Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Slaying the Sawtooths

I have had the good fortune to do a lot of hut and yurt trips for great skiing and great yuks with friends, and while the latest is always “The Best” I have to admit our trip to the Williams Peak yurt in the Sawtooths this past weekend was definitely in the “unusually good” category with incredible terrain, a foot of new snow that stayed cold/good, bomber stability, and a strong, game, and excellent crew.   

Jeannie Wall was the ringleader, having not only booked the trip a year ago but she’s also been in the yurt 6 or 7 times previously and knew the area intimately, brother Paul was keen to get out of the Wasatch, Mike Elovitz blew in from the mountains of Cincinnati to lay it down at 10,000 feet, John Heppolette came off of new fatherhood and the presidency (I think) of Citibank in NYC for his first days of skiing of the year (one of the few guys I know who could pull that off!), and Derek Gustafson was willing to take some prototype BD boots that bore his signature up into the hinterlands for a few days. 

I have driven and ridden past the Sawtooths several umpteen times and have always said “That looks like incredible skiing” but have never really partaken.  We had a great trip to the Pioneer range a couple of years ago, but the Pioneers aren’t the Sawtooths in terms of either terrain or snowpack, and there’s a reason that Stanley is a bit of a legendary place: one of the coldest spots in the country with big, craggy mountains that rise nearly out of town.  A friend at Black Diamond described it quite well:  “The drama of the Tetons but the sprawling, ridge-like nature of the Wasatch.”  With no people.  A pretty killer combination. 

The week prior we had a major heat wave in the Wasatch that took out a good chunk of our snowpack, and Idaho was not spared either.  We’d been watching the Sun Valley avy forecast and their convoluted report for the Sawtooths seemed grim, to the point where the morning of our entry we were rolling our eyes wondering if we’d even get to ski anything at all, much less the steeps that Williams is known for.  But we trudged in, ever-hopeful that we’d find something “different.” After a quick transition at the hut to dump our food and overnight gear, we tiptoed up the adjacent “Skier’s Summit”; a 1000’ triangular and gladed toe of a long ridge that would prove to be our gateway to the goods as the days went on.  Our initial two runs were promising; our quick pits indicated at least decent stability and the skiing was passable:
Jeannie lapping it up
Mike utilizing his Ohio-honed powder technique
The next morning – after a classic central ID frigid night in the low single digits -  we headed towards the nearby Marshall Lake, again being quite careful and since it was all new terrain and a different snowpack.  But as we skied and poked and prodded at the snowpack, our confidence grew, and noodly glade skiing started turning more into open shots:
Derek layin' it down

And eventually – as the days went on, the weather stayed stable, and the cold temps kept even the late March sun’s heat at bay on the copious and big south facing lines – we probed the steeper, committing couloirs:

Paul diving in....

After emerging

We were able to hit the couloirs indicated here; they all have names I can't remember.

I wasn't much help on the boot pack up the couloirs; the lighter-weight Jeannie and Derek put in nice steps while fat boy just trenched it out:

Jeannie working on her sluff management

Putting that Cincinnati ski hill work this winter to some good use! 
And we hit some bigger lines.....


Here's a shot of the yurt:

and it's very social shitter:

 In keeping with my dorkdom, I have been wearing a bike helmet whilst skiing this winter and have covered the top vents with packing tape to keep the snow off my increasingly-thin pate.  I inexplicably took it off right before my last run, which invariably meant that I was going to take a digger and test the efficacy of the now-absent packing tape:
Ah well.  Despite a bit of a cold head from this one, a pretty extraordinary trip.  As Jeannie pointed out, it'll be hard to go back there because this trip was about as good as it gets! 

Thanks again to Jeannie for setting it up, Derek for driving us all up there, and John for hauling in most of the alcohol! 

And this came at the end of a great birthday week, that started with a great lasagna feast (prepped by Ash) with great folks in SLC (and capped by her incredible carrot cake) and then another awesome celebration with old friends in Portland at the Lucky Lab:
Neil, Blair, the resurrected Michele, Ryan, Martha, Megan, the surprise visitor Bruce, and (fortunately!) not sullying the photo are old Irving St Homies Trig, Paul, and Andrew
And yet another dinner at Kell's pub with the Denecke clan. 

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