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November 2017

A fall worth remembering in the Tetons

People skinning up toward Paintbrush.

By Elizabeth Koutrelakos

Thanksgiving can provide ample food and time to digest great things that have occurred over the span of the season. My gratitude commenced when the September snow covered the huckleberries while they were still ripe, forcing me to put down my bucket and pick up my Voodoo splitboard!

Drizzly mountain bottom on the way up to Garnet Canyon.

Sunhats quickly got swapped with beanies and the adventuring began. Chippy conditions were expected during the inaugural tennis-shoe walk to snow-covered hills. Once we got above the light drizzle of low clouds, views of Garnet Canyon rose, and up we went to the Middle Teton Glacier. About 30 cm of fluffy powder on summer snow created ideal turns and got me slightly more interested in Old Man Winter. The best part about this premature taste of fluff was the access — the park road was open with rideable snow on the peaks.

South fork of Garnet peaks out to say hello.

Other notable shreds include Disappointment Peak and meandering up some line in Paintbrush Canyon during mid-October. The most extreme portion of these early season conditions entailed split-skiing down a semi-snowy trail in that awkward elevation where the trail had substantial snow, but off trail was a no go. The old “pizza technique” was out of the question as shark fins lined the sides of the trail, so one could only point it and hope for the best. One point-and-shoot creek crossing damped my life for the moment, but all other attempts were deemed successful.

Looking down from top of Middle Teton Glacier.

The greatest riding occurred the week of Thanksgiving, due to consistent snowfall and ample coverage of lower faces. A rare sunny-day skin with friends up the east ridge of Buck Mountain provided delicious snacks, crisp mountain views and pleasant skiing. I’ve skied the east face many times, but the ridge itself provided a spicy dimension to riding down. This fall has been the best Teton coverage experienced in my speck of a lifetime. I double checked the bottom of my board to reaffirm this fact. … It’s beginning to look a lot like it’s time to embrace winter.

Rising above the clouds in Stewart’s Draw.

Elizabeth Koutrelakos

In high school, Elizabeth Koutrelakos was introduced to the competitive side of snowboarding through boardercross. Later, rails momentarily drew her attention. But working on a trail crew in college sparked a fascination with exploring remote and wild places that only backcountry snowboarding allows.

“Working on the trail crew you see all these places that are hard to get to in the summer because they’re rocky,” she says. “I just wanted to explore those places in the winter.”

Elizabeth is originally from Maryland — where there’s cows and trees, not the city part, she clarifies. She started snowboarding in seventh grade at a small ski area in Pennsylvania called Whitetail Resort.

“I was terrible, it was icy East Coast stuff, but I made it,” she says.

Her ties to Jackson, Wyo., stem all the way back to her youth, when her parents would tote her along on month-long family vacations to the Tetons.

“All we would do is hike every day,” she remembers, “and not just a little bit. It would be like these 20 or 30 mile hikes. When you’re 10 or 11, it’s not cool.”

That outlook changed entirely when she went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder and realized that she could hike with a snowboard. And her trips to the Tetons as a kid planted a seed that would bring her back to Jackson in the decades that ensued, moving to the area full-time about 10 years ago.

“What kept bringing me back were the mountains themselves,” she remembers, adding that scrumptious Teton huckleberries had a lot to do with it as well. “I just really like the Tetons. They’re so accessible. Everyone says they’re crowded now but they’re really not.”

Around 2007, Elizabeth obtained her first splitboard after becoming tired of post-holing for turns. Since then, she’s climbed and descended many of the peaks in the Tetons. Her perfect day consists of waking in the dark to some good coffee, carpooling with a friend to the trailhead while jamming out to shitty pop music and starting to skin under still-dark skies amid a sea of crystals. Then comes the sunrise as the touring crew reaches a high spot, stopping for warm beverages and a snack.

“And both people have really surprising and delicious snacks to share,” she says, adding that she prefers to avoid ski partners with shitty treats.

Then the descent — in corn, powder, that doesn’t matter so much. “I actually think any condition is good if it’s with good people,” she says.

After a season atop a Voodoo 154, she prefers the control the board offers on slick terrain, as well as the deck’s penchant to float over powder.

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