This edition of “State of the Backcountry” comes to you from the Jackson Hole area where the bounty of a historic winter continues to offer quality options for the summer snow slider. There’s no doubt about it, it’s June, summer solstice is but a few weeks away, and the snow’s going fast. But if you’re reading this report you know just as well as I that this can be a super fun time to be skiing and riding if you choose your objective wisely, accept the inevitable change brought on by seasonality, and don’t mind early starts and a bit of walking to enjoy some turns.
I was able to sample a few different areas during my brief, recent stay in the Jackson Hole area-Teton Pass, JHMR (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort), Gros Ventre Wilderness, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). All offered some fun turns, but the overlying message is the snow’s going fast, so getting on it sooner than later is recommended. Also, it’s a good idea to watch the most current weather forecasts being issued as well as take into account freezing levels before setting off for a mission.
I used these two links-NOAA Grand Teton Forecast; Mountain Weather Forecast– the most while watching for weather windows in the area. It’s a pretty mixed bag this time of year weather wise. People are skiing early (non JHMR accessed terrain), generally between 8-10 a.m., and constantly watching for afternoon thunder/lightning storms as well as the possibility of isolated precipitation instabilities unless an obviously larger system is set to impact the forecast area. Wet slide/slab and other spring avalanche instability issues should also be at the forefront of one’s mind when skiing in the area right now. Cornices are dropping, snow is melting, and other ice/rock fall issues may be hazards to be aware of and mitigate depending on where you choose to ski tour.
Teton Pass is currently holding a few spots worthy for a walk, and access is easy when approached from the top of the pass. That said, it’s pretty burnt down low and the classic nature of many of the runs are somewhat lost in the now based on the change of season. Still, an easy place to get a little out of breath, take in some great views, and leave a few tracks.
For $35 you can ride the JHMR Tram, with your skis and/or board, and have access to a wealth of backcountry terrain. As is the theme with all descents in the area right now, earlier is better, but with a bump of 4,139 vertical feet, a 9 a.m. first Tram ride doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?
Gros Ventre Wilderness
West of the Continental Divide, the Gros Ventre Wilderness is home to arguably the most spectacular views of the Teton Range. There are some beautiful peaks within the area for ski touring, none more classic than Jackson Peak. With a prominent rise directly over the National Elk Refuge it’s nearly impossible to miss the dramatic face of Jackson Peak from just about anywhere in the Jackson Hole Valley. Some of the highest quality skiing during my stint in the area was had on Jackson Peak. It’s a bit of a meandering bushwhack in-and-out, with or without local help, but I can assure you that the benefit of the skiing far outweighs the burden of the route finding and approach.
For backcountry skiers, the crown jewel of a visit to the Jackson Hole area is to get some skiing done in GTNP. The Tetons are a relatively compact range, but what the range lacks in size is most certainly made up for in classic backcountry ski and ski mountaineering descents. For skiing in the park at present, this is where understanding your objective as well as the current weather forecast is most critical. There’s great coverage up high in GTNP right now, and folks are still skiing on the grandest of peaks in the range, but the lower reaches are melting away fast yielding dirt approaches for most all objectives in the area. In addition, the quality of many routes is dwindling fast. Runnels, lack of freezing temps, and rapidly melting ice/snow features are but a few of the observations made while in the field. If there’s an anticipated freeze anytime soon, that will go a long way to a more enjoyable, safe, worthy descent for you and your party. When in doubt there are reputable guiding services offered in the area that can either take you on an adventure in GTNP, or at least offer you insight regarding current conditions (EXUM; JHMG).
It was a standout year for the Teton Range this winter and there’s still some snow left for those who are looking. Locally, some friends are shredding Mt. Shasta as I write this while other friends are still finding great turns in the Saddlebag Lake area outside of Yosemite. Some are even venturing by foot and bike in our Lake Tahoe backyard making the multi-sport options available this time of year go down in style. It’s easy enough if you’re not looking for any more turns this season, but if you are, there’s no time like the present. Enjoy the sun and make sure you smile when you see an unaccustomed visitor who’s completely bewildered by the fact that you’re still skiing in June. Have fun out there!
“State of the Backcountry” is sponsored by Alpenglow Sports. Established in 1979, Alpenglow Sports is Tahoe City’s original mountain shop. Specializing in Backcountry and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, backpacking, hiking, camping, and the mountain lifestyle apparel, Alpenglow is always psyched to offer premier user-based customer service.
Get Ready for the 2nd Annual Mountain Festival kicking off June 21st in beautiful Lake Tahoe.