November 3, 2016
Hiking up to ski Teton Pass at sunrise.
By Sarah Carpenter
It’s 5:30 am and I’m walking uphill in the dark. My headlamp illuminates two or three steps in front of me and it’s dumping. My friend Trevor has to be back in town by 7:30, so we’re on a mission to get a Glory lap in. Brook is ahead of Trevor, sneaking in a lap or two before work, as well. He’s breaking trail through a foot plus of new and I can’t keep up.
A third of the way up the bootpack, Trevor and I notice that the snow starts to change. The wind has picked up and there is a hint of windslab just off the track.
Trevor and I have both been backcountry skiing for at least 15 years. We’ve spent countless days in the backcountry. We love early morning laps because they get us through our workdays. We’d done a beacon check at the parking lot, as well as a quick gear check. We made sure that hiking up Glory was an appropriate objective for the day, based on the new snow.
As the conditions change, we went through the backcountry basics checklist, while falling further behind Brook breaking trail. We talk about current conditions – we’ve had a foot or more of snow in the last 24 hours, moderate temperatures, and increasing winds. We are hiking uphill in the dark, and it’s dumping.
We have not heard of any avalanches reported in the last 24 hours. We didn’t see any reported on the forecast center page and none of our friends had word of avalanche activity.
We kept hiking, knowing the path well. Next on our checklist was terrain that’s closed. Twin Slides is the most direct route back to the parking lot. It’s an obvious choice for dawn patrol many days. Today, we deemed it closed. As was Glory Bowl, Little Tuckerman’s, and any other terrain that was 35 degrees or more.
We got to the top of the bootpack, where Brook patiently waited while adding more layers. We all agreed that mellower terrain was the call. None of us had seen any obvious signs of instability, but with the current forecast and snowfall rate, as well as the foot of new in the last 24 hours, pushed us towards more conservative terrain.
The sun started coming up as we made our first turns down the low angle start to our run. And as the light got better, we turned our headlamps off, and one at a time, skied untracked snow with face shots to start our #unepicadventure.
Sarah Carpenter is Co-Owner and Instructor at the American Avalanche Institute (AAI). AAI operates under special use permits on the Bridger-Teton, Wasatch-Cache, and Gallatin National Forests. Sarah has been working in the field of snow and snow science since 1998, when she started as a ski patroller at Bridger Bowl in Bozeman, MT. Sarah has led mountaineering trips in the U.S., Chile, India, Africa and Nepal for numerous companies. She teaches level 1, 2, and 3 avalanche courses throughout the west during the winter. She also works a ski guide for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Exum Mountain Guides.