This past Summer I was instructing a NOLS course in the Wyoming range. The first day we let the students travel alone and us instructors separately we turned a corner to see a huge cloud. Was it a storm cloud? Had Yellowstone erupted? Are we going to die? No, it was a forest fire, and it was beautiful.
After realizing what we were looking at we got in touch with NOLS on our Sat Phone, "Jesus Christ, we were waiting for you to call!" They put us in touch with the Forest Service who told us we'd have to hike another nine miles that day to a safe zone. Our students were excited and then destroyed. It was great.
Anyway, I had the idea to go find the burn and ski in it so that's what we did. Liza and Bald Evan were in, so we got in the car and headed south down through Hoback Canyon in search of the burn zone. Just past the entrance to Cliff Creek on the right side of the road was just what I remembered: about 1000 vertical of beautiful burn skiing.
We skinned up Cliff Creek a bit and then left to gain a ridge on the backside of what we'd seen from the road. An hour-plus later we were at the top. I was hacking up mucus because I was sick. It was snowing. Evan was excited.
Liza was too, but then she broke her ski about 100 feet down the first pitch. It was broken in an ideal location - just above where the early rise starts, so she could still ski. We set a horrible traverse for snowboarder Bald Evan so he had to switch back to ski mode to follow.
Once we finally made it to the North aspect of the mountain, the burn just above the road it was beautiful.
The top of the aspect was at 7900' and the base at 6400', so this was by no means high elevation, but the snow was better than anywhere else. We kept believing we were in Japan. The general aesthetic too, it was so beautiful, so otherworldly...where fire and ice are married!
We convinced Liza to "send it". She did? Did she? She did. #SheJumps
We got to the bottom of our first run. Looked at the clock. "Let's go up again!" Yes.
We shot down to the parking lot after another run. There we found another car and three old crusty Jackson dudes. "Pretty beautiful up there today, huh?"
"Yeah, don't you go fucking telling anyone about this place."
"I've been here for 40 Winters, I'm done with the Park, all this 'Bro Brah' bullshit. I fucking hate it. I just hide down here now."
"Yeah I hate that shit too. The snow was surprisingly good though, huh? For such low elevation?"
"Not surprising to me. Not at all. Everyone thinks there's better snow up high. I only ski below 9000' these days. Its always better. Don't go telling people to come down here."
"I don't want all those Village assholes ruining it all. This is the last place we got."
"Hah, we'll do our best. See ya!"
DON'T SKI IN HOBACK CANYON IT SUCKS ASS!
Ultimately, the narrative of the day was different than most. While most days there is beta, there is a goal, there is an 'objective', today was an adventure. We had no idea nor any care what we found. We just wanted to experience a new zone, a new Winter aesthetic, the Earth and life thereon in new form. There is SO MUCH skiing around here, so much beauty. There is certainly a time for doing your research, watching the snowpack, the weather, and executing a burly Teton line. Sometimes the ego needs that, and sometime the mountains will kill you for it. But if we fall into thinking that skiing big lines on big mountains is why we all fell in love with skiing, we are mistaken.
I, for one, fell in love with skiing from days fucking around and exploring in the Adirondacks - dodging ski patrol, jumping off lifts, trying goofy tricks, finding the hidden 5 inches of fresh East coast snow, and laughing. The joy of finding something new, for me, far outweighs the joy of repeating a storied dance. And I need to constantly remind myself of that.
Final thought: ski the burn, sloshies at Hoback Market, Astoria Hot Springs.