Location: GTNP, Shadow Peak, Avalanche Canyon
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 9877’, 3,673’ gain/loss
Distance: 6 miles RT
Difficulty: 3 stars
Time: 4-5 hours
Date: 12/31/2014 Snow Condition: Powder, Sun Affected Soft Snow
We had experienced an amazing holiday week in Jackson, with a huge storm cycle bringing upwards to 4 feet of snow to the area in around 10 days. The turns around JHMR were pretty unbelievable during that time, but the lines were also a little unbelievable, so getting out into the park for a New Years Eve ski seemed like the right thing to do. With some nasty north/northeast winds trailing the system, most aspects were fairly wind affected, so we thought a south facing shot might have the best chance at skiing well. Hank, B.Close and I decided on the 4 Hour Couloir, off Shadow Peak. None of us had skied it before, but we all were excited for the relatively easy approach for a 2100′ couloir. The approach is very simple. You follow the normal route up Shadow Peak, but just as it benches out and you are about to go up the northeast facing “bowl” that is the skiers summit, look left. There is an obvious “col” which is the entry point to the 4 Hour Couloir. We made pretty good time up to beginning of the ski, leaving the truck around 9:45am and reaching the couloir in 2hrs 30min. We enjoyed the views and warmth of the inverted sun on our skin for a bit before we decided to drop in. While sitting here, we did notice a massive crown on the East face of the Grand. It looked to have a depth of 6-8ft and ran the length of the entire face, directly above the Otter Body.
While we were getting ready, a group of three came upon us from above. They had a similar idea for the day and after a quick chat, they took off down the couloir and we slowly got ready, wanting to give them plenty of time to ski the line. After about 15 minutes, we decided they must be out of harms way and got moving. The first few turns were a little heavy, with the sun and inverted temperatures doing a bit of damage on the snow, but quickly we found some dry powder snow.
Once into the couloir, the snow was surprisingly good, with dense powder in most places. We skied it in 4 sections, but could have easily done it in two if we were concerned about the snow stability. Mostly, we were just having fun skiing a beautiful couloir in the relative warmth of an inverted day and didn’t feel the need to rush the experience.
We continued down, making some great turns and really opening it up as the couloir starts to widen near the bottom. The snow towards the bottom was some of the best, dense and chalky – which was a nice finish to the great day.
After finishing the run, we were greeted with a debris pile from an avalanche that had probably occurred sometime during the last storm cycle. After making it through all the land mines, we slowly worked our way out of Avalanche Canyon. I say slowly because the inversion had created snow temperates so low that we were basically walking out, not skiing. Along the “walk” out, we ran into the group of three who had skied the couloir before us. They emphatically informed us that they had come across an adolescent black bear 400′ into the couloir. They said it was hanging out above them in a treed area before it truly tightened into a couloir. We were shocked, simultaneously glad and a little jealous that they had gone first. Add bears encounters to the long list of dangers that backcountry skiers face! We continued out at a “blistering” pace, finally crossing Taggart Lake and making it back to the truck in 4hrs 30min. We enjoyed some laughs and quickly made our way to Dornan’s for a few beverages to start the New Years festivities.