Backcountry Skiing in the Sawtooth Range

 Guided Hut to Hut skiing in Idaho’s Sawtooth Range with Sun Valley Trekking

March 16-20, 2015

For the past few seasons, I’ve done a multi-day backcountry ski trip with a group of friends.   So far, we’ve done a traverse of the Teton Crest traverse, a Sierra trip from Mammoth to Lee Vining Canyon, and a trip to the Baldy Knoll Yurt in the Teton Backcountry.    This year, we opted for a trip to Idaho’s Sawtooth Range.  Rather than staying in tents, we would be staying in backcountry huts.  Unlike past trips, we decided to hire a guide.

We arranged the trip through Sun Valley Trekking, which operates a number of yurts and huts in the Sawtooth range.   It was an “all inclusive” trip that included our hut accommodations, food, and guiding for the week.   Not having done a guided ski trip before, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  As it turned out, it was the most decadently comfortable backcountry ski trip I’ve ever done.

We split our time between two huts, the Bench Hut, and the Fishhook Hut.  The first day we spent skiing into the Bench Hut.  It was a pretty easy day, made even easier by the fact that the guide service had a couple of porters that brought in all of our food on a sled.

The Bench Hut is a large structure made of fabric on a wooden frame that comfortably accommodated our large group of 8 people.

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The Bench Hut, Sawtooth Range

Conditions were not ideal.  When we had booked the trip back in November, we figured that mid March would be prime powder skiing season.  However, Idaho, like most of the Mountain West, had suffered through a warm, dry winter, so the snowpack was more like it would be in very late spring.   On the trip in to the Bench Hut, we were getting rained on, which is never an auspicious way to start a ski trip.

The good news was that the food that the Sun Valley Trekking folks provided for us was terrific.  We just lounged around in the hut, while the guides cooked us a great meal.  It didn’t feel much like backcountry skiing at all.  It was way too cushy.  (But I wasn’t complaining about that.)

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Wet weather and marginal snow

The next day, we took off to see if we could find some decent snow.  It was warm and wet, with low clouds and intermittent rain.  The snow was thick and not particularly fun or easy to ski.  We skinned up to the Bench Lakes high above the hut, and toured around a bit, but overall, it was something of a disappointment.  I could tell that our guides were worried that the trip was going to a bust, in spite of their best efforts to find us some skiable terrain.  Sadly, there was not much they could do about the weather and snow conditions.

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Skiing Spring Snow in the Sawtooths

That night, however, the temperatures dropped significantly, and there was some snow instead of rain.   We awoke to clear skies and firm snow.  We took that opportunity to hit the trail early and get some skiing in before things got too warm and mushy.  We skinned up to a peak above the bench hut, and got some turns on the way down.  Then we slowly made our way back to the hut, yo-yo-ing some nice slopes olong the way.  It was a fun day, although by the afternoon, the snow was getting very thick and mushy again due to the warm temps.

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Clear Skies at 4th Bench Lake

The next day, our goal was a traverse from the Bench Hut to the Fishhook Hut.  Again, it was sort of like cheating, because the Sun Valley Trekking porters took our sleeping bags and other non-skiing gear, along with our food, and sledded it to the Fishhook hut for us.  We were able to ski the entire day with lightweight day packs.

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GPS Track from the Bench Hut to the Fishhook Hut.

 

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Dropping down from the Heyburn Col

The skiing was a lot of fun.  Snow conditions were excellent, with a dusting of powder over a nice, firm supportable base.

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Beautiful ski terrain on the traverse from Bench Hut to Fishhook Hut

It was an amazing day, with great snow conditions for skiing, eye-popping scenery, and perfect weather.  The fun sort of ran out near the bottom as we approached the Fishhook hut and had to navigate through the tight trees and brush of the area our guides referred to as “the Jungle.”  Still, it was an excellent and memorable day of backcountry skiing.

The Fishhook hut was as comfortable as the Bench Hut had been, with an added bonus;  It has a hot tub!!!    I can’t think of how many times I’ve been in the mountains and thought about how nice it would be to have  a hot tub to relax in.  This trip, that fantasy came true.  It was so amazing to soak my tired body in hot water.  Again, it seemed like cheating.

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Hot tub at the Fishook Hut

The next day was not particularly memorable.  We woke up late, and skied out from the Fishhook hut to the trailhead.  The warm weather had taken its toll on the snowpack, and there were sections of dirt where the snow had all melted out.  Eventually, however, we made it back to the cars.

Overall, it was a great trip in spite of the marginal weather and snow conditions.  The day we spent skiing from Bench Hut to Fishhook Hut really made the whole trip.  It was one of the better days I’ve spent backcountry skiing.   The Sun Valley Trekking guides were terrific, especially J.P., our lead guide.  They took good care of our entire group, and helped make the experience a lot of fun.

However, as fun as the trip was, I think that next year, we’re going to do something a bit less cushy and comfortable.  After two years in a row of yurt/hut trips, I think we’re all ready for something a bit more primitive.  (although I will definitely miss that hot tub.)

Some pictures from the trip:

We ate really really well on this trip.

We ate really really well on this trip.

