January 26th - February 5th, 2002
2001-2002 Annual Ski Trip
The plan for this year's ski trip was to take advantage of E and I being located in Montana, and hit some of our local Montana ski areas along with a four-day trip to Jackson Hole/Grand Targhee in Wyoming. Our friend Chris had once again done a great job of taking care of our Jackson Hole lodging, setting us up with a 3-bedroom/3-bath condo in Teton Village. E and I took care of the lodging in Montana, which essentially meant setting up our place for visitors. Although we had planned to check out a variety of the local ski areas in Montana, the proximity and awesome snow conditions at Lost Trail Powder Mountain meant that the Montana segment of our trip could be summed up quickly: Lost Trail, Lost Trail, Lost Trail.
Saturday, January 26th, 2002 - Lost Trail Powder Mountain, MT
Although we didn't really ski with any of our visitors this day, James arrived in the evening so I'm going to roll the day into the main story. Lost Trail had received about 14 inches during the Thursday/Friday timeframe, but this weekend was going to have a hard time touching the spectacular conditions of MLK weekend. MLK weekend featured about two-feet of snow leading up to Sunday, which were capped off with a 20-inch dump on MLK day (Monday). The current report said only one inch of new snow for Saturday morning, but E and I joined up with our friend Derek to go out for some runs anyway. We figured that there had been so much snow recently, it almost didn't matter how much new we received. As it turns out, the snow from Thursday/Friday had fallen fairly heavy (water content) and there had been some wind, so it was actually not what we had hoped. The one inch of new snow did little to cover up this snow, so we were skiing on the old stuff. Now let me put this into perspective less anyone think the conditions were horrible. The conditions were actually great; packed powder with an inch of new and great temperatures. But... we were jaded. We had been spoiled by the previous weekend and just couldn't get our grooves going. We enjoyed a few runs as best we could, and talked about the great powder of the previous weekend. In the afternoon, Derek left, and E and I finished off the day with a run of our own. We hit the steeps of Outlaw, and then went into the trees to the left of the quarry. While filming a line through the trees, E had her adventure of the day when she became indecisive about which side of a tree to ski, and crashed right into it. It was a two-inch thick fir tree, and she snapped it right off at the snow line. E was fine, but we felt bad about the tree. Hopefully the remaining five feet below the snow can carry on. That night, we picked up James at the Missoula airport. It had snowed lightly that day, and the roads and parking lots had iced up pretty nicely. We took the opportunity to take care of some recycling at the Missoula recycling center and I was almost able to skate around the parking lot! Fortunately, this didn't appear to be a problem for the air traffic and James' flight made it in fine. The temperatures were now cooling off, and we knew that any new snow that fell overnight would be much lighter.
Sunday, January 27th, 2002 - Lost Trail Powder Mountain, MT
On Sunday, the awesome powder conditions returned with six inches of new light fluff at Lost Trail. Short of arriving one week earlier, James had timed his arrival pretty well. James really enjoyed the views of the open hillsides on the drive to Lost Trail, and pointed out plenty of Elk. E and I had never seen them in the area before, although I'm sure they're often there and it just took James to finally bring them to our attention. Derek joined us again for some skiing, and we immediately ripped up the fresh powder on Thunder (directly under lift #2). We hit many of our favorites, Moose Creek, the Secret Meadow, Outlaw etc. in order to introduce James to the area. Everywhere we found great conditions, not quite bottomless, but the 6 new inches really revived the surface (and our spirits). I had to laugh as we watched a classic scene take place. Four young snowboarders came down a shot known as Beaver, a 40 degree slope of a few hundred vertical feet. However, they all came down heelside, entirely heelside, the whole trail. We cringed as the four of them spread out together, taking up almost the entire trail in the form of one big snowboard plow. Their formation was beautiful, they barely missed a spec of the new powder as they scraped their way down. While this stereotypical scene was a riot, Derek was a bit less than amused and I know I heard him mumble a few curse words under his breath ;).
