GET OUT: Easy-Peasy Spring

By on April 13, 2016

Warm weather outings still hold an element of challenge and danger.

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – This time of year, everything is made out to be so mellow. The roads are clear, the sun high, and the potential for exploration is pretty exponential. It took me a little bit of time to think up a nice spring celebratory tour, but my mind eventually opened to the possibilities. All winter long, the Grand Teton National Park closures of Static Peak, Mount Hunt and Prospectors simply makes me want to go there…every single day of the winter. Portions of these areas are closed from December 1 to March 31 to protect bighorn sheep. I’m unsure if sheep magically dissolve from that area in accordance to those dates, but rules are rules and I wouldn’t risk harassing wildlife for a few ski turns.

Now these areas are open to the public and after a long winter of doing the same old shots, I thought it might be a fun place to explore. I couldn’t convince anyone to join me. The weather forecast of a high of 57 at 10,000 feet was probably one deterrent. The prospect of fishing could have been another deterrent.

I was set to tromp around in these recently opened areas. It was as if a part of Disneyland had been closed and no one cared about it’s grand reopening. I set out in the morning darkness and quickly remembered there’s a lot more risk to spring skiing than I had planned out in my mind.

A large print of an unidentified mammal, possibly a wolf.

A large print of an unidentified mammal, possibly a wolf.

Although I had performed this task less than a year ago, I blocked all unpleasant memories out of my brain. My mind selectively remembered all the good parts about skinning in the warm sun with warm toes, needing minimal layers, and not having to break trail through powder. All of those things are true, but there’s more to life than mindlessly ambling when spring skiing.

The first thing that almost engulfed me was a large pool of water. The approaches change daily in the spring and nonchalant stream crossings from days past morph quickly into snow bridges of doom. The slight darkness along with the mindless clatter of my splitboard allowed me to enter a daze of not paying attention. My ski slipped off and with one slight whoosh of my pole, I realized there was no solid ground below me. I quickly scooted across the rest of this ice bridge and resorted to paying more attention to my surroundings, especially in the flat morning light.

After completing the typical three-mile, seemingly flat Teton approach, I began, of course, gaining some vertical. The prospect of creating my own trail without having to combat heavy powder was initially thrilling. It was then that I remembered what skinning up a sheet of ice is like. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not intensely terrible, but the use of one’s arms is absolutely essential to promote vertical rising. Spring skinning is also a wonderful practice of mindfulness; the moment one stops paying attention to edges and use of arms, a slide for life often ensues. Upon encountering my first slide for life of the year while skinning up the slippery slope of doom, I immediately remembered why my Whippet was always part of my repertoire. It wasn’t because I wanted a lightweight way to bootpack up some sick couloir; it was to promote survival on my way skinning up the mountain.

An unsuspecting pool of water grows exponentially overnight.

An unsuspecting pool of water grows exponentially overnight.

I made it up some knoll in my proposed exploratory area. This knoll had been closed for the winter, which made it pretty neat in my own mind, but none of that matters. The real fear ensued when I got to around 8,400 feet and spied a giant print of a creature. I slowed down, aiming to get a better look at the marks. The prints were fresh in the slush of spring and they appeared to go into a ditch nearby, with no tracks out of the gulley. I looked closer. The paws were larger than my hand but too small to be a bear. Could it have been a lone wolf? I’m no biologist. All I knew was it was a large enough animal to creep me out and make me continue down my merry way hoping for the best.

While spring skiing can be labeled as mellow and relaxing by people in Jackson, I rediscovered the fact that it is scary and anything can happen. Newfound holes, ice, and big hairy beasts could be lurking at every corner. So spring is a good time for me to unplug from my podcasts and be present for whatever comes my way. PJH

About Elizabeth Koutrelakos

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