The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.

Junkshow Backcountry Weekend

A typical day on Teton Pass- not a space to spare.

A long January weekend in Jackson has a relatively narrow list of outdoor activities and most involve skis of one sort or another. Fully prepared for this reality, I armed myself with the full backcountry arsenal of an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, AT gear and snacks and headed out to Teton Pass.

But Teton Pass was a junkshow. I was punished for the none-too-early nine a.m. start with a ridiculous parking lot scene. The already limited parking on the pass has recently been reduced, resulting in a number of cars lingering in the lot waiting like vultures for earlier skiers to vacate a spot. On this particular day there was an extra bright spot- a large RV parked sideways across the middle of the lot. Staring at the RV with disgust, I was rewarded with the gratifying scene of a state trooper knocking on the RV door and a rag-tag ski kid poking his head out with a quickly evaporating smile as he eyed the man in uniform.

Eventually the troopers (there were two at this point) got the RV parked properly and four of the five circling cars were rewarded with spots. I was in car number five.

With a cursing companion, we backtracked to a midway parking lot with milder terrain and thus, less people. The small drop in elevation got us out of the cloud cover and into full, beautiful sunshine. The mild terrain was exponentially safer and while I had no regrets, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had played into “their” plan.

“They”, meaning the Wyoming Department of  Transportation (WYDOT), “considered not plowing the parking lots during storm cycles to decrease the number of skiers and snowboarders heading into the backcountry on days when the avalanche danger is high.” (according to Jackson Hole News & Guide on Dec. 3, 2010) While this obviously didn’t happened, the discussion did result in a reduction of the number of total spaces plowed. But how do they make sure only the smart kids park in the remaining spots?

When I took an avalanche safety course with the epically qualified American Avalanche Institute, there was some blame placed on the extreme sport film company TGR for exciting the uneducated (in terms of backcountry safety) masses to head out on Teton Pass and start hucking themselves off cornices and snowy cliffs. This is where I depart from the US government court rulings over the last 50 years and become a bit more Darwinistic in my thinking.

If people want to throw all logic to the wind and chug that just-poured cup of coffee or ski that dangerous slope, is it our job to stop them? I like the modern interpretation of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quote, “Your rights end where mine begin” (his exact words were “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”). I had heard the above WYDOT quote in casual conversation around the valley but realized that many failed to consider the rest of the story – which was that “WYDOT has become concerned with motorist safety on Highway 22 over the pass due to the potential of human-triggered avalanches reaching the road.”

Your rights to be stupid skiing in avalanche terrain end when your avalanche buries my car. The pass remains plowed, but if catastrophe strikes, access could be compromised. Be smart- check the avalanche report before you go out, dig snow pits and make wise terrain decisions.

Cool house of the day: It really is a Stone House (in Portugal!)

Makin’ some Turns

Less than stellar coverage, but I was just happy to be out.

Less than stellar coverage, but happy to be out.

As previously discussed in “The Sicky Sick Gnar Gnar Vocab of J-Hole”, most anything specialized come with its own unique vocabulary terms, and skiing is no exception. We skiers often employ the term “making turns” to denote that we are skiing, because turns is really what the sport is about. As many a nine-year-old in Michigan can attest, going straight on skis isn’t hugely difficult. Although there is some amount of strength and balance involved, straight lining an entire run is typically a fair helping of stupidity coupled with disillusions of invisibility. Straight lining anything in the Rockies is ill-advised as one usually ends up careening off a mountain rather than hitting a car in the parking lot (my sister was just the nine-year-old who would forgo turns in favor of stopping via impact with cars/buildings/adults). So in my desperation to do something, ANYTHING in the off-season I decided to make some turns. Two, to be exact.

The ‘off-season’ in Jackson (fall and spring) forces residents to become increasingly creative with their outdoor endeavors and I attribute the first day of my 09-10 ski season directly to this fact. The snow line was high enough to make Teton Pass, at 8,431 feet, marginally acceptable. We parked the car at the top with another dozen wishful thinkers and started skinning south. For those of you who don’t backcountry ski (and I wouldn’t recommend it without avalanche safety classes and a good group of backcountry friends), “skinning” involves attaching synthetic skins to backcountry skis to make purchase when going uphill. Along the ascent, we passed bowl after beautiful bowl. Like a siren call, these sections tempted me with their illusions of white, fluffy coverage, but a thorough love of my intact knees and face told me to wait until those logs were buried under a solid snow pack. But not everyone up there thought the same.

Another couple had veered off the skin track and were waiting, contemplating a partial downhill descent. Wishing them luck, we wondered if we weren’t being overly cautious but quickly dismissed it as wisdom and experience. On the way back, however, we stopped and chatted with them skinning back for lap two. “There’s a good 10 inches of faceted snow off the ground and a nice light fluffy layer off of that. It’s pretty good!” was the report. It was enough to make me seriously consider following them, but I wondered how much sheer luck was involved with their line. So feeling wiser than lucky, we removed our skins and glided back towards the car. I only made two turns in the skin track on the way back, but man did they feel good.

Pro Deal of the Day: up to 60% off Horny Toad. If you want the details, send me an email by filling out form here and I’ll email you the goods.

Ski Lake and the Perfect Man

Wendell sitting in front of the namesake, Ski Lake

Wendell sitting in front of the namesake, Ski Lake

Today’s adventure was a short day hike to Ski Lake. At 4.6 miles and 850 feet of elevation gain/loss, it’s not too strenuous (for more information, click here) but the payoff is fantastic.

Another plus for Ski Lake is that it’s only about 4 miles from my house and dog friendly, which links directly to the “perfect man” portion of this title. He eats whenever I want to. He goes wherever I want to. He’s an amazing listener and ever since the radio collar, never runs off. Naturally, this isn’t The Boyfriend. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t wear a radio collar. He’s my dog.

There are many documented cases of pets helping their owners with everything from depression to longevity but the main reason I choose dog-friendly hikes (which, alas, do not include the nearby national parks) is because it makes me happy to see him happy. When I change my clothes in the middle of the day, he runs in the room to sniff the fabric. He know that certain socks and shorts mean certain adventure. Even if my motivation was less than stellar, his unadulterated enthusiasm motivates me to get outside a little faster and enjoy it a little more. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Bar of the Day: WEIL by Nature’s Path (yes, it’s associated with Andrew Weil M.D. Who says celebrity endorsements don’t work?). The Chia Razz flavor is delicious as long as you don’t mind a few seeds. And the ingredients are stellar: organic dates, organic raisins, organic cashews, organic apples, organic raspberries, chia seeds, organic flavor, organic lemon juice concentrate.

Wendell’s Bar of the Day: POWER BONES by Zuke’s. Beef formula with protein and carbohydrates. Plus they have a cute how-they-came-to-be story on the back every dog lover can appreciate.

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