Later in the day it was time for a bit of hiking, as E and I introduced James to the Triple Jump/Bear Claw ridge. The snow was awesome; light, dry powder that was softer and deeper than anything we'd had all day. In the woods off the ridge, where sunlight and wind had never penetrated, the snow WAS bottomless. It's hard to gauge how deep the snow was because it formed a beautiful gradient of density that went from ultra-light powder on top to a medium-weight base far below. This is some of the most amazing powder to ski because it's so forgiving; oh the joy of missing out on thaw/freeze cycles. I'm pretty sure we would have done a few more laps if it wasn't time for the ski area to close down. On the way home, we got to see some Bighorn Sheep standing right on the side of the road in the Sula area. This was especially exciting for me since I'd been waiting for months to catch a glimpse of them. The Sula area between Hamilton and Lost Trail is a common area in which to see Bighorn Sheep and other wildlife, but it looks like it was James that finally brought us some good luck!
Monday, January 28th
It was time for E and I to head back to work, and for James to get busy exploring Hamilton. James walked into town and did a bunch of shopping, browsed around and shot some video of the wildlife, and I believe watched some of the Outdoor Life Network at our place. He was really psyched to get the chance to walk over to the Bitterroot River and watch the fish. Of course he got them on video as well. In the evening, we went out to Nap's, a local burger place in Hamilton, which supposedly has the best burgers in Montana. Their burgers are amazing, and come in sizes up to ¾ pound. If you find yourself in Hamilton and are a red meat eater, I'd advise checking out Nap's.
Tuesday, January 29th
On Tuesday, things got silly right from the start when James headed out onto the deck of our guestroom to videotape the deer that sometimes hang out in the back yard. It was well below freezing, but of course James was out there in his bedclothes not wanting to miss the chance to get the deer on tape. I'm not sure if any of the neighbors caught this scene, but you never know. James continued his explorations of the area, and Chris drove up from Salt Lake City, arriving late in the evening. I believe Chris said the drive time was about seven hours.
Wednesday, January 30th
Hmmm, I'm not really sure what the heck went on here since I was at work for the day, but E says that James and Chris went out for Breakfast/Brunch at the Coffee Cup Café in town. I know James and Chris were kind enough to go up to Missoula and pick up Dave from the airport as well (because Dave magically appeared at our house later that day). In the evening, we went to dinner at the Banque, a local restaurant, to celebrate Dave's arrival and get psyched for some skiing.
Thursday, January 31st
On Thursday, Lost Trail opened again and it was time to return with an even bigger compliment of skiers. E was still working, but I took the morning off to ski with Dave, Chris and James. Conditions were a bit blustery, and new snow had certainly accumulated since last Sunday. On weekdays, Lost Trail will generally only run one lift (lift #2) which services the entire mountain. Lift #2 starts below the base area, and it's a short ski down to get there on mellow blue/green terrain. We could immediately see that is was going to be another powder day, and just getting down to lift #2 was a treat. Another six or so inches of light powder had built up, reinforcing the snow we'd received the previous weekend. Dave was already having a blast just connecting over to the lift. We proceeded to give Dave and Chris a tour through our usual favorite spots, Dave commenting that it was already his best skiing of the season. We started out by ripping up some of the great powder at Moose Creek, James and I knew that Dave and Chris would find great turns in the open terrain. At the bottom of Moose Creek it was time for some jumps off the cat-track into bottomless powder, and then over to the quarry to rip it up in the bowl.
As Lost Trail luck would have it, we soon ran into our friend Greg, who'd driven over from Seattle to meet up with us at Lost Trail. We were psyched that we'd caught up with him, but that's one of the advantages of a one-lift operation. The group didn't miss a beat and we were off again exploring the mountain. We hit both sides of the streambed below lift 2, finding great lines in the woods. Dave really took a liking to the skier's right of the streambed, an area that I'd never explored but suspected had fun terrain. It's got a lot of nice tight tree skiing, with some open slots, much like back home in Vermont. This, combined with the contours in the streambed made for an invigorating ride. We then took Greg on a tour of what we'd done in
the morning, finishing off with some great steep trees below lift #1. Finally, I decided that I should head in to finish up some work before I took off for the weekend. Tomorrow it would be time to introduce everyone to the Triple Jump/Bear claw Ridge; it was pretty much guaranteed to be the way we'd left it on Sunday, but with an all-new layer of feather light Lost Trail Powder.
