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Drive-By Chuting: Teton Pass, Wyoming

Features
posted: 03/24/2005

Location: Highway 22, 12 miles west of Jackson, Wyoming Pass
Elevation: 7,200 feet
Vertical: Up to 2,000 feet
Minimum Time Needed: 2.5 hours
Method: Shuttle or hitchhike

THE SCENE: Teton Pass Resort-that's the sarcastic name locals often use to describe Jackson Hole's most accessible backcountry area, which is sometimes so tracked up you'd think there are chairlifts hidden in the trees. Arrive late on a powder day or ideal spring corn day- late meaning 9 a.m.-and you may find the park-ing area atop the Pass jammed with AWD wagons, skiers, and dogs. So get there early.

THE SNOW: People fight to park here because Teton Pass, which skirts the southern end of the Teton Range, is the very essence of springtime drive-by backcountry skiing: easy, direct access to 2,000-vertical-foot runs-spongy powder on north-facing aspects and silky corn on south faces. Spring storms from the Arctic, Alaska, the Pacific, and elsewhere slam into the Tetons, and often save their finales for the Pass, which gets even more snow than the 400-plus yearly inches reported at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 20 minutes northeast.

THE DRIVE: Option one: Take Highway 22 west out of Jackson, park at the top of Teton Pass (get there by 8 a.m.), and plan on hitchhiking back up after a run. Option two: Park a car at the Stagecoach in Wilson (right), hitch a ride up, and relish the fact that your car awaits.

THE GOODS: For the Pass newbie, there are basically two route options-boot-packing on the north side of the road, or skinning to the south. Heading north means lashing your skis or board to your pack and hiking directly up the steep south ridge of 10,086-foot Mount Glory. Welcome to Jackson Hole's best hangover cure. Most rookies take a pained hour to kick steps up Glory; strong skiers huff it in half that time. Follow local protocol and step aside when a faster hiker comes up behind you. From Glory's broad summit, 180-degree Glory Bowl may tempt, but it also slides. (Witness the snowboarder who was killed in December 2001, among others.) So wait for a low-hazard day and do your homework before you drop into the sublime, 35-degree, GS-able expanse of Glory Bowl (a.k.a. the Gut). Halfway down, watch for a large cliff band, negotiated by funneling through a dead-center notch (nerve-racking for its exposure to the huge amounts of snow hanging overhead) or by bailing either skier's right or skier's left. A safer bet is to head to west-facing, wide-open First Turn or Second Turn (not shown on map). And on days when the parking lot looks like a Subaru jamboree, traverse a few minutes farther north and drop into Coal Creek's pine and aspen glades. Heading south from the parking lot means slapping on skins and shuffling up an old, gradual Forest Service Road (hiking trail #3004); after a few minutes, your many options, including classic Edelweiss Bowl, unfold. Edelweiss is the large, obvious bowl to the west (right) as you skin up the road. Dropping the slopes right below the road, called Powder Reserves (not shown), will bring you to the bottom of the skin track that climbs to the top of Edelweiss. From there, lap the sizeable, 30-degree bowl, or head off the back side and into Columbia Bowls and the Mail Cabin Creek drainage, which you can follow back out to the highway. Bring a topo to keep yourself oriented and watch out for terrain traps in gully bottoms.

Stagecoach Bar, Wilson, Wyoming

The town of Wilson, Wyoming, begins and ends, literally, at the Stagecoach Bar (307-733-4407) on Highway 22. Built in the '40s, the 'Coach was originally neighbor to a rodeo ring, whose hired help-and area ranch hands-danced and played pool on horseback, inside the joint. Western heritage still holds sway on Sunday nights, when the country-flavored Stagecoach Band revs things up, as they have every Lord's Day since 1969. But a Sunday at the Stagecoach also has its share of skiing history: The pickin' and grinnin' leader of the Stagecoach Band is none other than Bill Briggs, the first man to ski the Grand Teton, way back in '71.

Visit Wilson Backcountry Sports (307-733-5338) in Wilson, at the bottom of the Pass. Read The Jackson Hole Ski Atlas ($13) or Teton Skiing-A History and Guide ($17; 307-733-4533; valleybookstore.com). Hire Rendezvous Ski and Snowboard Tours (from $495 a day; 877-754-4887; skithetetons.com). Sleep at the 49er Inn & Suites (from $50; 307-733-9550; 49erinn.com). Know the avalanche conditions (jhsnowobs.org; 307-733-2664 or 307-RED-BONG).

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