good skiable snow.
HANS: I love the climbing. I love everyone getting down safely because it is dangerous terrain... There's not much margin for error... It was a little more nerve-wracking having my wife and son up there.
How did it feel at the end?
SASHA: I was sitting at High Camp thinking, “I’m exhausted, but I still have to ski all the way back to the car.”