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The Rapture

The V Couloir, Prospector Mountain, GTNPWinter continues to be a non-starter for 2015 in Alaska. Ice climbing and obsessing over the condition of my ski quiver has done little to placate my need for fresh snow and fun skiing. Of all the places south of AK, the Tetons have faired the best in terms of snow pack. So, it was with this in mind I scheduled a two-week vacation and headed to my favorite ski range. I also decided to have a look in the central mountains of British Columbia and I scheduled the second week as a hut trip in the Selkirks.

Teton goodness

After spending the better part of a decade living, climbing and skiing in the Tetons, I’ve come to find that they almost always deliver something good when it comes to the things I love to do. Even during long dry spells in the winter, the resourceful skier can find good snow and challenging terrain to ski.

I arrived in Jackson on January 30th and listened to some of the locals say how shitty the skiing had been due to the lack of any significant snow fall for the last couple of weeks. I knew better and Saturday morning I headed up 25 Short and onto the summit of Peak 10,696 to have a look around and suss out the north facing couloirs off that formation. I’ve rarely been disappointed and this day was no exception.

From the top of the peak, I skied creamy, wind-blown powder down the east face to the col above the entrance to Chute the Moon, a moderate, wide couloir that drops into Avalanche Canyon. There were plenty of tracks but the steady wind had blown enough snow back into the leeward slopes to make the skiing super fun. I was on my new Volkl V-Werks BMT 94 skis and the varied conditions were a great test for these fun and versatile skis.

Below the couloir I found plenty of untracked snow leading down the rolling terrain into the canyon. I popped out onto the apron of Turkey Chute and decided that I needed hit that, too. Off the skis came and I booted for about 45 minutes up the 40-degree couloir, being passed by a group of five headed the other way. Once again, with the lean conditions, the chalk and packed powder had seen plenty of traffic but I had a ball, nonetheless.

Back into the canyon proper I skied more variable snow before getting onto the luge track out of the canyon. It was in fast shape and before I knew it I was skating across Tagart Lake and double poling my way to the final schuss out to the parking lot. No skins needed. It was a great way to start my trip.

The Rapture

The iconic Apocalypse Couloir, GTNPSunday was reserved for some proper ski alpinism with one of my favorite partners, Matt Chorney. He’s a talented endurance athlete, 2:30 marathoner and rippin’ Village rat who has developed a taste for proper skimo descents. I’ve become something of an infrequent mentor to him, showing him what I know and encouraging his passion.

He’s been dreaming of skiing the Apocalypse Couloir off the north flank of Prospector Mountain, one of the more coveted steep lines in the Park. It literally screams at you as you drive into the park from the south, catching the eye of any steep skier who spies it. I’ve skied it three times with three different partners, in different styles and conditions.

My first go was with the late Steve Romeo in my formative skimo days in 2008. We hit it after a long dry spell, booting it from the bottom and skiing challenging chalk and wind-whipped sastrugi all the way down. The crux ice choke at mid way was covered allowing a tip to tail sideslip through it. Steve made a short video of our day.

A few years later, Aaron Nydam and I headed up in what could only be described as blower conditions during light snowfall. The bottom was easy booting but the middle and upper pitches were nearly thigh deep fluff. I trenched my way upward through the final 500 feet and we enjoyed ridiculous powder skiing all the way to the bottom and out to the car. You can read a little more about this and see a short video of the day here.

In hindsight one could argue that we got away with something, as this kind of snow accumulation high in the couloir has proven fatal in recent years to one well-traveled Jackson climber, Jarad Spackman. My respect for the danger in the Apocalypse has grown since his death and I’m less inclined to climb the line except in high and dry conditions. In fact, in 2011, a year before Jarod’s death, I was pushed down the couloir after a particularly heavy surge of slough took me off my feet while climbing just below the ice choke. More on that experience here.

With all this in mind, Matt and I approached the entrance from above, doing the long skin from Phelps Lake, some 4,400 feet above the valley. The weather was good with the promise of the next storm closing in later in the afternoon. Matt had designs on seeing the Super Bowl kick off at 4:30 while I had designs on the adjacent Son of the Apocalypse, creating a link-up we dubbed The Rapture.

Sorting the rap lines for the drop inMatt has very little technical experience so he had to deal with his butterflies as I sent the rappel lines down range from the narrow start at the cliff’s edge. It’s an intimidating position as you can’t see the slope below until you’re well underway descending the rope. I went first, ensuring the double ropes reached. We had one 60-meter 6mm line and a 70-meter 7.8mm line. As it turns out, the 60 was short of the next anchor a few feet. I waited for Matt and then encouraged him to descend the fatter line as the knot was blocking it at the anchor. Once he clipped in, I grabbed the skinny end and down climbed to the anchor, as well.

An ambitious skier could air the 10-foot drop just below us but we did a 30-meter rap instead. This dropped us right into a handy staging cave below the drop. Matt was excited to get his skis on and stop with the scary rope shit.

Matt went first and enjoyed steep, packed powder and chalk through the whole descent. We leap frogged each other to document the day with photos and generally enjoyed the ambiance of this wild line. The steepest section was better than 45 degrees and was full-on, heads-up, no-fall skiing.

We turned the corner at the dogleg and had more relaxed skiing down to the top of the choke. I side slipped the last few feet to the anchor as the slope dropped away. A slip and fall there would be messy. It looked down climbable to me but I knew Matt would be far more comfortable rapping through it. One double rope rap took us through the business and into the wildest part of the descent, with blue water ice cascading down the south wall.

Once down the apron, we skied to the bottom of Son. I grinned, checked the watch and suggested that Matt get busy with the booting. Time was a wasting. I felt old, undercondtioned and certainly unacclimatized for the effort. Dead weight for the second goHe was game and, after dumping all unnecessary gear from our packs at the entrance, motored upward in just over an hour. Son of the Apocalypse, a line I’ve wanted to ski for years, is a much more straight forward affair, aside from a couple of bulges that are filled in by mid winter. We encountered no issues. It was well tracked but still excellent skiing.

After a slippery refrozen slog back up to the Phelps Lake overlook, we enjoyed the fastest out I’d ever encountered down the Death Canyon Road. A short drive to Dornan’s for a celebratory beer and pizza had us walking in the door as the ball was teed up for the kick off. Mission accomplished.

Matt, a New England native said that if the Patriots won the Super Bowl, the combination of that and skiing two classic Teton descents would make for one of the best days of his life. It’s not too often I get to be part of that.

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