It’s early January. Just two days after the dawn of the New Year and we’re skinning high on Teton Pass above a particularly rowdy “Disco Night” at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson, WY. The music genre down below is transitioning from the Trogg’s Disco Inferno to Jay Z’s Big Pimpin. Disco>Hip Hop/R&B is how it goes.
The night is about to take a turn. People are quitting their mixed drinks and moving towards beer and Rumple Minze shots or “Rumpys” as they’re known locally. Dancing is now a full on grind sesh. It’s about to get sloppy.
Meanwhile, my partner and I are huffing and puffing in 5-degree temperatures. Triple Direct into Black’s Canyon is just over a mile and a half from the top of Teton Pass. With beers, avalanche gear, and multiple extra layers, the slog is taking longer than expected. Not only that but it’s snowing—hard.
An hour earlier it was clear with the full moon lighting up the pass like a drive-in movie. Now it’s close to a whiteout and we struggle to stay on what remains of a skin track. Every time we stop in a stand of trees, I pull out my phone, hiding it from the blowing snow, trying to get an hourly report on what the weather is doing. Radar says it’s about to blow through but the hourly forecast says the opposite. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Worst case scenario, we can ski back down our skin track and ski Tele-Bowl. Whatever the case, the snow is piling up faster than I care to notice. My attention is mainly directed at my phone and the Mountain Weather website run by local meteorologist Jim Woodmency.
One ski at a time we make our way up Mount Elly, two lone headlamps moving in harmony up the ridge, through the trees, and across a few moon spotted meadows. I hope nobody can see us from the pass road.
As we cross the first of three meadows before our destination, the weather starts to break. Cloud cover becomes spotty and unpredictable. It’s like stepping in and out of a pitch-black room. Our pupils are not adjusting well. I turn around to Duncan and say, “this is worse than a whiteout.”
He nods out of breath and we continue to glide over flatland meadows. The skin track disappears under 6 fresh inches and blowing snow. We’re almost there.
The last few skin steps are always the easiest and I relish our spot underneath the proverbial north star of Mount Elly—a gigantic dead tree standing on its summit. Stomping down an area to take skins off, layer up, and drink beer is one of my favorite ski-tour traditions. We make quick work of the chores and get to our beers. They go down smooth and fast—PBR tallboys. Delicious and frothy—almost frozen but not quite. Perfect.
By the time beers are crunched in our hands. We’re frigid and ready to ski. The clouds are disappearing into the night sky and all of a sudden, we’re back at the Teton Pass drive-in movie. Snow is blowing off the ridge and the light catches the flakes that load our run and leave waves and ripples on the surface of the snow. There’s no need for a headlamp. I put the light back in my pocket, point to a tree where we’ll meet at the bottom, and push off.
Everything shines an icy blue, except for the trees that stand in black with glowing, snow laden limbs.
As I glide over the first low angle section, snow is coming up above my boots and I have to skate to get speed. The slope drops away to around 30 degrees.
Meanwhile R&B singer Romeo comes on the speakers at the Stagecoach.
Snow billows over the shoulder with each bouncy turn and in the words of the R&B Star, “It’s all gravy baby.”
Let’s go close down the Coach.