Maria Debari’s Unreal Adventures – Splitboarding the West Hourglass Couloir
Story by Maria DeBari
I made a rule for myself that I am not allowed to wake up before 6 am unless Im on a fishing boat. There is really just no reason to be up at that ungodly hour. But rules are made to be broken and a handful of times each winter I end up making exceptions for the sake of a snowboard mission.
Which is exactly how I found myself in a situation where it was so cold out that my eyelashes were sticking together and despite the fact that I was skinning, I couldn’t get warm enough to take off my down jacket. It was 7am and I had been awake since 4:30am. If there’s one thing I hate more than waking up early, its bitter cold. Oh, the things I endure in order to go snowboarding.
Not to complain though. Once I mentally (and usually verbally as well) acknowledge all of the things that are really sucky in a present moment, I weirdly begin to enjoy them. And the most beautiful of mornings that morning was when my eyelashes were sticking together and the inside of my jacket was icing up. The sun was just coming up and shedding its first light upon the Grand Teton, which was right in front of my face and becoming ever so slowly closer with each step I took.
The world is a crazy place and some random twist of fate brought me to the Tetons this winter which is about the last place I ever expected to land, but there is no use trying to question it because I couldn’t be happier. The mountains here are beautiful, I’ve been riding powder every day, and the people here are really nice. Lately, the weather has been beautiful and the snowpack stable, which brought me to my first venture into Grand Teton National Park.
Our objective for the day was the West Hourglass Couloir on Nez Perce, a classic Teton ski descent. I picked my friend Alex up at 6:15 in Wilson and we headed into the Park. I met Alex riding Teton pass a few weeks back and he has quickly become my go-to partner for big days: calm and collected, aware, not too serious, and fast both up and down, he is everything I look for in a person I am going to spend time with in the mountains. We both expected it to be really deep powder, and I even brought my Verts to help me climb up the couloir in the deep snow.
We had a five mile approach to the base of the West Hourglass, then 2500 vertical feet to bootpack up. The sun really began to work its magic and I was finally able to shed my down jacket, but cold still came quickly when I stopped. We wound up Garnett Canyon and the mountains closed in tight around us on each side. The landscape here blows my mind every time I see it. There are so many pretty rocks! So different than what I am used to. As we wrapped around the final ridge and into the main gut of Garnett Canyon the wind hit us. Perhaps I didn’t mention earlier in my list of things that suck, but I am not a fan of wind.
We arrived underneath our objective and were trying to skin up the steep apron to the base of the couloir, but the wind had scoured every last bit of snow away and skinning was nearly impossible. We transitioned as fast as we could with the wind hammering us and headed uphill boot packing with the goal to get inside the protected walls to take a break and reevaluate. Scrambling over loose rocks and wind scoured snow that offered no purchase, it took us longer than we expected get inside the couloir. Alex pointed out how pleasant this would be if the wind wasn’t blowing.
Once inside, I quickly realized that the Verts I had hauled in were far from necessary, and the much more compact ice axe and crampon combination (which I left in Washington) would have come in much more handy. Not to mention because of all the space they were taking up in my backpack, the straps wouldn’t reach to carry my board vertically, so i had it horizontally against my back. The wind must have been blowing in the exactly perfect direction to howl down our couloir. Alex and I looked up at the wind scoured snow and decided that although it wasn’t going to be powder we’d walked a long way to be here and we might as well continue on. Wind buff is semi soft at least—way more shreddable than ice. So up we went.
The boot packing was surprisingly manageable in just snowboard boots. I’m the first to admit that I can easily get gripped if all of the sudden I find myself on a steep slope without a good footstep, and I was afraid of ending up in that situation and not having an ice axe. But every time it got a little technical I was able to find something and get passed it.
We topped out in the West Hourglass rather anticlimactically. But the views of the Grand Teton were stunning. It was standing out majestically right in front of our faces, so close it seemed we could almost reach out and touch it. We drank some tea and soaked in the view, but being on a true north face it quickly became really cold and we decided it was time to go snowboarding.
Our descent was nothing to write home about, but I’ve definitely had way worse. The wind buff was at least soft. It was very aesthetic snowboarding down such a narrow couloir with huge rock walls towering up on either side. At the mouth it rolled over to an apron and became wind loaded; we finally got some decent turns. We rode all the way out to the flats and stopped to have a nice picnic in the sunshine on the lake. Finally I was warm! We laughed about how wrong we had been about the conditions and how pretty the views had been. Today was a great day, we decided. I know its cliche (I swear my whole life might be a cliche), but any day spent in the mountains is a good day. And if you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains you’re lucky enough. I cant wait for tomorrow!