Friday, February 1st
Since Lost Trail is 45 minutes on our way to Jackson Hole, we decided to pack up all our gear, ski for the day, and head out to our digs at Jackson right from there. E had to work again, so she would leave after work to meet us at Lost Trail with the second vehicle. I was really psyched because at this point I'd really cut the cord from work. As much fun as it is to take the morning off and get in some turns, there's nothing like having the whole day ahead to do as you please, with no time constraints. I'm not sure how much new snow fell overnight, but as I look back at the video of the day, I can see that it was snowing and there were lots of fresh lines. Whatever fell just added to the bounty that we'd been picking up over the past few weeks. We hit some more lines at Moose Creek, followed up by the obligatory jumps into the powder off the lower cat track. With the bottomless pow, Greg set an all new standard for his jump known as "The Birthing Position". I didn't capture a still image of this one, but let your imagination be your guide. From there we headed over to the 40 degree steeps in the Outlaw/Beaver area, and then it was off to lunch.
In the afternoon it was time for the big kahuna, the powder-filled woods off the Bear Claw/Triple Jump Ridge. We had the entire afternoon to explore, and we found some really sweet lines as we worked our way along the ridge. Some of them even had small snowfields that let you open up and rip through the powder. Since the temperatures had cooled off and we'd been getting doses of nice light powder, that famous Montana cold smoke was really flying. I'm going to have to say that the skiing was the best we'd had yet for our trip; good friends, deep pow, no competition, no obligations. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. We did a number of laps, not finishing up until well after the lifts had closed. It was one of those mid-winter days that keep you skiing well into the dusk because it's just so damn fun. Finally, in the waning light, we made our way back to the parking lot to wait for Erica. As we walked into the far end of the parking lot, she sped right past us, oblivious to our shouts. Eventually we all met up and headed across the road and up to Chief Joseph Pass. We were on our way to Jackson Hole! After the pass, we dropped down into the Big Hole and the snowfall that had been with us all afternoon petered out. The skies began to clear as we headed west into dryer climes. As we looked back towards the Bitterroots and the white wall of clouds and snow that hid them from view, we all knew we wanted some of that moisture to come along with us.
Saturday, February 2nd
For our time at Jackson Hole, we would be staying in Teton Village, a small community right at the base of the ski resort (elevation 6,311'). The actual town of Jackson Wyoming (elevation 6,209') is maybe 10 miles away, a bit to the southeast. We arrived at the village a bit before midnight and checked into our lodging. Chris had outdone himself again, and got a huge condominium with three spacious bedrooms, a large kitchen, and of course a nice big TV (to watch all the video footage that we planned on getting). Although it was dark and we couldn't really get a sense of the mountains, we could see the lights of snowcats WAY up in the sky. Things certainly felt big.
The forecast for the upcoming days was nothing short of NOT SPECTACULAR. Clear weather was called for, with highs in the 20s and 30s, and lows in the single digits. Recent storms had done a nice job of building the base depths on the mountain, meaning that just about everything was open. This was a nice thought, but barring some bizarre change of events, it didn't look like we'd have any powder in our future.
We awoke the next morning to very light snow falling outside the condo. This snow however, was a façade. Looking up at the mountain, we could see that the sky was blue all around, and what we were experiencing was probably just some sort of moisture that fell out of the air due to temperature fluctuations. It was nice to look at, but unfortunately it had no substance. This phenomenon actually happened more than once during our trip, which makes me wonder just how common it is.
We were in no immediate rush to get on the slopes (not being a powder day and all) so we headed into the town of Jackson to stock up on groceries for our stay. The thing I liked best about the town was the way the Snow King ski area dropped right into town. Other than that, there seemed to be some nice backcountry opportunities in the slopes around town. Chris pointed out that some areas were restricted with regard to skiing. At one point, someone was skiing one of these slopes and set off a slide that damaged a structure on someone's property. From that point on, skiing was barred from the slope. There were certainly some posh stores in town as well, presumably supported by the many visitors that come to town throughout the year.
Once we got back to Teton Village, we decided to head up for a half day of skiing on the mountain. We eventually found a ski lift at the end of our road in the village but we had no idea how we would be able to purchase lift tickets to ride it. After talking to the lift operators, it turns out that the lift at the end of our street (Moose Creek Quad) and the next lift (Union Pass Quad) were essentially free. Since the terrain serviced by these lifts is pretty flat and uninteresting, I guess the resort isn't too worried about people riding them for free. This seems like a great option for beginners that want a free ski day however.
