Carroll Lowe and I had a run for a few years from around 2002 to 2005 of annual ski trips to big slopes out west – Alta, UT; Snowbird, UT; Jackson Hole, WY; and others. It was a golden age. The last trip of that golden run was to Grand Targhee, ID, from late February to early March, 2005.
Our travel agent Annie Garwood made the airplane and hotel arrangements. Wednesday we flew through Chicago to Jackson Hole, WY. We rented a car and drove through Jackson Hole, then through the town of Wilson, WY, west on Highway 22 over Teton Pass, into Idaho, then north on Highway 33 through Victor and Driggs, ID, to Alta, ID, the last town before Grand Targhee ski resort.
Thursday Carroll hit the slopes hard. He is a ski patroller at Appalachian Ski resort in Blowing Rock, NC, so he has one main speed down the slopes: fast. He also favors the black and double black diamonds. I had new (to me) telemark gear that I had rented the year before when we went to Jackson Hole, and then I purchased it used at the end of the last ski season. At Grand Targhee I was using it for the first time since I purchased it and was still low on the learning curve. I mostly skied on the green slopes and a couple of blues. I loved the springy, dynamic feel of the telemark gear, but it is harder to keep your balance and turn on one ski than two skis, and with only your toes attached to the skis while your heels are free, so it was a difficult first few days.
Friday was more of the same, except that I had come down with a sore throat and some virus-like symptoms, so I kept to mostly green slopes. That afternoon when I finally took some blue runs near the top of the mountain, I avoided a “yard sale” fall (where all your gear goes spinning off your body and spreads across the slope), but I did have some sprawling, skidding, wind-milling turns and stops. Carroll scorched the slopes again. At the end of the day he was pissed off because a patroller had called him down for skiing too fast.
Saturday was a beautiful, sunny, windless day. To avoid the weekend crowd on the slopes, we took a rest day and drove to West Yellowstone, MT. In winter, due to the deep snow, Yellowstone National Park is closed to private vehicles (except at Gardiner, MT, which was too far away from us). To get into the park you have to cross country ski, snowmobile or take a bus. We knocked around in town and watched the IMAX movie about the Park.
Going back to Targhee we drove around east central Idaho, including the Henry’s Fork and Snake River Valleys, with big views of the Tetons to the east and other mountain ranges to the west. The whole area was packed with jillions of snow mobiles, trucks and trailers for hauling them, and their tracks in the snow. I was surprised how much the Snake River Valley west of the Tetons looks like the Green River Valley west of the Wind River Range.
Sunday morning we slept late, and then hit the Targhee slopes in clear sunny weather. Carroll covered most of the resort. I had a telemark break through and took some of the higher blue slopes on all three mountains. I could occasionally ski the fall line, and started to use the dynamic spring and power of the telemark bindings and wide, shaped skis in my turns.
Monday Carroll kept to the lift served slopes. I screwed up my courage and energy level to go into the back country next to the resort and do some true telemark climbing and alpine touring. I fastened the skins to the bottoms of the skis and climbed up a hill in the nearby Targhee National Forest. Coyote tracks crossed mine. The untracked powder snow was so deep, fresh and gripping that plowing through it was like running through waist deep water. The difficulty is that skiing uphill is exhausting and draining. A few times my poles sank to the handles. Being the back country alone is also dangerous. If I had an accident, an overnight stay in the woods would most likely result in death by hypothermia. Once when I lost my balance and fell, the deep snow was so soft that I literally could not stand up. I had to remove my skis, and then I sank to my waist and still could not walk. I had to crawl to a log, climb up and re-fasten my skis.
But the payoff was removing the skins and skiing downhill. Skiing straight down the fall line and making hour glass turns was no problem. For the first time (and since then, the last and only time) I felt the tremendous dynamic, power and spring of the telemark gear. Telemark gear works on a groomed, lift served ski slope, but the advantages are mostly wasted. I really have to get back out west again and go off piste (out of resort bounds) to do some more backcountry skiing.
Monday afternoon we took another break from skiing and drove halfway across south central Idaho. We had a scare when we almost ran out of gas in the middle of the frozen sagebrush prairie covered with drifting snow and no other vehicles around. Several large road intersections on the map that we assumed would have a gas station had none. As the gas gauge showed only fumes left, we found a cowboy bar in the middle of nowhere – no town or even houses nearby – and got directions to the nearest gas station. We got to the station just minutes before it closed for the night. Salvation!
The upside to traversing Idaho was seeing the winter range of much wild game. We saw many mule deer, including a six point buck.
Tuesday we woke up to two inches of fresh powder. During the day four more inches fell. Hallelujah! I had the two best runs of my life. Both were semi off piste - not out of bounds from the resort, but between groomed slopes, in new untracked snow among trees. The first run was in a huge bowl, with long swooping curves and steep drops, and no concern for the edges of the in-bounds slopes. The second run was down the bottom of a narrow canyon, with roller coaster bumps and jumps. The walls were so close I could touch both sides at the same time. It was like being on a Disney Land ride with surprises popping up every minute.
On our last run, Carroll and I were together for the only time all week. We had some narrow tree slot shots, lots of untracked powder, little jumps and a great downhill flow. We searched out powder pockets and hidden runs. A great time was had by all. So until the next time, keep the memories alive.