Beautiful skiing on the Bench Hut to  Fishhook Hut Traverse

On the Bench Hut to Fishhook Hut Traverse, Mount Heyburn in the background

Beautiful skiing on the Bench Hut to  Fishhook Hut Traverse

Beautiful skiing on the Bench Hut to Fishhook Hut Traverse

On the Bench Hut to  Fishhook Hut Traverse

On the Bench Hut to Fishhook Hut Traverse

Skinning pp to ski down

Skinning up to ski down

Our spliboarder

Our splitboarder, having fun

 

Backcountry Skiing in the Tetons at the Baldy Knoll Yurt

Fresh powder in the Teton backcountry

Fresh powder in the Teton backcountry 

For the past three years, me and a group of friends have done a backcountry ski tour together. Last year, we did a Sierra tour, and the year before, we did a tour in the Tetons. This year, we got back together, but rather than do a point to point traverse, we decided to rent a yurt to use as a base camp, and do day trips out from the yurt. I’ve done a fair amount of backcountry skiing, but up until this trip, I had never stayed in a backcountry yurt, I’ve always slept in a tent or a snow cave.

The yurt we chose was the Baldy Knoll Yurt, in the Teton backcountry, run by Teton Backcountry Guides.  We were there the third week in March. The first day of our trip was mostly spent driving to Victor, Idaho, on the Wyoming border, and then skinning up to the yurt.  The climb up to the yurt was a long, steady uphill grind that took us about 4 hours. We probably could have gone faster, but we were carrying very heavy packs (or pulling a heavy sled, in my case.) Not long after we started skiing in, it began to snow heavily, which was a portent of good things to come. We had a guide who took us to the yurt, and showed us how everything works. After that, he left, and we were on our own.

 

Skinning in to the yurt in heavy snow fall

Skinning in to the yurt in heavy snow fall

The yurt is pretty comfortable, especially when compared with a tent. It has a wood burning stove for heat and melting snow for water, and a two burner gas stove for cooking, along with pots, pans, and cooking utensils. There are gas lights. 3 bunk beds and 2 cots for sleeping. A covered outhouse nearby.  Overall, about what I expected.

Yurt Exterior

Yurt Exterior

Inside the Yurt

Inside the Yurt

 

The next morning, we woke up to over two feet of fresh powder. We were pretty stoked. We spent the next three days trying to track out as much of it as possible. There was great skiing right next to the yurt, and we started with that. After lunch, we ventured a little further afield and skied the terrain on the South side of the ridge connecting the yurt with a peak labeled 10024 on the map, which is East of the yurt.

Click Here For a Map of the Area

Powder!

Powder!

First Tracks

First Tracks.  South slope of the ridge connecting the yurt with Peak 10024

The snow was sublime, nice light powder. Definitely the best powder turns I’d had all season. When we were done skiing, we came back to the yurt and had dinner. The heavy loads we carried on the trip in paid off, as we were able to eat really well all week long. No freeze dried food on the whole trip. It was all fresh and tasty.

Beef, it's what's for dinner.

Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.

The third day, we skied up to the top of Peak 10024, and spent the day skiing Peak 10024 and the ridgeline just to the south, across the valley from Peak 10024. The snow continued to be amazing, and there were sections of full-on knee deep powder in the wind loaded pockets. It was too good to stop skiing for lunch, so we didn’t go back to the Yurt until evening. We were treated to a terrific sun set, and cooked another great dinner, then off to bed to rest up for the next day.

Climbing up to the summit of Peak 10024

Climbing up to the summit of Peak 10024

On the ridge that connects the Yurt to Peak 10024

On the ridge that connects the Yurt to Peak 10024 

Skinning up the ridgeline South of 10024

Skinning up to the ridgeline South of 10024

Better than fireworks

Better than fireworks

The bluebird sky and bright sunshine of the past day had begun to bake the South facing slopes, so we ended up skiing the North facing slopes right off of the ridge that leads to Peak 10024. The snow was not quite as light and fluffy as it had been, but it still was a lot of fun.

We opted to leave that afternoon rather than spend another night out in the Yurt, so we left that afternoon. It only took a little over an hour to get back to the car, which was much better than the 4+ hour approach on the way in.

Overall, it was a terrific experience. We had great weather, great snow, and a lot of great skiing. For anyone looking for a great backcountry yurt experience, I would highly recommend the Baldy Knoll Yurt. The yurt is comfortable, and the terrain it is close to is ideal for “earn your turns” backcountry powder skiing.

Backcountry Skiing in the Sierras (Mammoth to Tioga Pass)

The last week in March, me and 3 friends skied from Mammoth Lakes to Tioga Pass.  We started skiing Tuesday morning, and reached the car Saturday, early afternoon.   We passed through some truly spectacular country.  Here are some details of our trip.

We drove to Lee Vining, and left our car at a parking lot near the winter gate that closed the road up Lee Vining Canyon.  We used a shuttle service, Mammoth Shuttle, to pick us up from there and drive us to Tamarack Lodge.   We spent Monday night at the Tamarack Lodge and had a great dinner at the Lodge’s restaurant.  Tuesday morning we headed out on our adventure.  The touring started on the groomed Tamarack Lodge x-country ski trail right outside the door.  We took the left fork at the warming hut, and were on our way.

We skied along the gentle, groomed trails following the signs to Horseshoe Lake.  Then we left the groomed trail and headed up and over the broad slopes of Mammoth Pass and down into Red’s Meadow.  From the meadow, we decided to take the road north, following snowmobile tracks, and eventually taking a left fork that brought us to a bridge crossing across the river.

From here, it was a long, steady climb up towards Minaret Falls, through open forests.  We had planned to reach Minaret Lake the first day, but we were getting a bit tired, and decided to make camp in the drainage a ways below the lake.  The camp spot was sheltered and pretty, and surrounded by big trees, but if we’d known how scenic it was at Minaret Lake, we probably would have pushed on the extra hour to reach the lake.  GPS coordinates for our camp site are:  37.653633/-119.112911

Our first camp

Next morning, we followed the drainage up to Minaret Lake.  When we finally crested the steep rise and saw the basin, we were treated to some really beautiful alpine scenery.  In fact, from here on, the terrain became much more rugged and alpine in nature, with sweeping vistas and granite peaks replacing the pine forests we had been traveling through.

