On of my skiing mentors (Patrick) and one of my old friends and partners (Giles) were living together this winter in the Tetons so I had been planning a trip back there for about 6 months. Every morning with breakfast I had been reading the avalanche report and just sitting on my thumbs waiting for the conditions to be right for the trip. Finally after a giant warm storm a week long break in the weather appeared. So I loaded my car and headed to the Tetons! On my way there were a few trials. Wet slides had closed every road into Jackson so I had to stay with my friend, Amy, in SLC. The next day I woke up early to get finish my drive, but I hit a deer on my way to Jackson so I had too get towed back to SLC and stay with my friend John. My car went to the body shop but I was able to catch a ride up to the Tetons the next day with a friend of a friend who is now just a friend and who I ended up skiing all week with, Kordell.
Finally in the Tetons, the weather was indeed good and the wind was indeed still. Patrick had made us dinner which was ready upon arrival. We knew it was going to get warm that week and soft snow up high would quickly turn into breakable crust so we decided to try to ski the Amora Vida first which was S/SE facing. This route is a steep, occasionally skied, very high quality line that can be skied from the summit of the South Teton. After I hurt my knee in 2016 I have been really into warming up my body, so I woke up around 1am to do 45 minutes of stretching with my host/mentor/ski partner Patrick and then eat breakfast, hydrate and head out the door. It was in the single digits at 2:30am at the trailhead but the rain crust combined with Patrick's invention of skin cleats (skeats) made skinning up and out of the inversion layer and into the warmth of the high peaks fast and easy.
We skinned up into Garnet canyon and took the South fork to the col between the South and the Middle Teton. From there we booted the NW couloir and we were on the summit in just about 5 hrs summit of the South and contemplated out descent. The recent storm had come with a lot of rime ice so we were a little worried about skiing conditions in the couloir. The snow was generally stable, but a fall in the over 50 degree couloir could be deadly*, so if conditions were not in, neither were we.
Our other friend, host, and exum guide Giles and I decided to walk off the summit a little bit and check the conditions on a similar aspect. It appeared that the rime had been caught by the high couloir walls so we went for it. The ski off the summit ridge was a spicy low 50 degree series of side slipping and hop turns around rocks until we appeared on what was called the triangle face which started at high 40s and mellowed to mid thirties. THe entrance to the Amora Vida (abouot 500 feet down the triangle face to skiers right) was steep and rocky. We booted over to the snow. From here there are two options, take the relatively mellowed (high 40s/low 50s) tight snow strip that is choked to just over a ski length wide or traverse onto the more open but steeper (mid 50s) outer couloir. Everyone in our party did something different, I chose the steep skirt. The snow is the S/SE facing couloir was excellent and careful hop turns rbouoght me into the less steep (mid 40s) lower half where I could really open up. We took turns taking pictures of eachother and yelling with excitement down the couloir. After a quick lunch break we contemplated skiping the bowl on Veiled Peak or the Couloir off Wister, an attempt at both reveielved that there were lousy snow conditons on N facing aspects. So after a couple hours of trying to find somehting else to ski we headed out avalanche canyon where we saw some humongous D3+ wind or wet slab avalanches that had released during the previous storm.
- As a sad footnote to this story, 2 days later a party of 4 people (like our's) attempted to ski the amora vida couloir by the same route we did. On their way off the triangle face, one member of their party got stuck in the then breakable crust snow conditions and fell 1400 feet to his death. In Chamonix and around the world, some people believe that dead mountaineers turn into crows which fly free among the high peaks. Seeing crows while you are climbing and skiing is supposed to be a sign of safety as these crows are believed to watch over their living counterparts. I don't personally believe this as I see no evidence for it, but still, we saw many crows everyday while we were in the Tetons, and I certainly got a comforting feeling from them. Ski safe out there and remember that choices have consequences, think about your level of acceptable risk, and no matter how smart you are, sometimes shit just happens in the mountains.