We got off the Union Pass Quad and headed down to the main base area. After Lost Trail, the half day ticket price of $44 was a bit of a shock. E pointed out that at that price, we could get two full days of skiing and two orders of chili at Lost Trail. Anyway, we sucked it up and decided to hit the world famous Jackson Hole tram.
The thought of taking one lift that services over 4,000 vertical feet of skiing has to be exciting to almost any skier. Couple this with the fact that you can ski steeps for virtually the whole run, and it's like a fantasy come to life. But, that fantasy pretty much ends after you spend an hour waiting in line to get on the thing. Sure, it was a Saturday, but is any lift worth an hour of standing around for just so-so ski conditions? Whether it was or not, we were at Jackson Hole for the full experience, and what would it be without the tram?
We finally got aboard and headed to the top of Rendezvous Mountain (10,450'). The views were amazing, and it WAS a great feeling to get off at the top and know that you had over 4,000' of skiing to look forward to. We had no plan in mind, and figured that we'd just let the mountain take us where it wanted. Well, it decided to take us into Rendezvous Bowl, which offered up some nice sustained steeps. The great part was that even after we completed Rendezvous Bowl, we eventually found ourselves atop yet ANOTHER bowl, Cheyenne Bowl! Although the immense amount of steep vertical was great, the snow quality left a LOT to be desired. It had snowed just a few days earlier, but everything was tracked up, bumped out, and just generally firm. It was certainly hardpack in many places, especially those that saw sun and wind. It could have been the traffic, or the weather, or a combination of both, but the snow surface was generally... unimpressive.
Snowfall or no, it seems as though Jackson Hole's surface just sees a lot of traffic. While flying back from Vermont last week, this thought was reinforced as I read the September 2002 issue of Powder Magazine. On page 59 as they discuss 12 of their favorite powder days of the previous season, a 15-inch day at Jackson Hole was mentioned which included "high tram hype, meaning the hour-of-powder will soon be gone." I'm sure it's not quite as cut and dried as that, but the general picture was coming through clearly; big popularity means big competition for tracks. Jackson Hole seemed to be falling in this category just like we'd experienced at Whistler-Blackcomb last season. The conditions were much better at Whistler, but all the untracked was chewed up in about an hour. It's great fun hitting all these fancy resorts that are on my "to do" list, although I'm certainly finding that some of them can then be moved to my "no-need-to-do-too-often" list with regard to fresh tracks. However, I'll make sure to wait until a real Jackson Hole powder day before I give my final judgment.
As we continued our first run, we stood atop a tight chute that dropped into the Cheyenne Bowl area. It was probably about 35-40 degrees in steepness, and narrowed to a few ski lengths at the throat. Although it was only about 100 or so vertical feet, we all stopped as we decided how we were going to approach it. Suddenly, E dove in and led the charge! The other five of us (the guys) sort of laughed and thought, "Well, I guess she showed us". It seemed like a good place for some video, so we made a mental note to find the chute again and get some footage. After that, we continued on down into the bowl, and eventually worked our way into the Cheyenne Gully. There were plenty of steep lines all around, and it was easy to see that it could take a long time to learn all the nooks and crannies on this mountain. The snow was again mediocre, but we all had a good time.
After emerging from the gully, we traversed to the right. At this point, it was funny to think that we'd already had a huge run here of like 2000 vertical, yet we were only about halfway down. We soon found ourselves amongst a large open face of snow, pitched somewhere in the intermediate to advanced range, and filled with bumps wall to wall. It was quite an interesting sight, and although I wasn't totally sure, I surmised that we might be in the Hobacks. I went into this trip having heard of basically two main "trails" at Jackson Hole: Corbet's Couloir and the Hobacks. These were two regions that I had been interested in skiing, and it looks like we'd hit one of them. It turned out that we were in the midst of the North Hoback. Other than a few sparse trees, we continued down through about 1000 vertical feet of pretty nice bumps. After some more blue terrain, we caught the Union Pass Quad then returned to the base.