Climbing up to Minaret Lake

 

 

 

 

View from Minaret Lake

The pass above Minaret Lake leading to Cecile Lake was steep and icy.  We strapped crampons on our boots, and strapped our skis on our packs and headed up a left-slanting couloir the led up to the top of the pass.  If we hadn’t brought crampons and axes, we probably could have booted up it, but it was quicker and more secure with our ice gear.

From the pass above Cecile Lake, it was a nice, mostly downhill run down to the valley above Ediz lake.  From there, we had to climb again, and by late afternoon had arrived at Nydiver Lakes.  We were tired, and the weather was cold, blowing and the skies were filling with dark clouds, so we made our camp on the edge of the lake.

Because of the winds, we took our time preparing our camp, pitching our tents behind a rocky knoll, and constructing snow walls to shield us from the heavy gusts.  I treated myself to an extra cup of hot cider that evening to ward off the cold.

GPS coordinates for 2nd night camp by Nydiver Lake:  37.693705/-119.172778

Cold and windy camp at Nydiver Lake

The next day, we made short work of the 2 passes north of Nydiver, and then traversed the wide expanse of Thousand Islands Lake.  Then a long, steady climb up to Island Pass.

Up above Nydiver Lake

Traversing Thousand Island Lake

 

Climbing into the clouds

The descent down from Island Pass was quick, and we crossed the creek right above Waugh Lake.  The climb out of this drainage was strenuous, and by the time we got to the headwall/pass below Lost Lake, I was pretty beat.  We made camp in the valley, with views of the Palisades to the East, the Pass to the North, and the far off peaks we had passed earlier spread out to the South.

GPS coordinates for 3rd night camp:   37.769840/-119.203715

Our campsite the 3rd night

The next morning, we were faced with a bit of a conundrum.  We were not sure how best to tackle the pass up to Lost Lake.  Some of us thought that the couloir North/Northwest of us would be the best option.  Others (myself among them) figured that contouring around to the East and Northeast looked like an easier option.  In the end, we decided to contour around on the less direct Northeast route.  This way turned out to be pretty easy, with a relatively gentle slope.  (The direct route up the couloir might have been fine too, but I guess we’ll never know now.)

Skinning up to Lost Lake

After the pass above Lost Lake, we traversed Northwest  until it was time to turn Northeast and make the long climb up to the Kuna Connection pass.  We had been fearing the Kuna Connection for the whole trip, as it was reputed to be the steepest slope we would encounter.  If it was icy, then descending could be quite challenging.

Lunch break below the Kuna Connection Pass

When we finally arrived at the Kuna Connection pass, our first emotion was dismay.  It looked dangerously steep and pretty scary.  However, the South section of the pass was much steeper than the North, and as we traversed the ridge Northward, we found that the angle eased up quite a bit.  It was steep, but not suicidal.  However, there were a lot of large rocks midway down the slope that could make things quite painful if a skier were to fall here.   My friends all skied down.  I decided I wasn’t too sure I could get down without falling.  I knew I could get down walking, however, so I clipped my crampons on my boots, strapped my skis to my pack, and down climbed the steepest section before putting on my skis again.

On top of the Kuna Connection Pass

Looking at my friends, who were all very far ahead of me by this time, I was in a hurry to catch up to them.  I opted not to de-skin my skis and skied down the slope with my skins on.  This turned out not to be a very good plan, as it made skiing quite difficult.  Making turns was very challenging, and the skins would grab at inopportune moments, throwing me off balance.   I made it down, but would have been much happier if I’d taken the few minutes necessary to take my skins off.

With the dreaded Kuna Connection behind us, we had a long slog out the gentle drainage towards Tioga Pass.  The snow was deep, wet, and soft, and breaking trail was a real challenge.  We alternated positions in line, with the trail breaker rotating to the back when he got too tired.   Finally, we set up camp in the drainage along the creek.  It was noticeably warmer than it had been up at our higher elevation camps.   It was our last night on the trail.  The technical difficulties were behind us.  I was getting excited to get back to civilization.

GPS coordinates for last night’s camp by Parker Pass Creek:  37.874025/-119.242558

The next morning, the soft deep snow had frozen from the overnight low temperatures, so thankfully we didn’t have to slog through it breaking trail like we had the previous afternoon.  On good snow, the descent went pretty rapidly, with our biggest challenges being a couple of stream crossings.

We left the drainage, and headed north up a broad open valley with beautiful views and under sunny skies.  Finally, we reached Tioga Pass.   We were able to ski from the pass to just below Ellery Lake before we had to strap on our skis and start walking down the paved road to where our car was parked at the gate.   We all knew that a hike down the road was part of the trip, so we had packed running shoes to wear for this section.  I strapped my skis and boots to my pack and motored down the road, fueled by thoughts of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Hiking down Lee Vining Canyon

The hike down the road took several hours, and I was pretty happy to finally see the parking lot with our car in it.   The trip had been challenging and amazing, with gorgeous scenery along most of the way.

I can’t seem to figure out how to put in a downloadable link to a Google Earth track of our trip from Tamarack Lodge to the top of Tioga Pass.  However, if you contact me, I’d be happy to e-mail you the KML file.

Our route, along with an altitude graph

 

Our ski tracks down one of the passes (can’t remember which one this is.)

