I signed up for a backcountry ski day with JHMG. I almost died several times during the day. Let me explain.
We met at the office at dawn to meet the guide. The guide insisted I have the latest safety gear even though my 15 year old avalanche beacon was perfectly functional. He was so insistent that he even let me use a company beacon for free. Maybe it was because it was a “high risk” day for avalanches. He made me bring water, food, warm clothing, and functional ski gear too.
We got out to the venue where we expected to see the beautiful and world-famous Tetons. But there weren’t any. In fact we couldn’t see a half mile due to the poor visibility. If I had known the guides weren’t able to control the weather, I would have never signed up to come. I didn’t even get to see the Grand Teton the whole day.
Then I discovered that there was neither a chair lift nor a helicopter. How was I supposed to get to the top of the run? The guide mumbled something about “Earn Your Turns” and we set off into the wilderness. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back.
The snow was falling so heavily, I could barely breathe through it. There wasn’t even a path through all the snow for us to get to the hill. The guide was actually having to make the trail! I couldn’t believe it. Where was the trail maker? What was all that money I paid going toward?
We finally got to the base of the mountain and started up the hill. It became very clear that our guide must not have known where he was going. Because there were no other ski tracks. Anywhere! Surely if this was something that people did all the time there would be some evidence of human passage.
Finally, we arrived at the top of the “run” where I discovered the groomer hadn’t even arrived yet. There wasn’t a single foot of groomed corduroy for me to ski on. Nothing but snow, snow, snow everywhere I looked. The rocks were covered. The trees were covered. The creeks were covered. There weren’t any trail signs. I didn’t know if we were on a green dot or a blue square or a black diamond. We weren’t at any sort of a ski hill. We were just on the side of some mountain that apparently nobody ever skis!
The guide gave us instructions to ski down through this snow and stay close to his tracks. He expected me to ski on snow that nobody else had ever skied on that had never even been groomed! It was so deep I could barely breathe. The snow kept pounding me in the face as I made turns. I thought I was going to drown. I could barely see the guide’s tracks. I could barely see the trees to avoid a collision because my goggles kept getting covered in powder.
Finally, miraculously, I made it to the bottom of the “run.” The guide then announced that we were going to put the “skins” back on our skis and go back up. I think he was trying to kill me. Why would anyone climb a mountain twice? When we finally got back up like an hour later, the guide wouldn’t let us go ski a perfectly good 38 degree run with no trees on it that funneled down into a little gully at the bottom. He insisted we stay on the 28 degree slope with the trees! What good is this beacon and shovel and probe and airbag and guide if I can’t go ski wherever I want?
On the next run, I started having cramping in my face from smiling so much, so I changed my technique to whooping and hollering which hurt a lot less. Unfortunately, I think that woke up a yeti. I didn’t know there were yetis in the Tetons, but I’m pretty sure one was chasing me on that run. It was hard to tell because I couldn’t see through all the powder. I couldn’t smell very well either because there was so much powder in my nose. I didn’t even really get to enjoy the jumps because every time I went off a ten foot cliff I couldn’t even feel the landing because there was too much powder. It was just like bouncing from one pillow to another.
I thought I’d give the guide service the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that day was just a terrible day. So we came back the next day hoping for a different experience. They took us to a different location, but it was pretty much the same thing. Nobody around, endless powder, and mandatory safety. At least it stopped snowing for a little while and the sun came out for a bit so I could keep an eye out for the yetis that the guide didn’t seem to care about. I didn’t see one the second day. Maybe they don’t like sun. But we did see three moose and 4000 elk on the way to the slopes.
At any rate, the whole experience was terrible. Next time I’m going to the resort where I don’t have to deal with all that powder and where there are plenty of people around to keep the yetis away and I don’t have to use any dumb avalanche beacons.