Background

A week of high pressure is lovely but also drags on for a while. Early wake ups become a grind and sometime it’s difficult to find the motivation to keep on pushing day-over-day. After some hemming and hawing, we took a day off and skied in the resort. There were other factors that made this the right call but I won’t dive into them.

Letty and Erin were up in the Tetons as well and we teamed up as a group of 4 to ski on the South and Middle Tetons. We weren’t sure what the day would have in store but agreed to start with the NW Couloir of the South Teton and see where the day took us. We had discussed potentially booting up the Ellingwood Couloir if things looked appropriate but left it on the backburner…

Trip Report

Another day, another early morning start from Taggart Lake TH. In the Tetons there’s not many ‘start zones’ so you often are re-doing the same approaches over and over. We started from the Taggart Lake TH just before 6:30 AM and began the flat skin across to Bradley Lake and up Garnet Canyon. This time we’d be going even further up to the saddle between South and Middle Teton. We skinned easily without using ski crampons through Garnet Canyon into the amphitheater of the Teton range.

We passed a group that was heading up the SW Couloir of the Middle Teton to ski the Glacier Route. The day was windier and cloudier than expected. As we approached higher towards the saddle between the Middle and South Teton snow coverage became much much thinner. It was clear this area of the Tetons gets a lot of wind and does not hold onto snow well. Rocks, ice, and scouring were apparent everywhere.

We peeked at the Ellingwood Couloir but agreed that it wasn’t the right time to ski it in the morning. The snow was still very firm and things were going to be late to the corn party, if they corned at all. I still had a feeling that the radiative heating of the day would soften the snow surface but it certainly wasn’t a guarantee.

Heading up the NW Couloir of the South Teton was in-and-out clouds following a faint bootpack. The couloir itself is very short and was not well filled in with snow. Near the top of the couloir there was plenty of stepping and pulling on rocks.

Topping out the NW Couloir on the South Teton.

The summit ridge on South Teton was mellow and fun. We stopped at the top for a good, healthy break and enjoyed the cloud breaks that passed by now and again. We could see ski tracks down the south face of South Teton towards the SE Couloir and the Amora Vida. Gotta go back!

We walked back down the ridge into the NW Couloir to where we could begin to ski. There was a group climbing up as we were preparing to ski down; they seemed to be in a hurry and didn’t wait for us to ski through. Huh…weird.

Nick laying down a jump turn in the NW Couloir on South Teton.

We skied windboard, sastrugi, and bits of powder down the north side of the South Teton towards the way we had come up. A few delicate turns through the scoured rock piles down low left us below the Ellingwood Couloir. I ski traversed over to the base and found the surface had softened. Hmmm…

We chatted as a group and agreed to climb up with the intention of skiing it. The Ellingwood is a test piece line in the Tetons, consistently steep for over 1,800′. A pure line. As we climbed up higher we were in amazement how long it was persisting. Thankfully booting was easy and we didn’t need to don our ice axes, just turned over our poles and used them as security.

Booting up the Ellingwood Couloir.

Near the top 500′ the snow surface turned much punchier, crusty, and generally not great. With our group skiing the Ellingwood began to make less and less sense. Concern was growing on how long it might take us to get down. Nick and I conversed over-and-over throughout the climb; I checked repeatedly on Letty and Erin with ‘vibe checks’, making sure the headspaces were staying healthy. As we neared the top it was becoming pretty clear that we wouldn’t ski the Ellingwood. I didn’t feel disappointment, however. It was the right call. It made sense. We’d ski the Glacier Route from below the summit, just at the col where the Ellingwood tops out. It wouldn’t be any kind of ‘pure ski line’ but that was fine. Given the conditions and circumstances of the day it made sense. Period.

Looking down the Glacier Route from the top of the Ellingwood Couloir.

Skiing the Glacier Route from where we started was steep for the first 300′ or so and then mellowed out significantly. Nick took first pull and I would sweep the group in case Letty or Erin needed help. Things went smoothly and soon enough we were skiing great corn out the Garnet Canyon back towards Bradley Lake.