Changing gears from one season to the next is a part of mountain town living. Weather and conditions dictate how we embrace the outdoors. The late winter mud season is usually a pickle, as Mother Nature tends to be a two-faced bitch and it affects everyone. Folks around town moan about the continued snowfall and inclement weather that continues to persist, and they’re sick of wearing wools hats, long johns and getting shut down by her mercurial mood swings. Everyone gets cranky. On some levels I agree. Grey mornings, sloppy snow showers and dirty streets leave little to be desired after a long winter. Hangovers don’t help either.
However, for many of us in northwest Wyoming, ski touring season is in full stride, as in Kareem Abdul Jabbar stride. Long after the lifts closed, and the mass exodus of sun seekers leaves the community, the backcountry in Jackson Hole has come into its own. More storms, an increasing snowpack and prolonged powder stashes have been the only game to play. You have to play to win.
Big seasons like this don’t come around often. And to ski tour in areas I’ve been before but not seen so filled in creates the idea of being in someplace new. And it is new. The canvas is the same but Old Man Winter’s brush has carried way more paint, producing a unique and passing landscape that is different from winters’ past. To a ski tourer, it’s simple: more potential lines open up, and the platitude, “Shoulda been there,” has never made more sense.
Last week we had that moment on Mt. Hunt in Grand Teton National Park. The north face is a series of cliff bands of friable rock and talus that usually offers up a serpentine, if contrived, route off the summit. Not this year. With 14-plus feet of settled snow in the high Tetons, the north face is a gem. The deep snowpack has buried most of the rock bands, with spiny ridges and humps intermittently breaking the surface. Two obvious lines descend from the summit as we toured below them in the early sunlit hours.
Several other tertiary Teton peaks are also blanketed in rare heaps of white and it spins the mind. Creeping up Open Canyon, there are ski routes where there normally aren’t. “I could spend a week out here,” said my partner Brian. Chances are we won’t, but it’s the thought, right?
Later that morning, with the sun rising fast and the snowpack heating steadily, we looked off the summit of Mt. Hunt, realizing the nature of impermanence. These peaks won’t be this covered much longer. Getting the chance to ski something that rarely comes into its own is a real, if subtle, reward. And I like that. It’s mud season, the change is happening, gears are moving, and I’m exactly where I want to be.