What is backcountry skiing and snowboarding like with TBG?

A backcountry experience with us includes traveling in the mountains in the winter without the use of mechanized lifts, helicopters, snowmobiles, or snowcats to access the terrain. We have no groomed or blazed trails and travel in areas without avalanche control. This is skiing and snowboarding in its purest form and provides a true wilderness experience.

What type of backcountry skier am I?

We like to categorize backcountry skiing into three main categories: touring, turning, and ski mountaineering.

Touring consists of cross-country skiing over flat or rolling terrain. Skiers travel off groomed trails and create their own track, generally never going down slopes greater than 20 degrees, and staying out of avalanche terrain.

Turning involves some touring to get to steeper slopes of 20-45 degrees where skiers and riders focus on downhill travel and making turns. Those focusing on turning will often “lap” a bowl (ski down and hike back up repeatedly) until the slope is tracked out.

Ski mountaineering involves traveling into alpine terrain with short roped sections, rock climbing and steep hiking. It often involves summiting a peak to ski or high-altitude traverses. The Tetons have many great options for all types of skiing.

The difference between these categories is skier ability, the terrain the skier will access, and the type of equipment they will use.

Touring uses light equipment, designed for efficiency in travel over rolling terrain. All ability levels.

Turning requires either telemark orf Alpine Touring equipment  designed for traveling and turning. All ability levels.

Ski mountaineering requires alpine-touring equipment, or randonée gear, as well as ropes, harnesses and tools. Intermediate, advanced and expert ability levels.

What skill level do I need to go into the backcountry?

The basic skills required to go into the mountains are a strong snowplow, sidestepping technique, and kick turns. You need to adequately perform these skills to visit our yurts.

For beginning skiers, we will stick to flat or slightly-rolling terrain, focusing on instruction to advance your ski level. If you have never been on skis before, or it has been many years, we will take you to areas where you can practice and remain in your comfort zone. We provide instruction to all levels of skiers.

What is the terrain like in the Tetons?

A lifetime would not be long enough to ski all of the great terrain in the Tetons. Big, open bowl skiing, large meadow gliding, knife-edge ridge walks, and classic couloirs are all available and covered in an annual 500″ of the lightest density snow you can imagine.

The Teton region has long been revered as a hot spot in American alpinism and backcountry skiing. For the novice skier looking to learn the telemark turn, to the experienced backcountry traveler looking for an exciting alpine excursion, the Tetons will not disappoint. Each of our yurts are surrounded by terrain suited for all abilities.

Average length of a run is about 1,000 ft, however, some runs are as long as 3,000 ft.

What shape do I need to be in to do this? Can anybody do this?

You need to be reasonably fit to enjoy cross-country and backcountry skiing, as both involve cardiovascular fitness and muscle-strength. Cross-country skiing on flat terrain is the easiest, in regard to technique and physical conditioning, and is an excellent way to start if you are new to the sport or want to get back in shape.

Skiing the higher elevation bowls of Teton Pass, the peaks of the Tetons or around our yurts will take more strength and endurance. Hiking in the winter on skis is similar to hiking in the mountains in the summer. Expect to spend 45 minutes to an hour to ascend a slope, and several hours or more to reach the yurts. Longer descents in Grand Teton Park might require three to four hours of climbing. The more you hike, the more of a ski reward you will reap!

Since we keep our client to guide ratio small, your ability and pace are always accommodated. Whether you want a challenging day with lots of vertical, or a leisurely scenic tour, you simply need to communicate your interests and we will meet them.

Our guides are dedicated to providing educational and physically rewarding experiences. We take ample rest breaks for snacks and water, and pace ourselves accordingly to spend an enjoyable day in the mountains. We want you to have fun, no matter your physical stamina.

Do I need to be able to telemark ski to do get into the backcountry?

No. Today’s alpine touring equipment enables the skier’s heels to be free on the ascent, and then locked down while parallel skiing down. This is the ideal setup for those who want to access the backcountry and prefer to parallel ski. Alpine touring gear is very similar to downhill equipment, albeit lighter and less-stiff. We highly recommend this equipment if you are a good downhill skier and have no interest in leaning to telemark.

