Skiing the Idaho Backcountry

Finding the Perfect Slope
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I awoke that Monday morning determined to ski, but I was not in the mood to ski on Teton Pass, the popular and relatively crowded backcountry area nearest Jackson Hole. There had been a fair amount of fresh snow in the last few days, but I still couldn't convince a single friend that she was suffering from a 24-hour stomach ailment and needed to call in sick. I knew that heading out to an unfamiliar area by myself was a bit less than responsible, but I promised myself I would be careful.

I spent an hour pulling over at various spots along the road and turning my binoculars to the mountains looking for lines to suit my mood. Even with the help of magnification, I could not discern anything marring the white blanket. My heartbeat was already getting faster.

I was feeling confident, which, having only made the switch to telemark skiing this season, is a rare occasion. I wanted something with a good slope. I wanted to carve wide turns, yet not make the odds of my becoming an avalanche victim any higher than they already were; trees along the side were essential. I wanted variation without having to skin up long distances in between descents. I wanted the world.

After turning off the highway leading to West Yellowstone and pointing myself toward Ennis, Montana, I found just what I was looking for. Set back from the road several miles to the south was the most perfect slope I had ever seen. The top half was a bit hazy, but it was easy enough to guess what lie in wait there—a steep ridge, corniced on the backside, dropping into a bowl of medium width and perfect 40-degree pitch lined by life-saving trees on both sides.

Toward the middle the trees started to thicken and the bowl branched into several chutes of varying width and rockiness. The bottom was covered with pine—both standing upright and deadfall. The fallen trees were mostly snow-covered, but, even from this distance, I could see that skinning over them would be the crux of the ascent.

The skin in and up was going to be long, but once up there, the middle and upper parts had enough variation and ski-able terrain to allow for a day of fresh yo-yos. I felt a brief and very slight, yet undeniable, twinge of pity for all the suckers fighting for freshies on the Pass that morning.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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