Grand Teton National Park is a world renowned destination for extreme athletes. During the winter, highly skilled and professionally trained adventurers from near and far test their ski mountaineering skills on the high peaks of the Teton range. Kim Havell, professional ski mountaineer and guide, moved to Jackson in the winter of 2013 and skied more than forty different routes in Grand Teton, gaining a beautiful and bigger perspective of this tremendous backyard.
In January of 2013, the snowfall paused for a few weeks in the Tetons. Conditions in Grand Teton National Park were mostly stable and as a newcomer to the area, I was eager to get out and explore the backcountry and ski mountaineering opportunities. In 2005 I had come up to ski the Grand Teton from Telluride, CO but had not since returned to Jackson. Along with two new ski partners (and now fellow Jackson Hole Mountain Guides) Brian Warren and Patrick McDermott, we set out to find powder snow, ski aesthetic routes, and explore the park.
Our adventures began in an intense two-week cold spell during which time we had numerous 5am starts in the dark at negative twenty degrees. After two or three of these outings, we adjusted to the lower temperatures and the environment didn’t seem quite so harsh. There was little structure to our journey – we made daily assessments, aiming for the best route for the current conditions. As it evolved, we explored the range from the South end of the range to the North.
Our kits all included a couple of extra layers, a big down puffy, a hot thermos of coffee or tea, and silk scarves and buffs to protect our ears and our faces from the biting cold. Once moving, we had to regulate our speed – sweat would not ultimately help our core temperatures. Transitioning from uphill mode into downhill mode, we occasionally dropped into North-facing runs, therefore shady, which was a test in fortitude. The excitement of the new routes helped to outweigh the creeping chill of a long day up high in the hills.
A few of the highlights from the initial days in January included routes off of Prospector Peak, the South East Couloir off of Mt Wister, the South East Couloir off of the South Teton, the Sliver Couloir off of Nez Perce, and the Nugget Couloir between Nez Perce Peak and Cloudveil Dome. One of our first runs as a team was an unforgettable powder-filled entrance into a line named Broken Thumb accessed from the 25 Short ridgeline. We skied two feet of fresh snow into the upper apron and then rappelled into the heart of the route. From there down, we enjoyed light, fluffy snow in the narrow confines of the couloir all the way into Avalanche Canyon. We ended our day skiing back across Taggart Lake to the trailhead in the haunting blue of winter’s late afternoon waning light.
The last run of the long season was on Mount Moran with a team of six local skiers; it was a day filled with great comradery during a final push on the six thousand foot climb up the Skillet. With each new discovery there is always another question mark for what lies just around the corner; And, for the curious, this is the fuel for their fire.
To learn more about Kim Havell, her international ski mountaineering adventures, and her plans for this winter visit her website at https://havelltravels.com/. You can also stay up to date on her most recent adventures by following her on Twitter or Instagram. Kim is a guide for Exum Mountain Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, both based in Jackson, WY, as well as Ice Axe Expeditions, an outfit that leads expeditions in the North and South Poles.