In addition to the 4,000' runs that are offered from the tram, Jackson Hole also has the Bridger Gondola which provides almost 3,000' of vertical. In an effort to avoid the line at the tram, we continued with a couple of runs on the gondola later in the day. On one of our runs, we took the trail below the gondola lift line, a blue trail called Sundance. This trail provided a long sustained run, but its most interesting feature was the way it was contoured like a huge groomed gully in many areas. It was really invigorating to catch speed and ride WAY (as in like 50 or more feet) up the sides of the trail. I know that somewhere they hold the Jackson Hole Downhill race, and Sundance seems like a natural contender to use as a route. The banked sides would be incredible at downhill speeds. The downside of this route was that it was quite icy, so icy in fact that it finally convinced us that we needed to get our edges sharpened. We spent the rest of the afternoon using the gondola and exploring Rendezvous Mountain, getting a feel for the mountain's layout and enjoying the steep, albeit firm, lines.
Sunday, February 3, 2002
The next day, we decided to spurn the sixty-something dollar lift tickets and ho hum ski conditions. The plan was to head into Jackson for a bit during the day, and watch the Super Bowl (featuring our favorite underdogs the New England Patriots). We also decided to address the issue of getting our edges sharpened to accommodate those "fantastic ski conditions that are always present out west". Of all the twenty-something days I'd skied so far in the season (including two days back in the east at Sugarbush and Wachusett in one of the worst eastern seasons in a while) this was the first time I felt that I actually needed a real edge. We struck a deal with one of the local shops in the village and dropped our skis off for pickup later that day. During half-time at the Super Bowl, Dave and I found ourselves running through places like the Mangy Moose Bar, catching glimpses of the halftime show and the crowds of excited onlookers as we worked our way to the shop to pick up the tuned skis. It was certainly an experience, one of my most memorable (non-skiing) parts of the visit. The excitement of the Patriots being up 14-3 certainly enhanced it. After an amazing victory by the Patriots that kept us on edge to the end, we all went to sleep in anticipation of a full day of skiing on our "edge-enhanced" skis.
Monday, February 4, 2002
We were hoping our newly-sharpened edges would invigorate us for a new day of skiing, something that the sixty-something one-day ticket price certainly wasn't doing. To get the day off to a good start on skis, we decided to head over to Apres Vous Mountain, a smaller peak rising to 8,481' off the side of Rendezvous. This area contained a number of groomed blue runs that looked like they were being warmed by the sun. If there was soft snow to be found anywhere, we figured that this would be it. It turned out that conditions weren't too bad, although even these broad groomed slopes felt a bit crowded at times. There were a lot of folks moving at really high speed making things a bit uncomfortable if you were trying to take it easy and explore. From the top of the Apres Vous Quad Chair, we could see a hiking route leading up to the top of the Moran Face and the Crags area. There were some tracks coming down from the powder up there, but from where we stood, it didn't even look like the hike was worth it. The snow was generally crusty and old, certainly something we didn't need to hike to find.
Later, we did another tram run. The line was less than an hour this time since it was a weekday, but it was still a lengthy wait. I checked in with the ski patrol about Corbet's Couloir, but they said it was still closed. Judging by the view of the couloir I'd seen from the tram, which showed one set of tracks through a few inches of snow above a firm base, I guess I'm glad it wasn't open to temp me. We headed over to the chute we had encountered near Cheyenne Bowl the first day and shot some video with the cameras. As I watched the video to refresh myself on what we did, I was cringing at the sound of the snow, conditions were still as firm as ever. We explored a similar route to the first time, making an effort to try variations. Even checking out some less explored lines, we still found that everything was tracked out and generally firm, but we did find tons of hidden terrain. It was a good thing we had radios, because one traverse I took as I attempted to scout out less-traveled terrain left me a half-mile from the others. I think Dave was with me, and we did manage to find some softer snow on north facing terrain. Lots of people had been there, but at least the sun and wind hadn't. The other highlight of snow that I can recall was an area between the Tram and Gondola lines. It was in a region with a lot of traversing trails which separated stretches of steeper terrain around Amphitheatre/Dick's Ditch. I was lucky to find some sections that faced a bit to the north, and had bits of chowder around near the trees. It wasn't much, but it was a joy to finally hit some nice steep terrain and not have to listen to the sound of my skis on the firm snow.
