Put your big mountain skills to the test in the Tetons.
Beta: As you turn into Grand Teton National Park from Wyoming Highway 89, Buck Mountain sprawls dead ahead, its triangular summit snowfield guarded by dark cliffs. Fortunately, Buck looks more intimidating than it is: Exum guide Barry Corbet (for whom Jackson Hole's legendary couloir is named) was the first to ski from the summit in 1961; leading two clients, he intentionally left his boots unbuckled before starting down. Which isn't to say Buck is casual. Consider it middle school for aspiring ski alpinists, required riding for anybody who hopes to move on to such Teton test pieces as Mount Moran's Skillet Glacier or the east face of Teewinot. Featuring a lengthy approach and serious, though manageable, exposure, Buck has much to teach. Learn the value of a predawn start or be turned back by steep mush. Learn to make calm, measured turns on the 40-degree pitch just below the summit, or be ready to self-arrest. And if you fall above the 500-foot cliffs on your descent to the couloir, pray you'll share the fate of two locals who, on separate occasions, tumbled 1,000 feet and self-arrested just before the brink.
The Route: Leave the Death Canyon trailhead by 3 a.m., following the well-packed trail to the meadow below Peak 10,552 (Buck's most southerly outlier), then cut north to the mouth of Stewart Draw. Follow the draw to frozen Timberline Lake, just below Buck's upper face. With crampons affixed and ice ax at the ready, climb up the obvious couloir at the far right corner of the face before punching a diagonal track to the airy, 11,938-foot summit.
The Descent: Welcome to Teton skiing at its finest—5,100 vertical feet of steep turns, then a mile and a half of easy poling and coasting to the car. From the summit, follow your boot-track back towards the couloir. This short, moderately narrow, 40-degree section off the summit serves as the crux—you don't want to fall above those cliffs. Once you enter the couloir you'll find tight, 45-degree turns before it mellows out to 30 to 35 degrees. After that, reap your rewards in the rolling Stewart Draw.
Safety: The upper face nearly always avalanches after fresh snow. Save Buck for a spring day in May during a consistent freeze-melt cycle. Start early; a wet slide would be disastrous above those cliffs. And have your self-arrest nailed.
Other Info: You only need a permit if you plan on overnighting. Call the Grand Teton National Park ranger station at 307-739-3309; nps.gov/ grte/index.htm. The best route information can be found in Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone—A Mountaineering History and Guide, by Thomas Turiano. Guide services are available from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides (307-733-4979; jhmg.com) and Exum Mountain Guides (307-733-2297; exumguides.com).