Skiing the southeast couloir on South Teton 3814m

Jackson Hole, the powder mecca in the Rocky Mountains, is home to the crème de la crème of freeriding. It is home to Teton Gravity Research, a legendary centre with a fascinating skiing history and unbelievably rich natural diversity. The Austrian freerider Melissa Presslaber spent her winter there and reports on her adventures.

February 2019: this will go down in ski history as the snowiest month since records began. Fresh snow every day, fluffy powder. Living the motto ski, eat, sleep, repeat. A dream for every skier, except for one thing: you are not alone. Starting this winter, Jackson Hole is now an Ikon Pass resort. One ski pass that covers 38 different international skiing destinations, most of them in the USA. Ski passes in the USA are very expensive compared to the Alps. A day ticket here in Jackson costs $150. You can get an Ikon Pass for 900 bucks. So, this is a great opportunity to reduce the cost of skiing and it brings a lot of people to Jackson. Of course, everyone wants to have their share of the epic powder, understandably.

It's quieter outside the ski area, which is where I usually go, or in the Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons are an approx. 100 km long mountain range on the border between Wyoming and Idaho in the Rocky Mountains. A paradise for ski tourers, mountaineers and climbers. The approaches are very long compared to tours in the Alps, but it is very quiet and the possibilities for ski tours are endless.

A stable high had formed in mid-March and so it is time to head for some more demanding ski destinations. The southeast couloir on South Teton has been beckoning for a long time and today is the day. 18 km long in each direction and with over 1800 metres of climbing, this tour is one of the longer ones. Around 6am in the morning I start from the parking lot of the Taggart Trailhead, with the first hour of up and down through the forest. The greatest challenge here is to ski down a narrow, icy path with the skins still fitted to the skis. This is great coordination and balance training for first thing in the morning. I am on my own and really enjoy the quiet. Apparently the first bears have been spotted in the national park, but thank goodness they are still all asleep when I pass by. After about 3 hours I reach the plateau, where Middle and Grand Teton tower up in front of me, the South Teton is still far away.

I treat myself to a short break in the sun and eat a muesli bar. After a rest it is time to get moving again. I ascend towards the southwest, reaching a huge scree field, which is unfortunately not covered with snow. This means that I have to remove my skis and find a suitable way through the scree.

The hours on tour all start to add up. The altitude and the length of the tour put the strain on my legs. But there is not far to go now; the summit is within reach. I climb the steep face with skis attached to my backpack and reach the summit of South Teton. Wow, what a panorama. That makes all the effort worthwhile!

Now I treat myself to something to drink and a summit snack. Fantastic! Tastes twice as good as down in the valley. I'm alone on top of the mountain, incredible. That probably wouldn't happen in the Alps. At least not on the "cool summits". I get myself ready for the descent. Full of concentration, it is important that I do not make any mistakes now. From the summit I ski into the quite narrow gulley on a 50 degree slope. After the first turn I know that I'm going to nail it. The snow conditions are a bit mixed, but that doesn't matter. The gulley spits me out into a huge couloir. Here, the snow gives me the best firn conditions.

To get to Avalanche Canyon there are still many metres of elevation. Three ski tourers approach from the mountain on the other side. They didn't have good snow conditions. But the Americans don't mind. Just as long as they are out and about, they are still happy. I reach the Avy Canyon, where forest paths wind up and down and I have to watch that I do not hit a tree. Before I know it I am back at Taggart Lake. The car is not far away. I take a seat in the sunshine and look back on my descent down the couloir. Wow, what a day! It was beautiful!

Text: Melissa Presslaber