 

Skiing through the wind

List of gear I brought on the trip:

Clothing
Mammut All-Year top
Craft boxer briefs with wind panel
REI running pants
Black Diamond AT gaiters
Full side zip precip pants
Patagonia Piton Hoody
Mountain Hardwear Quasar pullover
Brooks Range down hoodie
Buff headband
OR Sun runner cap
3 pair Smartwool ski socks
Dynafit “TLT-5” boots with inserts
Rab phantom grip gloves
OR Supercouloir gloves

Personal Gear
Kelty Cloud Spectra backpack
Adidas Terrex Pro sunglasses
MSR Hydromedary 2.5 liter water bag
Petzl Zipka headlamp
Suunto Vector altimeter watch
Sunscreen
Android cell phone
4 paper towels .7
Toothbrush/paste 1.6
Lighter
Sony RX100 Camera
Extra camera batteries, lens wipes

Ski Gear
Life Link probe ski poles with powder baskets and self arrest grips
DPS Wailer 99 skis with Plum Guide bindings
Leashes
Ski Crampons
Mammut Barryvox Avalanche beacon with new batteries
Grizzly Folding shovel 21.4
Ski skins
Velcro ski straps .8

Ushba ice axe
Camp Aluminum Crampons

 

Personal Camping Gear
Snowpeak Titanium cup and lid 3.8
Titanium Spoon .3
Thermarest XTherm sleeping pad
Montbell pillow
Marmot Helium 15degree sleeping bag with Granite Gear compression stuffsack

2 Person Group Gear:
Pyramid tent with pole adaptor
MSR Reactor stove 20.1
Snowpeak titanium bowl 1.8
3 Fuel canisters (12.5 each)

Entire Group Gear:
1st aid kit with firestarter, duct tape,
Lighters
Map
Skin Wax
Compass with inclinometer
Epoxy, steel wool
Brooks Range Ski Multi Tool
inReach satelite transciever

Food

Breakfasts
12 oatmeal

Lunches
10 energy gels
10 shot blocks
10 energy bars
5 packages of pepperoni
Cheese
5 Bagels
5 Baby Ruth candy bars
Nuts

Dinner
4 freeze dried dinners
8 hot drink mixes

 

 

 

 

 

Teton Crest Ski Tour

April 9-12

I just returned from a four day trip skiing along the Teton Crest trail.  We started the trip at Teton Pass at the base of Mount Glory, and 4 days later, came out Cascade Canyon.  It was one of the best ski trips I’ve ever been on.  Scenery was fantastic and we had perfect weather for the trip.

This was my fourth attempt on this route.  The first attempt, we never even got to the Tetons, as I rolled my car on I-80 in southern Wyoming in a storm.  The second attempt, my partner broke his ski binding 2 hours into the trip.  The third attempt, I ripped my ski binding out of my ski at the end of the first day.

After trying to get it done so many times, it was great to finally get to ski the whole route.  We had a great time.  After we left Mount Glory, we didn’t see anyone else the whole time. It ranks as one of my favorite backcountry experiences.

What follows is a brief summary of the route, along with some (hopefully) helpful information for anyone else who is interested in skiing this amazing route.

Right Click and “save link” to download a Google Earth Track of our trip.

Unfortunately, the road to Jenny Lake doesn’t open until May 1st, so you have to park at Taggart Lake.  This means that at the end of the trip you’ve got to hike from Jenny Lake to Taggart Lake.  Because we would be leaving our car at the Taggart Lake parking lot for 4 days, we stopped in at the Park Visitor’s Center (open at 9:00) to let them know we would be leaving the car in the Taggart parking lot for 4 days.

A note on regulations:  If you are going to sleep inside the Park boundaries, you need to get a backcountry permit from the Park, available at the Visitor’s Center.    We didn’t  plan on sleeping inside the Park, so we didn’t bother with a permit.  If you do get a permit, you may also be required to get a bear canister.  However, if you are going to sleep above 10,000 feet, a bear canister is not required.  It’s easy to find campsites outside of the park boundaries and/or above 10,000 feet, so I would recommend not carrying a bear canister.  No bear in its right might is going to be messing around in deep snow at high elevation, so it’s not worth carrying the extra weight.

We dropped our car at the Taggart Lake parking lot, and used a taxi to take us to Teton Pass, where the trip starts.  For the shuttle, we used Drop Horn Taxi.  They were great.  He arrived early, and charged us $85 to take the five of us from Taggart Lake parking lot to  Teton Pass.

From Teton Pass, it was a long grind up to the top of Mount Glory.  The snow was crusty and the angle steep, so we booted up a well-worn boot track instead of skinning.

At the top of Mount Glory

From the top of Mount Glory, we were treated to beautiful views.  After a brief rest, we took off, following the ridge crest curving around to the left.  The route generally follows the wilderness boundary north.  Generally, the easiest route stays just a bit back from the edge of the ridge.  Eventually, we dropped down off of the ridge for a long, open run to Phillips Pass.  We saw some snowmobile tracks here, but no snowmobiles.  The drop down to Phillips Pass was our first chance for some actual downhill skiing, and we enjoyed some turns in mashed-potato snow.

At Phillips Pass, we contoured down into the Moose Creek drainage.  We traded altitude for distance, slowly dropping down as we picked our way through trees, cliffs and gullies as we headed north up the drainage.   Eventually, we dropped all the way down to the East bank of  Moose Creek, and skinned our way up the gently sloping, open track.

Skinning North along Moose Creek

We’d already had a pretty long day, as we had left Salt Lake at 2:00 a.m. to get to Jackson that morning.  We were all pretty tired, so we decided to make camp at the top of the Moose Creek drainage.   We found a nice spot with easy access to the creek for water.  We spent a pleasant night.  It was calm, beautiful, and not too cold.

