Skiing the Otterbody on the Grand Teton

Skiing the Otterbody on the Grand Teton

Story by Exum Chief Guide Brendan O’Neill

Skiing the Grand Teton - Alex & Brendan climbing OS  Photo: Exum Guide Brendan O'Neill collectionWhen Bill Briggs first skied the Grand Teton he had this to say, “The idea wasn’t for me, that I would be the only one that would ever do this. My idea was that everybody should be doing this. “ At the time nobody was, but this is something that’s too much fun to pass up. With that in mind one needs to look no further than Doug Coombs. Through his inclusive nature and contagious enthusiasm, Doug has inspired skiers, guides and clients throughout the world to seek out adventure. His first ski descent of the Otterbody with Mark Newcomb in June of 1997 inspired me. At the time it was considered the cutting edge of ski mountaineering in North America. Doug enjoyed it so much, he went on to ski the route twice more and created a movie titled “The Otterbody Experience”. He had so much fun skiing the Grand Teton that he made a decision to share that experience with his clients, and went on to make the first guided ski descent of the Grand Teton via the Ford/Stettner route in 2004.

Skiing the Grand Teton - Alex and Brendan on the summit  Photo: Exum Guide Brendan O'Neill collectionDoug’s vision cannot be understated. Prior to Doug’s first, no one seriously considered this possible, and upon his success we began to look at these routes in a different light. Exum guides Nat Patridge and Bill Anderson took the next step by making the first guided ski descent of the Grand Teton in winter in 2008.

Following in their footsteps, I felt the Otterbody could be guided safely and enjoyably in the right conditions. Avoiding the melt freeze cycles that created difficult conditions for earlier parties, our plan was to seek out stable winter powder. The Otterbody/East face is a spectacularly exposed route. Its position is unrivaled, hanging thousands of feet above the climbers that trudge up Garnet canyon year in and year out. The hazards are severe and should not be taken lightly. Doug considered it one of his most serious routes. In February of this year fellow Exum guide Dan Corn and I went to up to experience this first hand. What we found had us giddy. Under the the right conditions and a stable snowpack, this route was not the horror fest described by some skiers who have made the descent but an extremely technical, yet enjoyable glisse into Garnet canyon.

Skiing the Grand Teton - East Face start  Photo: Exum Guide Brendan O'Neill collectionAlthough the idea to guide this route was formed in winter 2012, it wasn’t until that day this February that I realized it was possible. Alex Kretschmann, a former ski racer, was on his way to Jackson Hole with the Otterbody on his mind. With a background in ski mountaineering and alpine climbing he was well versed in the techniques required to succeed in such an endeavor. To further bolster our chances, Exum guide Patrick Ormond was brought on board.

To make a long story short, we camped at the lower saddle and climbed the Owen Spalding route to the summit.  We began our descent under clear skies. The snow was perfect, boot deep powder. Exhilarating and belayed skiing down the east face led us to a rappel. After this we were on the Otterbody itself.  More powder and belayed skiing led to another series of rappels which concluded the technical portion of the route.  From there it was a 5000 foot victory lap to the valley floor.

Skiing the Grand Teton - Pat & AK first rap  Photo: Exum Guide Brendan O'Neill collection Skiing the Grand Teton - Pat Ormond on East Face   Photo: Exum Guide Brendan O'Neill collection

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