#SkiTourSunday is a weekly glimpse into different aspects of spending days exploring in the backcountry of Western Wyoming and beyond.
No no, not cake.
An exploratory mission that has been on my list since I first heard about it 3 or so years ago has been Pandora, more commonly known as the arch, in the "sidecountry" of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
I quote it "sidecountry" as it's not the typical Jackson Hole sidecountry of Rock Springs or Four Pines being accessed by short bootpacks but rather an all day ski touring mission that is made more easily accessibly with the help of that lovely big red box.
With some vague information from a few sources (the best being, "you will find it in the timber") we set off on one of the earlier trams (9:30am) of the morning suspecting we would make it back to the resort boundaries, all things going to plan, right around sunset at 5pm.
The forecast was on the colder side, so even though the day started out with a 20-30 minute bootpack up and around the west side of Cody Peak, I had dressed warm. SmartWool 250 base layer, quilted Polartec high efficiency mid layer, puffy and a shell - by the time we got to a place where we thought it be best to head west torward granite creek fork my face was sweating but my feet were a complete icicle mess.
At that moment I thought about skiing back torward the ski resorts boundaries and abandoning my partners. My feet were screaming and I wasn't sure they would come back for the rest of the day. As I stood shivering in my sweat, "why didn't I delayer before hiking?!" - I noticed the sun line at the bottom of our next ski pitch. "OK," I thought, "if I can get into the sun to transition and start walking, my feet will come back," and I dropped in toward the sun line.
We skied the Jabronie Couliour (named aptly by us, as we weren't exactly sure where we wanted to be) down into the sun where we transitioned to skins.
I had learned my lesson, this time I delayered to a point of being on the cool side before we started moving again. Soon after the transition my feet warmed, the sun thawed my chill and whatever chill that remained was cured by my thermos full of soup.
Knowing we wanted to be west of the summit we made our way through the flats of the creek bottom area and headed up the sunny south face slope as far west as we could. Cautiously staying on ridges where possible and one at a time crossing open faces as the sun was rapidly warming the snow and it was the perfect 32+ degree slope.
We made it to the summit ridge in about an hour from our transition to skins. Traveling along the summit ridge we wanted to explore our options. And options there were! Several north facing shots had our attention, some with hang fire cornices, some with roll over entries - with this seasons instability we decided to go for one of the safer options, an easily entered shot to the east of the summit.
Looking north we realized we were going into the dark side, not to return to the suns warmth for the remainder of the day. I pulled every layer from my pack and layered it on like a wedding cake, chugged the rest of the soup from my thermos and said goodbye to my warm toes.
The ski was ridiculous fun. We decided not to diddle around looking for the all mighty arch and just ski the shots that were readily present, and we were happy with out decision as we believe the actual skiing was better, aesthetics aside.
And then it got cold. We reached the creek and knew the remainder of the day wasn't going to be the most fun. Moving downhill along the creeks edge it took about 20 minutes before we had to transition back to skinning and decide whether it was up and over Tensleep Bowl or the gauntlet of a side step out of Granite. I strongly voted for the Tensleep Bowl up and over and we headed for the hills.
It took a lot longer than I thought it might and we were all having minor melty's (melt-e, noun, to have a melt down) along the way. The hunger level was high, our hands kept burn/freezing and energy was dwindling. I threw on some jams and found a happy place in trying to stay warm and occasionally munching on my snickers bar in my pocket. Up over and around the boulder field, we made it back to the resort boundaries just before 5pm when the sun was setting into the distance.
Layering Tips Tricks & Hints
Its hard to always be prepared for intense temperature variants but I have slowly learned a system that works for me when I know I am going to be in the elements all day. It does take some practice so don't think you will get it right on your first outing, or your 20th for that matter. I still learn new ways to layer each and every time I go for a tour. If you are just starting out here are some of my favorite pieces and tidbits of information I have learned.
1. Wool vs Synthetic Baselayers
They, believe it or not, aren't the same. Until this year I had always worn synthetic and after my first day in my Smartwool 250 baselayers (I went with the thicker weight, as I am inevitably cold) I could tell a huge difference and I'm not just talking smell. My body temperature is more easily regulated, when I start exerting energy on the uphill I don't get creepy crawly hot and I don't freeze as soon as I stop. Wool also keeps you warmer than synthetics, even at a lighter weight - key for me, as again, I run cold.
2. Mid-Layer with a HOOD!
I always also wear a mid-layer, most of the time even when I'm skinning, by this I don't mean a puffy or insulation layer but a waffled thermo layer. Most popular the Patagonia R1 or the Marmot Thermo - I'm a fan of it always being hooded. The hood allows me to even further regulate my temperature of hot/cold or prevent the wind from getting to my neck/ears.
3. Marshmallow PUFF Synthetic vs. Down
Always keep a puffy in your pack, it could save your life. There are great synthetic and down options, and a lot of the decision between the two might depend on where you live. Wet climate? Synthetic. Dry/Cold Climate? Down. Synthetics will still keep you warm if you get wet (or sweat a lot), where down is more likely to keep you warm in a dry scenario. Luckily, living in the Tetons, it's mostly dry and cold in the winter so I go for the down, as it is lighter weight and warmer.
My favorite? The Quasar Hoody from Marmot.
4. Breathable Wind Protection for the Up!
Up and away! You get warm walking up big mountains, but sometimes the wind is whipping and then you get cold. Enters breathable wind protection. A wind breaker that still breaths, it won't protect you from rain or wet snow, but it will shed the dry snow.
5. Pockets for Snacks - Also known as Pants.
Since you can't really undress and redress the bottom half, you have to find the right pair of pants with pockets in all the right places. You will most likely be keeping lots of items in those pockets from your iPhone (for photos, duh), GU's, pretzels, nuts, ski straps, perhaps your beacon, chapstick - what else? Vents in the right places are key as well.