On our last run of the day, we hit some gully near the Hobacks (something similar to Cheyenne Gully). It was getting late in the day, and we had the gully all to ourselves so we played around with it like a half pipe. It was a fun way to end our time at Jackson, but we had a real scare at the end when E came off a drop of about four feet that she hadn't even noticed. She landed on her chest and face, and her body decided that it wanted to bend backwards over the rest of her. It looked like she was a candidate for a life-threatening neck-injury and we all held our collective breath as we watched the scene, although we could do nothing. She was really slammed, and we were all ready to go into crisis mode when she got up and was able to move. James asked her a few spinal injury/concussion questions, and after she seemed to be without major injury, we were thankful. It certainly brought everyone back to reality. It may not have been the best way to end the day, but as James once said, "We skied hard, we skied well, and we?re all alive." E was really sore that evening in her back and neck, sore enough that she even took some Advil (THAT is a big deal). It would actually be a few months before her back and neck stopped bugging her, an unfortunate reminder of that scary incident.
That night we got ready to pack up and leave Teton Village. In the morning, those of us heading back to Montana (everyone except Greg) were going to ski at Grand Targhee for the day. We were excited for the change of scene, and hopefully a change in snow consistency as well. As we'd find out, Grand Targhee would totally live up to its reputation for great snow.
Tuesday, February 5, 2002
To get to Grand Targhee, we had to head to the west back over Teton Pass. As we'd come through during the night before, this was our first real chance to check out all its legendary backcountry terrain. It looked as cool as all the hype suggested, skiable lines were everywhere right off the road. The slopes had tons of tracks on them, but there were still areas with untracked. I'm sure one could spend many season exploring the Teton Pass ski terrain.
About an hour or so after leaving Jackson, we came to the town of Driggs, Idaho (6,286'), and we knew we were getting close to Targhee. Driggs didn't really have the resort atmosphere, which I think is due to the fact that Targhee is a sort of smaller, yet self-contained resort. Unlike Jackson, Driggs did have substantial snow on the ground; we could already see that things were different on this (the western) side of the Teton Range. The views of the Grand (13, 770'), and other Tetons were also absolutely amazing. E had chosen not to ski today due to the fact that she was so sore from her horrible crash, and didn't want to take and chances on injuring herself further. This was a real downer because she had been really excited to ski Grand Targhee, it is totally her kind of resort. The fact that she was able to sit out after seeing all the great Targhee snow on a bluebird day, really showed how bad she was feeling.
There were only a couple dozen cars in the Targhee parking lot, and as we approached the lifts, we could already feel from this distance that conditions were different. The main skiing on Fred's Mt. (10,000'), which is at the center of the resort, takes place on huge open slopes splattered with a few trees. Because it was so open, we had a great look at the snow, which looked much more like chowder than hardpack. The brilliant morning sunshine made it look so appealing, and there was virtually nobody around! We hopped on the Dreamcatcher Quad and rode up the 2000 vertical feet to give it the real test.
We were starved for powder, so even though we wanted to test out the broad slopes on the front of the mountain, I thought it would fun to explore a bit and see what we could find as we got the lay of the land. We traversed skier's left along the summit, and as we followed along the ridge, we came across gates that let you into the legendary Grand Targhee backcountry. One big chute I came across looked like it just dropped into infinity from my vantage point, although since there were many tracks from people who had dropped in, I'm going to assume it was skiable. The backcountry looked enticing, but that wasn't our plan, we had a whole new resort to explore. The snow surface was already far better than Jackson Hole's, but so far we were just traversing on mellow terrain, we needed to find a good test. We continued along our traverse, keeping close to the resort boundary in hopes of finding some untracked powder just off piste. Brief forays onto some of the trails clearly confirmed that the snow was in great shape; not fresh powder but soft and loose all about.
Our traverse finally brought us below the cliffs of Peaked Mt. (9,700') where we could see vast amounts of what looked to be deep powder between the cliffs and the boundary rope. After consulting our map and realizing that we would very easily be able to ski right back into bounds, we decided to traverse and check out the snow here. Even as we began the traverse, we could see that this snow was fantastic. It was deep and feather light. After a few minutes of traversing, we found ourselves atop a slope of powder that we knew was going to be amazing. We double checked that we weren't below any major avalanche terrain, pulled out the video cameras, and Chris set up his still camera. We KNEW this was going to be good. What proceeded was incredibly cathartic after our days at Jackson. There were almost two feet of powder just sitting there, and although the run wasn't very long, it was pitched beautifully at around 30 or so degrees, and it did the trick. The smiles on everyone's faces during and after the run were obvious, the snow had re-invigorated everyone. We were able to traverse a few more minutes and get a second shot at similar terrain. The skiing at Grand Targhee was off to a great start!
