Lessons Learned from Skiing Teton Pass… like a Jerry

No matter who you are, or where you ski, when it comes to skiing of Teton Pass, prepare yourself and have an open mind. I start by saying this not because of how technical or difficult the skiing is off the Pass, because it isn’t. I say this because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that my friends and I made on a weekend in February last year. And we made fools of ourselves.

Teton Pass is the main thru-way from Jackson, Wyoming to Victor, Idaho that crosses over the southern portion of the Teton Range. Being a mountain pass road, it climbs up to a peak elevation of 8,500ft at the highest point of the of the Pass. This pass sees tons and tons of snow each year and regularly gets shut down because of how much snow builds up in any given storm. Right at the top of the pass, there is a busy parking lot, where dozens of winter recreations head out into the mountains every hour. From what we saw, this ease of access brings much more than the season veterans of the backcountry. Lots of people in resort gear were bootpacking their way up some of the surrounding peaks, on both North and South sides of the pass. 

Initially, my friends, Pete and Kyle, and I were very judgmental regarding the amount of “Jerrys” we were seeing out there, feeling concerned for their safety and those around them. As it turns out, the locals, as always, know best, and it was us that were the real JerryOfTheDay and potentially risking the safety of those around us.

Due to the proximity of Mt. Glory to the parking lot and the visibility of the entire southern face from the trailhead, we decided to make that our objective. Even though every single person was bootpacking up the hill, we thought they were stupid, and decided against it. We slapped skins onto our fancy skis, and started to tour uphill. Right away, my buddy Pete started to question why was everyone bootpacking up this, and we were the only ones touring. Even people with similar lightweight setups as ours were bootpacking. Yet we ignored Pete’s objection and headed up the face skinning away. 

Not shortly after, a group hit us with the, “You guys aren’t from around here, are you?”

Then they proceeded to explain that everyone bootpacks this because it’s easier, to which we disagreed. And they also informed us that we shouldn’t tour up the very obvious avalanche path (the day after storm), or else we’ll catch some heat from everyone since the slide path regularly buries the pass. This we agreed with, but felt a little heated since that was quite the obvious fact. We felt that staying on our skis allowed us to navigate the slope in a much safer way because if an accident were to happen, we could move over the soft snow much faster to avoid any danger or reach an injured party than if we were boot packing up the established path. Anyone in that boot pack would be rendered useless as they would sink deep into the unpacked snow.

Eventually, the slope pitch got too steep to keep skinning up, and even though we were stubborn and didn’t want to join the pack, we inevitably realized the locals were right, like always. The bootpack, because it was already set for us, was a breeze. We cruised up the remainder of the slope until we reached the summit of Mount Glory. Of course, we were not the only ones up there, and kept to ourselves seeing as we pretty much pissed off every other skier on that mountain with out stubborn antics. And even within our group, tempers flared, and arguments got heated. This spilled over into our decision making process on our descent, which is just about the last thing you want when touring with a group.

Eventually, we all agreed on a safe descent on a Southeast facing ridge. We avoided the main draw that was an all but guaranteed avalanche path down to the road. And though the skiing wasn’t the best, I sure learned a lot that day. For example, just because you think you might be an expert skier in your local mountains, doesn’t mean a damn thing when you get to a new zone. We should have asked for beta from other skiers in the parking lot, because they would have explained to us why the locals do the things they do. And they also would have been able to share with us that the south side of the pass is primarily where people who want to tour end up, rather than the north side bootpack.

We also should have done more research on safe descents. In the Wasatch, there are plenty of avalanche paths that could reach the road, and we know them and when to avoid them. When we skied Mount Glory, we really didn’t know any of them and found ourselves making decisions on the fly. And I also learned when dealing with a group, that group-think is 100% a reality and we really need to not only have someone always play the devil’s advocate for all decisions, but to also listen to countering opinions. 

All in all, we made it up and down safely, with only our egos damaged. But those lessons I will never forget. We are all human, we all make mistakes, and it is our duty, especially in the backcountry, to be as safe as possible to us, our partners, and those around us. 

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