What type of equipment do I need?

First, you must decide if your goal is touring or turning. For touring, bring waxless or fish scale, skinny, double-cambered skis with the Nordic Norm bindings (NNN) and leather boots. You may also choose teli skis with leather or plastic boots which will offer more control.

If turning is what you are after, then choose a ski designed for deep snow: a wider ski is preferred. Local favorite skis include K2’s Adventure Backside series. A general average width of  105 to 112 underfoot is preferred for mid-winter powder skiing

We will supply you with an Avalanche Transceiver (we use Backcountry Access’ Trackers and Ortovox F-1 Focus) and shovels if we venture into avalanche terrain. You need to have a small backpack (between 25-30L) to carry your extra clothes and water bottle. We supply lunches and snacks on day tours and all meals on yurt trips. Guides carry first aid kits, repair kits, and emergency kits.

The key to backcountry skiing comfort is the wearing layers. You will want to wear less on the ascents than the descents. Start with synthetic, wicking underwear, like polypropylene, as a base layer (mid-weight is the best for backcountry skiing in the Tetons). Next, add a fleece vest or wool sweater on the top, with ski pants (preferably Gore-Tex® or the latest craze, Schoeller®) on the bottom. Finally, bring a storm jacket with a hood. Pit zips are nice in the jacket for ventilation. We recommend carrying an extra insulating layer for the top (a down jacket or warm fleece) for lunch breaks or in case weather rolls in or an injury occurs. Bring a warm hat, a lighter hat, a visor or cap for sun protection, light gloves for hiking, and warm mitts for descents or taking breaks. Goggles, sunglasses, and sunscreen are all necessary items on the gear list.

How cold can it get in the Tetons?

The weather varies from day to day here. Here is a general idea:

December is the coldest month with the shortest days. It can also be some of the best skiing because of those two factors. Highs average in the low 20’s or teens with overnight lows dipping into the single digits or below zero.

January can be cold and stormy, although we generally get a winter thaw somewhere in the month. Temps can rise into the low 30’s during the days or it can be like December weather.

February temps rise with the increased daylight.

March is a mix of everything – warm sunny days to blowing snow powder days.

April is springtime with longer days and stronger sunlight. However, we generally get some big storms in April, which might mean rain on the valley floor and snow in the mountains.

Whatever month you choose, skiers and riders must always be prepared for changing mountain weather. A day can start out sunny and warm and end with new snow. Always bring plenty of warm clothing no matter what month of the season you choose to visit.

What is a yurt?

Yurts are round, one-roomed self-supporting structures based on Mongolian nomadic shelters. If you were to go to Mongolia, you might see yurts made of yak skin with a hole in the roof to allow smoke from cooking fires to escape.

Our yurts sit on a wooden platform, have a wood stove for heat, a propane stove for cooking, bunk beds, tables and chairs, lanterns and sheltered-pit toilets for outhouses. In the Tetons, yak skin is replaced by canvas and a Plexiglas sky dome covers the hole in the center, allowing light in during the day and stargazing at night.

We have brand new Pacific Yurts with windows for outdoor viewing and good insulation for warmth. They are cozy, unique structures and provide the warmth to dry out all of your clothing and sleep comfortably.

What are the meals like on a yurt trip?

We provide healthy food on all of our trips. Special diets, such as vegetarians or lactose-intolerant, can be easily accommodated. Breakfasts include fruit, juice, hot drinks, scrambles, omelettes and cereals. Lunches are typically served in the field and consist of sandwich meats, cheeses and veggies, snacks such as trail mix and dried fruit, chocolate and homemade cookies. Dinners start with appetizers, like brie and crostini, Boar’s Head salami and cheese, or olive tapanade with fresh bread. Some examples of dinner menus at the yurt include pasta with Italian sausage, sautéed vegetables and mixed green salad, wild Alaskan salmon with saffron rice and a veggie medley, chicken alfredo with red peppers, onions and peas over orzo, and shrimp scampi over whole wheat angel hair pasta. Desserts include cheesecake, our famous Yurt Ice Cream, and of course, chocolate.