1st Night's Camp in the Moose Creek Drainage

Next morning began with a steep climb up and over the pass into Granite basin.  After getting up over the ridge, we more of less followed the summer trail along the gentle Middle Fork of Granite Basin, then into the steeper North Fork.  At the North Fork, part of our party dropped down North East into the drainage, while two of us contoured West up to the head of the drainage, which connected with two benches on the North side of the drainage, passing the frozen Marion Lake along the way.  We joined up just above Marion lake.

Looking down into the North Fork of Granite Creek from the North Bench

We stopped for lunch on a ridge line just before the drop down into the wide open plateau, with Spearhead Peak to the North East, and the Grand Teton looming to the North.  This broad expanse seemed more like a huge glacier in Alaska than something in the Western wilderness.  The vistas were simply breathtaking in every direction.  We kept heading North, passing below Spearhead peak, moving slowly closer to the Grand Teton, which loomed to the North.

Skinning up to Fox Creek Pass

Approaching Death Canyon Shelf

At the beginging of the Death Canyon Shelf, Spearhead Peak in the background

We finally pulled up onto the Death Canyon Shelf, and followed it for a while.  It was getting late in the day, so we decided to look for a camp site.  We found a beautiful sheltered spot on the Death Canyon Shelf.  We were treated to gorgeous evening light on the Grand Teton as the sun set.

Camp on the Death Canyon Shelf

The next day was probably the most difficult on the trip, primarily because of some route finding choices.  (Note that I’m not admitting that we got lost, just saying that we may have chosen a path that was not the easiest.)  At first, it was pretty straight forward, as we just followed the Death Canyon Shelf along to Mount Meek pass.   At this point, however, we were lured East by some skier tracks from a party that had passed this way some time earlier.   So, when we got to the ridge above Alaska Basin, we were too far East to see the Sheep Steps which lead down into Alaska Basin.  To the West of us, where the Sheep Steps should be, all we could see was a long line of cliffs, with no apparent way down.

The ski tracks that we had followed went East, off of a steep face dropping down toward Death Canyon, then contoured North under Buck Mountain toward Veiled Peak.  We decided to follow the tracks and cross Alaska Basin on benches along the Basin’s North side.  Dropping down off of the plateau was more exciting than I would have liked, as it involved skiing down a rather steep face with cliff bands below.  A fall here would have very unpleasant consequences.  I locked out the release on my bindings, and carefully skied down the face, following my friends’ tracks.

Dropping down into Alaska Basin

We contoured North East, then North West, following a high bench on the North side of Alaska Basin.  Eventually, we got to a point where we could see the South side of the basin clearly, and we saw the obvious weakness in the cliff bands that was the Sheep Steps, West of where we had been.  We then realized that if we’d just kept going West along the ridgeline, we’d have been able to drop down into the basin relatively easily rather than skiing the steep cliffy band we’d negotiated.

The climb up to Hurricane Pass was a long slog with some steep climbing to get up out of Alaska Basin.  We had a bit of urgency because our calm blue skies had been displaced with clouds and wind.  As we approached the pass, the sky was darkening, and we were keen to get over the pass and down into Cascade Canyon before the storm hit us.

Approaching Hurricane Pass

When we reached Hurricane Pass, the wind was blowing strong, giving us an incentive to get down off of the pass as quickly as possible.   However, the slope on the North side of the pass was pretty steep.  I didn’t measure it, but it felt like 50 degrees.  My friends disappeared over the edge one by one, and finally it was me (the worst skier of the group) who was left to descend the slope.  It took me a while to get up the courage to commit to the slope, but ultimately, when I finally decided to just ski it, it all went well.

With the weather changing for the worse, we made camp just below the pass.  We spent more  than usual care pitching the tents and making sure our camp was secure, as the winds were already rising.  That night, the winds blew heavily.  It started raining, then the rain turned to snow.  Between winds that were shaking our tent walls, and heavy snow that  kept collapsing the tent edges in on us, nobody got much sleep.   We woke up to a bit of a blizzard, with limited visibility and high winds.  We didn’t bother with breakfast.  We just threw our stuff in our packs and started skiing down the canyon.

Morning at Camp 3, Below Hurricane Pass

The skiing was fantastic.  Up until this point, we hadn’t really enjoyed any great skiing, but with 5 or 6 inches of fresh snow, the descent down the South Fork of Cascade Canyon was a lot of fun, with everyone swooping down the slopes, yelling with delight.  We alternated between skiing down the stream bed and staying just to the left of it.  Eventually, as we dropped down further, the stream bed became narrower, and we stayed left and higher up in the trees.  We must have been following the summer trail, because when we finally reached the junction with the main branch of Cascade Canyon, we ran right into the bridge across the creek.

In contrast to our quick ski descent down the steeper South Fork, the main Cascade Canyon was a gently sloped, slow slog out.  It took us longer than anyone thought it would to finally reach Jenny Lake at the mouth of Cascade Canyon.  Luckily, there was some pretty scenery for us to marvel at on the way out, including trees laden with fresh snow and Spanish moss.

Descending Cascade Canyon

By this point, I was pretty tired.  I’d skipped breakfast because of the nasty weather, and had only eaten an energy bar all day long.  The slow slog around Jenny Lake seemed to just go on and on without end.  When we finally reached the end of the skiing and got to the road, I was exhausted.  Because my feet were hurting, I took off my boots and made the hike from Jenny Lake to Taggert Lake in my socks.  It wasn’t ideal, but it felt so good to get my boots off of my blistered feet.

It felt amazing to finally see the parking lot with our car there.   We celebrated our trip with a dinner at Wendy’s and then drove home.

Celebration Dinner

After 4 days in my boots, I ended up with 13 blisters on my feet, including this one.

