A Dream Line Realized: Skiing The Otterbody by Teague Holmes
I just left a grip of incredible steep couloirs in Cooke City Montana. It was raining.This is my spring ski trip to explore and shred new mountain ranges in Montana and Idaho, but it was just too warm. While chilling in Bozeman plotting my next move, I checked the weather in all of the major Rocky Mountain ranges. I have them all as icons on my iPhone. Snow nerd? Maybe I just like steep skiing and its all about the weather.
The high Tetons were going to see low 20’s or even teens at night and mid 30’s during the day for the next few days and it was currently snowing. But it certainly wasn’t a “new range” for me. My buddy Mike and I had one line in particular we were waiting and watching for the ideal conditions to shape up. I called Mike from wet and warm Bozeman on Thursday afternoon. He returned my call in 30 minutes and said he and Chris would leave Breckenridge Friday at noon to meet at the Taggart Lake trail head for a 2am start Saturday morning.
A ski descent of The Grand Teton’s mythical Otterbody may just come together. 1957 We wanted to ski the Grand Teton in powder. So, of course this means deep trail breaking. It also means the potential of being ‘lanched’ in the Stetener Chevy or Ford Couloirs if there was a party above us. This, and knowing the sun hits the East face at first light, meant a 2am start. We have paired our entire kit down to the lightest, yet solid mountain tested tools. Mike choose his Faction Agent 100’s with Dynafit TLT Carbon boots and of course a Dynafit binding. Expecting a mixed bag of deep pow and glazed east facing spring ice, I grabbed the Agent 90 and Ultra light Scarpa Alien 1.0 carbon boots. I’ve learned to enjoy both the big guns for shorter days and the smaller light equipment when going far and high. I’ve learned speed equals safety in the mountains and the easier the skinning, the more rad lines we ski! Two teams started some hours before us. We were able to catch up, and after thanking Inga and Blake for their hard work we took over the trail breaking duties on the Teepee Glacier. Once in the Stetener it was waist deep wallowing and our speed really slowed. We still had time with the early start and unseasonably low 15 degree temps above 11k. So hateful post-holing ensued.
We tied in and I lead up through the ice bulge the Chevy Couloir. It’s only a few spots of Ice with one AI 3 bulge to clear. Mike set off breaking trail into the Ford Couloir while I finished belaying Chris.
Booter up the Ford Couloir pictured here. The summit was close now and the views got real.
Shot of Inga and Blake at top of Ford where previous photo was taken from.
A tall summit always feels even better with skis doesn’t it!
We had been forecasting the snow stability from far away for a couple weeks. Checking precip, wind, temps, Avy forecast and other skiing activity. Doing our homework leading up to a big high consequence line is a prerequisite for my partners and I. I don’t go for the send unless I learn most of the deck is stacked in our favor.
Here we make the final assessment of recent snow before committing to the steeper wide open East face. Soft and stable. Check!
The upper east face skied a foot deep of soft with 3-4″ of light and fresh on top. That is, until we were 2000′ lower and it rolled over steeper. Right before the first rappel the new snow had sloughed off to reveal the spring glaze. Thank you JD at Alpine Sports Breck for the 3 degree side bevel! Slow it down and locate the anchors man! Mike and I worked together to find them.
One 30 meter rap brought us to the line’s namesake Otter Body. Despite this snowfield hanging over a 700′ cliff it didn’t seem as heavy or steep as other pitches on the line. Maybe 43 degrees here but the gravity below kept us honest. And the snow was great again. Of course until it steepens right before searching for hidden anchors. I was sensing a devious trend here.
The need to be dialed on steep skiing with the weight of our standard day touring pack, plus mountaineering gear goes without saying. But despite shredding with the heavier pack, the skiing is not the hard part for solid Freeriders. It’s the mountaineering spidey sense, to sniff out the usually buried anchors, and quick efficient rope handling skills. Then there is the ‘ski-to-rap, stash-the-poles, grab-the-ice axe’ type transitions. And no matter how smooth we are, there is always some jerry like antics to factor into the timing. It’s all good if we have built in the ‘unknown time suck’ factor and most importantly, Jerry doesn’t drop the rope. You laugh but it happened to the best. On this mountain, one week prior, twice in one day, by two separate pro Jerrys! I say that with much respect two of them are the real deal with ski mountaineering resumes to rival the greats! Keep it tight-loose!
If you look carefully you can see Chris rappelling through the last major cliff feature. One day on a monster El Niño year some bad ass will ski the 60 degree ice and send this 100 footer to the massive slough pile at the top of the Teepee Glacier. I bet that day is far away. Or is it?
Mike rapped last, tied in and pulled the rope by skiing away. We were mega stoked to be down off the gnar and wanted to get out of the Avy bomb zone as it was really beginning to heat up.
Teague Holmes, Chris and Mike are amped to have skis on the Teepee glacier and DAMN….to have skied the Otterbody on the GFT!!!
Teague Holmes, Inga and Blake successfully shredded up the Ford Couloir and figure 8 it up past the Teepee Spire. Thanks for the skinner up to the Spire!
The Otterbody route on East Face of The Grand Teton Grand Teton National Park Wyoming USA
What a way to top off a rad winter of lapping the resort when it’s deep, riding park when it’s not, human powered dawn patrols and weekend backcountry tours. What do we have our eye on this next spring!?