GET OUT: Peaceful Pow

By on January 19, 2016

Enjoying solitude and untracked champagne in an unlikely place.

A skier drinks in the view at the top of Blacktail Butte. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

A skier drinks in the view at the top of Blacktail Butte. (Photo: elizabeth koutrelakos)

Jackson, WY – I don’t love powder days. Nope, those 24 hours subsequent to precipitation of substantial amounts of snow just doesn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fluff, but the white stuff comes with a certain communal tension that I would rather pass up. Those partaking in pow days seem to walk around with an air of a robot on too much battery power – tromping around on a mission yet unsure of their next decision. The normal working humans seem to be saddened about the old Fear of Missing Out. While substantial FOMO exists in most nooks and crannies around this town, I decided to avoid the powder day frenzy all together. What if I could get through the day interacting with no one except for my ski partner?

I found the prospect somewhat plausible on this particular day. The specific period seemed uncontrollably stormy and while skiing a resort with the hoards may have been the easier choice, the prospect offered no innate relaxation. Running a little low on the tension reduction front, I brainstormed for this precious day off. After ruling out Teton Pass, Snow King and Teton Village, I got in touch with the inner mellow – a quintessential part of my existence that Jackson attempts to stifle. More than 17 inches of new snow in the past day coated the valley and I desired views, safety and solitude. Hence, a decision was made to ski the little neighborhood peak: Blacktail Butte.

I always think of this thing as the town hill even though it’s not. Although people considered making Kelly the main town, this idea was thwarted once they realized it was prone to flooding. Often times, I wonder what would be on this precious piece of paradise had civilization decided to garner its electrical wires, ski slopes and restaurants upon it. To my current delight, this hill seems minimally attractive to most, but offers wonderful views and a place for those who want to exercise amidst the prospect of mass amounts of new snow.

My friend and I parked and made our way across the flats. The most dangerous part about the beginning of this mission entails tanglings of sage and other unidentifiable sticks and sedimentary rock. While the hill appeared to be covered from a distance, parts of the old slope still held rocks on the windward slopes. A little ways up, I eyed grass, moose tracks and frozen poop organized in little balls battling the wind. Though the first bout was steep, upon gaining the ridge the trip felt sheltered and scenic. For those wondering which ridge was gained, it’s hard to specify for this little knoll has multiple ridges that ultimately lead to the same place.

Nearing the summit, we meandered through the trees, knowing if we kept going up, the vertical would eventually near an end. Upon reaching the “true summit” the views of the expansive Gros Ventres seemed to roll endlessly. On the other side, the dramatic Teton Range shed snow and as it stood solid in the grey blur of weather. All around us, the winter storm rolled in and out, sending gusts of wind and graupel onto our faces. The sun provided us one of the few constants of the day. While precipitation and blowing snow battled the tips of our noses, the sun never left our little blue hole of life. Another perpetual friend of the day consisted of a circling bald eagle flying ‘round and ‘round, swooping and sailing in all directions.

The true summit hosts a variety of runs, only to be explored by the creative at heart. While this mountain seems mellow, one must be particular in choosing a route. Like most areas in this region, avalanches can happen anywhere, anytime. There are pretty steep chutes on the southeast side that looked a little sketchy. We opted for a safer route down and lapped the bowl on the west side of the butte. This little nook in the world provided a plethora of features, from wind fins to lone trees, to pure open powder skiing. I must say that every run created smiles and did not leave much to be desired.

I really don’t know why people choose not to ski this thing. There are so many “untouched lines” and I thought people in Jackson Hole love “untouched powder.” I secretly think that some residents like to say they prefer to ski places with no people but in reality find comfort in seeing some sort of human existence.

One moment, I thought I heard people chatting. I stopped and listened to see where that high-pitched cackle was coming from, but only spotted a few ravens chasing each other around in the wind. For me, this mild moment of observed tension was minimal compared to the typical pow day in Jackson Hole. PJH

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