This trip was one of the best in my life.  It was a perfect combination of challenge, good friends, good conditions, and amazing scenery.

 

Here is a list of the gear I took on the trip.   At the beginning of the trip, my pack weighed 28 pounds, including 2.5 liters of water.

Teton Crest Ski Tour Gear
Clothing
Mammut All-Year base layer top
Craft boxer briefs with wind panel
REI Activestretch running pants
Black Diamond A/T gaiters
Marmot Pre-cip full zip pants
Mountain Hardwear Quasar pullover
Mountain Hardwear hooded Compressor jacket
Loki pile hat
Buff headband
Outdoor Research Sun Runner cap
2 pair Dahlgren ski socks
Dynafit “TLT-5P” boots
Rab phantom grip gloves
Outdoor Research Supercouloir gloves

Personal Gear
Kelty Cloud 60 liter backpack
Adidas Terrex Pro sunglasses
MSR Hydromedary 2.5 liter water bag
Mammut Lucido TX1 headlamp 4.9
Suunto Vector altimeter watch 2
Sunscreen in 1 oz squeeze bottle
Casio Commando Android cell phone
4 paper towels .7
Hand sanitizer (1/2 ounce)
Toothbrush/paste 1.6
Lighter
Olympus PEN E-P2 camera with 12mm, 20mm, 45mm in Mountainsmith Zoom-S case
Extra camera batteries, lens wipes

Ski Gear
Life Link probe ski poles with powder baskets and self arrest grips
DPS Wailer 99 skis (184cm) with Plum Guide bindings
Powder cords
Mammut Barryvox Avalanche beacon with new batteries
Ortovox Grizzly Folding shovel 21.4
G3 Ski skins
Velcro ski straps for securing skis to pack .8

Personal Camping Gear
Evernew Titanium cup
Titanium Spoon .3
NeoAir All Season sleeping pad
Montbell inflatable pillow
Marmot Helium 15degree sleeping bag with Granite Gear cuben fiber stuffsack
2 Person Group Gear:
Sylnylon pyramid tent with Black Diamond pole adaptor
MSR Reactor stove
Snowpeak titanium bowl
3 Fuel canisters (Should have only brought 2 of these)
Group Gear:
1st aid kit with firestarter, duct tape,
Lighters
Map
Compass
Purple wax, cork, and scraper
Skin Wax
inclinometer
Epoxy, steel wool
Brooks Range Multi Tool
Delorme inReach

Breakfasts
9 oatmeal

Lunches
6 energy gels
6 energy bars
3 packages of pepperoni
Baby Ruth candy bars
Cashews

Dinner
3 freeze dried dinners
6 hot drink mixes

1 gallon ziplock bag (for trash)

 


Backcountry ski gear update

My backcountry ski gear has changed substantially in the past couple of seasons.

I’ve changed over to new boots, new skis, and new bindings for most of my backcountry skiing.

First off, the skis:

Dynafit Manaslu (187 cm)

For all-around, lightweight touring, I bought a pair of Dynafit Manaslus (187cm length.)  These were the replacements for my Goode skis that failed on me.   I’ve been touring on these (with Dynafit bindings) for the past several seasons.   Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed by their light weight and versatility.  They can hold a reasonable edge on hard snow, and they do well in soft snow too.  They feel very responsive underfoot, and turn initiation is very quick and easy.   My only complaint about how they handle is that their edgehold on ice isn’t great, and they get bounced around a bit in thick, choppy, gloppy snow.  This isn’t surprising I guess considering their lack of mass.  I’m not a “hard charging” backcountry skier, but for my relatively conservative backcountry skiing style, these are great skis for long tours.

The Manaslus are pretty light weight.  With bindings, they weigh about 8 pounds, 11 ounces for the pair.  Dynafit makes skins specifically tailored to these skis.  These skins are also light weight (about 20 ounces) and grip well, but I’ve had the attachment hardware break on two different skins.   Dynafit/Salewa replaced the broken skins under warranty, and hopefully they’ve got this issue figured out by now.

My only real concern about these skis is their durability.  They seem a bit fragile.  I skied over a rock with them on an early season tour, and it bent the edge and kind of caved in the sidewall.  Honestly, I really didn’t hit the rock all that hard, and didn’t expect this sort of damage from a relatively small impact.  Given their light weight construction, I guess that I can’t really expect them to hold up to abuse.

Base damage on my Manaslus

Overall, however, I’m pretty happy with these skis.  They are a versatile, lightweight option for long tours in variable snow conditions.

DPS Wailer 112 RP (Pure Carbon Construction, 190 cm)

I bought my first pair of 112RPs for resort and side country use.   I wanted a ski that would be good for resort powder days, where I was skiing fresh powder in the mornings and tracked out snow in the afternoons.  My other powder-oriented skis, the DPS Lotus 138s, are great in powder, but not so good on hard snow, so when I used them in-bounds, I tended to want to change out my skis by the end of the day.  Invariably, just as I changed out of my Lotus skis, the resort would drop the rope and open up some closed area with acres of untracked powder goodness.    I wanted a powder ski that I could ski on all day at the resort.

The DPS Wailer 112 RP pretty much fulfills that need.  It’s a fantastic powder ski, and its rocker, large surface area, and broad shovel tip are a lot of fun in the deep stuff.   However, its traditional sidecut geometry and reasonable width make it turnable on harder snow as well.   I’ve read reviews of the 112 RP where its hard snow performance is likened to that of a GS ski.  I think that the folks who write these reviews either haven’t skied a GS ski, or they are just getting carried away with their enthusiasm.  The 112RP is decent on hard snow.  On hard snow, it’s nowhere near as good as my Volkl Mantras, much less a GS ski.  However, that said, the 112RP has enough hard snow performance that I can be comfortable and have fun on hard snow, while searching out the soft powder stashes for which the 112RP is designed for.  The 112RP also crushes through crud and heavy chop.