Our travels brought us down into the gully between Fred's and Peaked Mts., and we had an amazing ride though what seemed like and endless singletrack. Taking it at speed with all the blind corners was a blast. In addition, we got a chance to look at all the tress around and see where the fresh powder was at. The gully dumped us off at the bottom of the Sacajawea quad, which took us up to Peaked Mt., a region which reportedly used to be accessible only for snowcat skiing. Now, they've got a lift on part of it, but the rest is still maintained for snowcat trips. There are signs at the top that indicate where you can't hike for turns (so as not to destroy the powder of the cat-skiing operation I guess). We did a few runs off the Sacajawea lift, checking out many areas of tree skiing, which, although having lots of tracks, still had a lot of areas of fresh. Nothing was quite as deep as the stuff we'd hit along the boundary rope, but there were still a lot of fun turns. I also managed to find a way down through the cliffs along the edge of Peaked Mt., which took a good bit of route finding. There were plenty of cliffs to air out there if you knew the terrain, and it all dropped into the beautiful powder that we had skied on our first run. I was really wishing I knew the terrain up there to check it out, but jumping off a cliff when you can't quite see what's below you is still a bit sketchy, no matter how deep the powder is. We resigned to staying among the trees and had some great turns.
After a while, we decided to head in for a quick bite and check out how E was doing in the lodge. She'd brought some work to keep her busy, and it was a bit disheartening to have to tell her about the amazing light powder we'd found out there. I told her that we'd come back together someday to make up for her missing out. We had burgers for lunch which were delicious, and we ate upstairs where Erica was working; in a special room they had available for eating bag lunches. We shared it with a few other visitors and it was really nice since it provided a huge view of the mountain.
After lunch, we decided to focus on that huge open terrain on Fred's Mt., and see what else was in store for us. Upon first hand inspection, we found that the snow we'd see below the lift was really quite soft, broken up powder. Unlike Jackson Hole, bumps had not formed due to (I guess?) much lower traffic. I know that Targhee had been under the influence of the same sort of weather as Jackson Hole, and even though it had been many days since snow, the surface was in beautiful soft shape. One of my personal highlights for the afternoon was screaming along the groomers on these broad open slopes. I can honestly say that it was the best groomed terrain I'd ever ridden. I'm not a connoisseur of groomed terrain, but this was fantastic. On trails like The Face, Sitting Bull, and Rock Garden, it felt as though you were on a snowy ridge at the edge of the world. These broad cruisers had such amazing soft groomed snow that you could go as fast as you wanted without any fear of your edges letting go. This fact, combined with few other skiers was a bad recipe for high speed. I make no exaggeration when I say that we scared ourselves silly; hands down the best groomed experience of my life. I know that James will certainly concur, since he had the same dumbfounded look on his face, and told me how he felt.
Off to the skier's right of one of the groomers (Rock Garden) a small cornice forms which then drops you into steep terrain with names such as The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and the East Woods. James and I had nearly encountered this in a bad way during a fast run on Rock Garden; although we had both stopped, we had no idea that a cornice dropped off the edge of this groomer upon which we had just been flying. I'm glad I never chose to explore near the edge on those fast runs! Now however, we WERE interested in the cornice. The snow below looked nice and soft, and it was time for some cornice drops. We had great fun working our way down the cornice and traversing back up to drop in again. Chris pulled out his digital still camera and got some great shots. It was a great end to a great day, Targhee is high on my list of places to get back to.
Although all the boys wanted to stay, E pointed out that we had a bit of a drive ahead of us and that she had to get up early for work tomorrow. These were obviously the words of someone who had NOT been on that amazing snow under a brilliant blue sky. Still, after debating on the radios, we realized that she'd been sitting around all day while we were having fun. It was unfortunately time to go :(.
As we drove away, we captured parting pictures of the Tetons and talked about how much fun we'd had. I can't believe how different the snow was between Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee, especially when the two resorts are so close (as the crow flies). Jackson Hole gets plenty of thumbs up for amenities (we had great food in the lodges) and of course massive vertical and steeps. However, after this trip, Grand Targhee has made me a huge fan of its amazing snow, lack of crowds, fun terrain, and overall atmosphere. I hope I get back soon, I can't even imagine what a powder day is like!
If you'd like to hear more about this trip from another perspective, don't forget to check out Dave's account of our adventures!
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