Grand Teton Sees First Guided Winter Ski Descent
February 24, 2008
All photos by Jay McLaurin
DeFazio succeeds after third attempt
After nearly two months of continuous tumultuous weather and over 400 inches of snowfall, the window of good conditions and weather that David DeFazio had waited years for came on February 21, 2008. DeFazio, an attorney living in Jackson, Wyoming, had been in contact with lead guide Nat Patridge throughout the winter. Patridge made the decision that conditions were right when a high pressure spell followed a period of intense snowfall and high winds, which plastered the Grand Teton with a solid “shrink wrap” of dense powder. Another brief storm laid a thin coating of light powder on top, which made the skiing as good as it gets on the Grand Teton.
Although many private parties have skied the Grand Teton during the winter season in recent years–December 22 through March 21, theirs was the first guided descent during the winter season. Their success can be attributed to the superb guiding of Patridge and Liberatore, as well as DeFazio’s excellent skiing and mountaineering skill. But, most of all, it was DeFazio’s ability to wait for the right conditions and be available to depart with a day or two of notice that made the feat possible.
Most skiers who attempt the Grand Teton wait until May or June (or even July) when weather, snow stability, and snow conditions are more predictable and a descent doesn’t have to be timed quite so precisely. But, spring snow conditions on the Grand Teton are often either very slushy or very firm, the former a hazard for wet avalanches, and the latter a hazard for sliding out of control. Hence, in recent years, there has been more interest in, and acceptance of, skiing the Grand Teton during winter months.
For Exum clients interested in a Grand ski descent, spring is a good time to come, but more belays and rappels will be required to protect each other from the hazards of avalanches and unchecked slips. To catch the Grand in powdery or “chalky” conditions, make plans to spend two to four weeks in Jackson Hole awaiting acceptable conditions. Such good conditions may never appear while you’re waiting, but your best chance to ski the Grand during the winter months is between mid February and mid March. And if you don’t get the Grand, you’ll have a lot of fun and gain a ton of experience skiing the lesser Teton peaks instead.