A few weeks ago we were sent on a mission to document as many big sidecountry lines as we could at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Here is the story and our final edit (courtesy of Hadley Hammer). [youtube=http://youtu.be/K91IT_pkGBA]
BIG LINES IN THE JACKSON SIDECOUNTRY, 2.5.13 By Monica Purington Coach approached the team on Monday, the night before our typical Tuesday training with Jess Baker (Exxum Mountain Guide, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Guide and fellow Mountain Athlete) and asked us to think about three classic Jackson Hole side country lines we thought we could complete in one day.
We started throwing out ideas of some of the bigger lines: Space Walk, Pucker Face, Break Neck, Gothic, Broken Branch, The Whom, Once is Enough, Twice is Nice. We voiced concerns and potential hazards on some of the lines, discussed which we could complete the fastest and the current snow pack and stability concerns. After all the discussion we had come to a decision. Our goal was to ski Pucker-to-Break Neck-to-Broken Branch, weather and conditions dependent of course.
Tuesday morning came quick; Forrest, Hadley, Tess and I met Jess at 8:30 to catch the early tram and get a head start on our day. The mountain was in a cloud of grey and we knew that we would have to make some quick decisions and adjustments to our plans. As we headed up the tram we made observations of the wind and visibility and our excitement started to fade; maybe we wouldn’t get to ski any of these lines today.
Once at the top we regrouped inside Corbet’s Cabin with big decisions to make. Should we go up Cody and scratch Pucker off the list, or is it too windy? Do we ski Zero G or Spacewalk to Four Pines? Our biggest concerns were wind loading and overall conditions were potentially crusty. If we skied Pucker where did that leave us in regards to our next line; we had a bad taste in our mouth about Break Neck and it’s ominous hanging snowfields. We finally decided we’d take our chances with the potentially crusty snow in Zero G and have the ability to head to Four Pines after.
With Jess dropping in first, she ski cut the top of the shoot making sure the wind slab wouldn’t slide; things looked stable and we began to ski it one at a time. We had low expectations of snow conditions and were quickly pleasantly surprised by the smear-able cream cheese in Zero G. Each of us reached the bottom with big smiles on our faces and headed to the Four Pine hike.
With our adrenaline pumping we scurried up the Four Pines hike and decided it was on to Broken Branch. Getting to the top of Broken Branch it was evident that we were working with a clean slate. No one had skied it since the last storm and we were the “test monkeys,” as Jess would put it. We removed our skis and carefully down climbed into the shoot, knowing that we were going to have to be very cautious.
Again, Jess went first ski cutting the top of the shoot and one by one we made our way down to the top of the crux area. The snow seemed to be stable with just some normal sloughing, so we continued one by one skiing the main shoot. Broken Branch, which none of us had previously skied, was gorgeous. Opening up into a wider shoot all of us were able to open it up and make some big high speed turns. The snow was definitely variable with some sunbaked areas, but staying on the north side we got some light fresh turns.
Success, we had navigated two lines already and energy levels were high. Returning back into the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundaries we had some decisions to make. What now? Pucker was in the back of all of our minds but we weren’t sure of what the weather was like at the higher elevations. We decided not to stop for a re-fuel break but rather quickly eat on the tram dock and head back up to the top.
The sun was breaking, the winds were dying and although it was warming up quickly we decided to head up Cody Peak. We wanted Pucker, but knew we had Four Shadows or No Shadows as a back up. Our legs felt heavy, but our excitement carried us up Cardiac Ridge to the top of Pucker. We did some cornice tests to check stability and decided that although it was warming, the wind at the top of the ridge was keeping the snow cool enough that it hadn’t been greatly affected yet. We were going to ski it.
Pucker had been skied twice since the last storm, leaving two tracks on its face barely visible from being wind blown. We decided to ski close to the previous tracks with the mindset that it would be the most stable there. Again, with Jess dropping first, we skied it one at a time. You could see our smiles from top to bottom of the run, our adrenaline was bursting. Ski Patrol came over Jess’s guide radio, “There’s people on Pucker!” quickly followed by a, “Well done Jess,” when we had all successfully skied it. The Mountain Athlete Freeski team had left their signatures on Pucker Face, being the only visible tracks.
With three big lines in the bag we wanted more, we were hungry for more adrenaline. Break Neck was next on the hit list and with low intentions we traversed towards it. Break Neck is tough to navigate, steep and consists of hanging snowfields; all things that are severely dangerous. Checking the snow conditions and checking in with ourselves, we decided we had to finish the day with this last line. Hadley and Forrest skied these lines with ease, taking the bottom air to their feet finishing the day with just as much energy as when we started.
Coach Shaul sent us on a mission to complete three big lines, through lots of discussion, decision making and encouragement, we completed four.