Originally, I intended to ski my 112RPs primarily at the resort, with occasional “slackcountry” use.   I mounted them with the new Marker  FT12 bindings, which are pretty much a lighter weight version of the Marker Duke.  As expected, this combo was great for the resort and sidecountry excursions, but I also found myself taking them touring as well.  After a while, I realized that in almost all situations, I preferred skiing on my 112RPs in the backcountry.  I live in Utah, and most of my touring  is on soft snow, with the occasional crust, wind scoured ice, or beaten-out trail.  The 112RPs are sublime in soft snow, with enough versatility to handle the nasty stuff too.  The rocker and broad tip make breaking trail easier as well.  So, even though I had a dedicated backcountry touring rig (my Manaslus with Dynafit bindings), I ended up most of the time on my heavier 112RPs when I headed into the backcountry.  I’d heard about breakage issues with the Marker FT12 bindings, but I never experienced any problems with them.  I think that the breakages were mostly due to people falling forward when in touring mode, which never really happened to me that I can remember.   I never really had any bad issues with my bindings, either in touring or downhill modes.

Eventually, I realized that the 112RP is probably my ideal touring ski, and I decided to get another pair of 112RPs dedicated for backcountry use.

I bought another pair of 112RP’s and mounted them with the new La Sportiva RT bindings.  Combined with my Dynafit TLT 5 Performance boots (reviewed below) this really seems to me to be the ultimate backcountry rig for Utah (and Colorado too, for that matter.)   Weight of the carbon fiber 112RP skis with the RT bindings is 9 pounds, 9 ounces for the pair.  That’s really light, especially for a fat powder ski, and they’re great on the uphill and for long tours.  They have held up well to the normal abuse I put on my equipment, and have slid over rocks and logs etc. with no damage.

The Sportiva RT bindings are pretty minimalistic.  They function pretty much like a Dynafit binding.  They have an adjustable toe release, but the adjustable toe release only comes into play when the binding is locked down in touring mode.   Changing levels of heel lift with a ski pole is not easy, and is much more difficult than with a Dynafit binding.  There is a little plastic post attached to the heel piece, with an opening that you can insert your pole tip into, but I’ve found that the plastic post tends to just rotate by itself when you crank on it, without rotating the heel.   It’s not a huge issue, as I can usually just bend down and twist the heel piece.    One thing I have noticed about the RT binding is that the heel piece doesn’t seem as prone to rotating on its own as the heel piece on my Dynafit bindings.  Often, (particularly when traversing steep slopes) the Dynafit heel will self-rotate from touring mode into locked downhill orientation.  This has not yet occurred with the RT binding, which is great.

Retention with the RT bindings has been good.  They have not pre-released, and there is no discernible slop or wiggle when touring or skiing downhill.

2 pair of 112RP, My Wife's touring Rig, and Dynafit Manaslus

DPS Wailer 99 (Pure Carbon Construction, 184cm)

I purchased these skis as an upgrade to my Dynafit Manaslus.  Although I like the Manaslus, I wanted something with better performance on ice and hard-packed snow.  I also wanted skis that could handle difficult crust,  chop, etc.  My concerns about the Manaslu’s durability also made me decide that a more robust ski would probably be a good idea for longer tours in remote locations.

The Wailer 99’s are very light weight.  When mounted with Plum Guide bindings, they weigh only 9 pounds, 2 ounces for the pair.  They don’t really perform like a lightweight ski, however.  Unlike the Manaslus, which feel a bit skittish in nasty snow and on ice, the Wailer 99’s carve much better on ice, and pound through ugly snow better too.

I haven’t used them enough to have a real long-term view, but after some time in-bounds, and a 4 day ski tour, I think that the Wailer 99’s are going to be my go-to ski for spring time, early season, and long tours where I am likely to encounter difficult snow conditions.  (The 112RP’s will remain my choice for powder.)

DPS Wailer 99's in the Teton Backcountry

 

 

Boots:

Dynafit Titan Boots

I got the Titans as a replacement for my Garmon Axons.  The Axons were pretty good boots, but I never seemed to be able to get a completely satisfactory fit with the Axons.  For whatever reason, the Axon last just didn’t fit my foot all that well.  The Titans seemed like a good boot for downhill oriented touring, slackcountry days, etc.

Overall, I’ve been mostly pleased with the performance of the Titans.  I like the downhill performance of the Titans better than my Axons.  They fit my feet really well, with a very close but comfortable fit that really locks in my foot position.  I’ve been using the Titans as my primary downhill resort boot, coupled with my DPS 112RP’s with the Marker bindings.  The Titans are good enough that I haven’t really missed my heavy resort boots at all.  They aren’t race boots, but they’re plenty stiff to power my  112RPs.  They’re comfortable enough that I can ski in them all day long.

The touring mode of the Titans is a bit of a disappointment.  They have pretty decent articulation and have plenty of flexibility for touring.  However, when I tour with the buckles loosened, the tongue piece catches on the cuff.  This means that every stride, the plastic hangs up for a moment, providing resistance, then it pops loose.  I’ve not met anyone else who has had this issue with Titans, and I wonder if it’s an issue with how they fit my lower legs (I have really thick calves.)  I have found that if I keep the buckles a little bit tighter that it doesn’t catch, but this restricts the flexibility somewhat.  I mostly use the Titans for resort and slackcountry anyway, and so it’s not too big of an issue, but it is somewhat of a limiting factor for touring in these boots.

