the north face promo code Jackson Hole guides ski Grand Teton’s north face for first time in history
On Easter morning, Greg Collins stood on the summit of the Grand Teton and called his mother to wish her a happy holiday. Then he and fellow Teton mountain guide Brendan O’Neill prepared to become the first people to ski the mountain’s north face.
Skiing the “Grand” is not new. Bill Briggs first did it in 1971, launching big mountain skiing and becoming a Jackson Hole legend in the process. Skiing legends such as Doug Combs have since pioneered new descents down the mountain. When the sun came up on Easter Sunday, the number of successfully skied routes down the Grand stood at five. The north face was not one of them.
The north face comprises nearly 3,000 of the Grand’s 13,776 feet. It is a collection of ledges, couloirs and cliffs some as big as 400 feet. Atop the Grand, there was no way for the pair to know what awaited them below. The ledges could be icy and hard. The wind could have created slight snowdrifts, increasing the avalanche danger. On a mountainside so steep even the slightest slip of snowpack could be fatal.
O’Neill, 41, first heard the whispers about skiing the north face when he moved to Jackson 17 years ago. No one ever actually did it, but new routes were skied on other parts of the mountain. The East Ridge was skied for the first time in 2006.
O’Neill and Collins are both mountaineering guides O’Neill with Exum Mountain Guides and Collins for the Alaska Mountaineering School based in the Jackson area. (Collins could not be reached for this story because he was in Alaska leading a mountaineering class on a glacier.)
They began considering a descent of the north face earlier in the winter. Collins had climbed the Direct North Face, a climbing route up the north face, several times, including in the winter. O’Neill skied different parts of the Grand four times this winter alone. On hikes of nearby Mount Owen and Teewinot, the guides examined the north face for a potential ski route.
“We saw the ledges filling in with snow. They seemed closer together, linked together to the degree that we could make a significant number of turns on it,” O’Neill said.
They weren’t merely interested in rappelling thousands of feet down the north face. They wanted to ski it.
They descended without incident, landing atop the third ledge where they put on their skies. The third ledge is steep and narrow and, together with the second ledge,
offered the guides nearly 1,000 feet of skiing.
“They required a lot of attention,” O’Neill said.
But the conditions were nice. A fresh layer of snow sat on top of a hard base. “It was actually really nice skiing.”
A rappel from the second to first ledge followed. The first ledge is steep, but more open than its counterparts higher up the mountain. The guides began to relax and relish the moment, O’Neill said.
One more rappel was required, taking the guides 400 feet down the first ledge to the grand stand. Some 4,000 feet of skiing to the valley floor remained, but O’Neill and Collins had effectively made it.
“It really puts the clincher on skiing the Grand. There are other routes people will do, but this is one of the last great challenges,” Turiano said. “It’s just an incredible human feat, really.”
The historical significance of the descent didn’t hit him until later, O’Neill said.
The trip was so dependent on conditions the weather, the snow, the route that he hadn’t allowed himself to think about what it meant.
Reflecting on it Tuesday, O’Neill listed off the names of those who had blazed other trails down the Grand: Briggs, Combs, Mark Newcomb and Hans Johnstone.
“Honestly, these are people I’ve looked up to the most in this town. They are my mentors,” he said. “Greg and I were really looking for an adventure. When it was all said and done both of us felt pretty fortunate to have been able to make turns down the north face.”
At the car, they clinked their ski poles in congratulations. They felt lucky to be alive,
not because they had cheated death but because they had accomplished something amazing.