Dynafit TLT 5 Performance Boots

These boots are light.  They weigh 5 pounds, 11 ounces for the pair.  That’s about the weight of a typical alpine climbing boot.   They have crazy articulation for touring as well, and touring comfort in them is great.

The liner is kind of thin, but so far, I’ve not had cold toes, even in temperatures down in the single digits.

Downhill performance is surprisingly good.  They are very stiff, and the addition of the optional stiffener tongue makes them even stiffer.  I have no problem driving my 190cm DPS Wailer 112RP skis with these boots.

A word on fit:  The TLT-5 boots fit differently than the Titans.  the TLT-5 is a much lower volume than the titan, especially in the fore-foot.  I had to get the boots stretched a bit by my boot fitter to allow them to fit comfortably.

One issue that they do have, however, is that they only work with tech bindings.  They don’t have the toe or heel blocks to be compatible with DIN bindings.  Also, they are a lot shorter in length than other boots, so tech bindings that are mounted to fit the TLT 5’s are unlikely to have enough adjustment range to fit other boots.

Gecko Ski Skins

I was looking for some lightweight skins to put on my 112RP backcountry rig, and I came across the Gecko climbing skins (LINK HERE)  These skins don’t use glue.  The skin base is self-adhesive.  I was intrigued by the concept and bought them.  They seem to work pretty well so far.   They have traction for climbing that is comparable to other skins I’ve used, and they seem to stick well to the bottoms of my skis.  They are easy to fold up, and they don’t stick to themselves like glue skins.  Weight is good, about 5 ounces less than my G3 skins I was using.  Overall, I like them.  Only time will tell how durable they are.

Ski Gear Weights

Garmont “Axon” boots 150.8 oz/pair (9 punds 6.8 oz)
Garmont “Mega Ride” boots 119.4 ounces/pair (7 pounds, 7.4 oz)
Scarpa “Laser” boots 131.6 ounces/pair (8 pounds, 3.6 oz)
Garmont GSM sl boots w/Intuition liner 108 ounces/pair (6 pounds, 12 oz)
Dynafit Titan boots 147.2 ounces/pair (9 pounds, 3.2 oz)
Dalbello Virus Lite boots 125.8 ounces/pair (7 pounds, 13.8 oz)
Dynafit TLT5 Performance boots 91.4 ounces/pair (5 pounds, 11.4 oz) (Includes removable tongues which are 4.6 oz/pair)

Mammut Snow Shovel 22.2
Ortovox Grizzly snow shovel 21.4
Ortovox Snow Shovel 32.9
Voille Snow Shovel 25.1
Snowclaw 6.7
New Snowclaw 6.4

Marker duke ski crampons 8.5

ABS Vario 30 Pack (stock) 125.5 (7 lbs. 13.5 oz.)
ABS Vario 30 Pack with airbag system and avalung 136.8 (8 lbs. 8.8 oz)
Snowpulse ProRider 28L Pack 100 (6 lbs 4 oz)
Snowpulse Lifebag 45L Pack 111.8 (6 lbs, 15.8 oz)

Volkl Mantra skis (184cm) with Marker Duke Bindings 211.3 oz/pair (13 pounds, 3.3 oz)
Salomon Pocket Rocket skis (185cm) w/ Diamer Bindings 212 ounces/pair (13 pounds, 4 oz)
DPS Lotus 138 Skis (202cm) w/Dynafit bindings 174.9 oz/pair (10 pounds, 14.8 oz)
Ramer Grand Tour skis (195cm) with Salewa bindings 163 ounces/pair (10 pounds, 3 oz)
BD “Arc Ascent skis (185cm) w/ Dynafit Bindings 122 ounces/pair (7 pounds, 10 oz)
Goode BC95 skis (182cm) with Dynafit Bindings 118.6 ounces/pair (7 pounds, 6.6 oz)
Goode BC95 skis (no bindings) 88.6 ounces/pair (5 pounds, 8.6 oz)
Hagan Tour Extreme skis (130cm) with ULM bindings 110.2 oz/pair (6 pounds, 14.2 oz)
Hagan Tour Extreme skis (130cm) with Silvretta 500 bindings 130.6 oz/pr (8 pounds, 2.6 oz)
Hagan Nanook skis with Hagan bindings 105.8 ounces/pair (6 pounds, 9.8 oz)

Dynafit Manaslu skis (187cm) with Dynafit bindings 139.4 oz/pair (8 pounds, 11.4 oz)
Dynafit Manaslu skis (178cm) no bindings 102.4 oz/pair (6 pounds, 4 oz)
With Dynafit bindings 125 oz/pair (7 pounds, 13oz)

DPS Wailer 112RP Skis (190cm Carbon Pure, no bindings) 127 oz/pair (7 pounds, 15 oz)
with Marker F12 Bindings 196.8 oz/pair (12 lbs, 4.8 oz)
with Sportiva RT Tech bindings and powder cords 153 oz/pair (9 lbs, 9 oz)

DPS Wailer 99 Skis (184cm Carbon Pure) with Plum Guide bindings 146 oz/pair (9 lbs, 2 oz)

 

Hagan Skins 11.9 ounces
Ramer Skins 17.4 ounces
G3 skins for DPS Wailer 99 skis:  25.5 ounces
Ascension skins for BD Arc Ascents 18.5 ounces
G3 skins for Lotus 32.2
Gecko skins for DPS Wailer 112RP 22.5 ounces
G3 Guide skins for DPS Wailer 112RP 27.7 ounces
Dynafit skins for 187 Manaslus 20.2 ounces

Tracker Avalanche beacon with batteries 10.8