When snow drought lingered in the Pacific Northwest, Kyle Miller hit the road. First he headed to Revelstoke, where he slayed Forever Young and attended the Canuck Splitfest. Then our favorite splitboard vagabond pointed it south to the Outdoor Retailer trade show, where he stocked up on free Clif Bars, free lunches, and industry handshakes. But before the show was complete, he and photographer Jason Hummel pointed it north again, rolling through Jackson Hole, Montana, and Sun Valley on a two-week touring whirlwind through the biggest mountains of the American West. This is his report from the road. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Kyle Miller
With less than ideal snow conditions, Outdoor Retailer and an open calendar, Jason Hummel and I decided to go on a road trip starting in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show and then head back to Seattle, with a few small detours to check out resorts/touring destinations along the way. Our plan was to have none, and to go as far as our budget and time would allow, so after getting to know other outdoor enthusiasts, we hit the road heading north up to Jackson, Wyoming.
I’ve only been to Jackson a handful of times, most of which were for the sole purpose of touring. But this was Jason’s first time being blown away by the vertical relief that gave way from flatlands. Our first day we found a full parking lot on Teton Pass and followed an established bootpack, making turns back down to the highway before calling it a day. The next day we found ourselves skinning in the shadow of Grand Teton, making our way into Grand Teton National Park and up the heavily treed slopes of an area called Mavericks which provided safety from possible avalanches as well as great fall-line riding. Our final day in Wyoming, we met up with our friend Nigel Steere, and with Jamie Weeks from Exum Mountain Guides, who was kind enough to show us around Jackson Hole Mountain Resort backcountry, hitting lines like the Cody Headwall and No Name, all accessed from the tram and around an hour of skinning. With endless amounts of terrain, great steep pitches and copious amounts of snow, it was easy to see why it has become a mecca of sorts, but it was time to see something new and we were off to Montana.
We drove throughout the night through West Yellowstone, ending just down the road from the slopes of Big Sky, which boasts the U.S.’s biggest acreage and vertical descent. Last year, Big Sky merged with Moonlight Basin, and chairs rise in every direction. We hit Big Sky right before a storm and enjoyed endless groomers, warming up for days ahead. The next morning, we woke up to a foot of new snow and followed our friend Dan Howell around as he showed us the local stashes and icon lines of the area. We were able to sign up for the Big Couloir right off the tram, which only allows two people every fifteen minutes, and enjoyed knee-deep snow along the way. In total we stayed at Big Sky for four days and enjoyed some of the steeper and more sustained slopes that I have come to experience in a ski resort, but it was time to move on, this time to Sun Valley.
I had heard of Sun Valley and the legend of it being the first chairlift- operated resort in the U.S., so when I got an email from Wyatt Caldwell saying he would be happy to show us around, we were on our way. That night we stayed with Wyatt, and checked out maps and made plans of where to go and what would offer the best conditions before heading to sleep. The next morning we met up with his brother Yancy and a few of their friends, and snowmobiled into one of the local stashes. They were right and the conditions were all-time, with a foot of stable snow and a high ridge all to ourselves. That day we enjoyed powder laps in the sun and a scenic snowmobile ride out, as alpenglow lit up the mountains surrounding us. The next day, the weather wasn’t nearly as nice. We wanted to make it a short day before heading home, so we checked out the Sun Valley sidecountry. Wyatt and Yancy showed us a few groomed runs before we dropped into The Burn, which was charred a few years back. The snowpack was thin but we made our way down 2,500 vertical feet to the road, where Wyatt had his truck waiting. After a quick goodbye, Jason and I were off to our final destination—home.
Looking back on the big mountain state trifecta, this trip was amazing, allowing us to hang out with locals in three separate destination areas. Each area had a unique and long history with different crowds and terrain to keep us entertained, but I must admit it was great to finally make it home and sleep in my own bed after around two weeks of being on the road and a few days of riding pow back on my home slopes of Rainier.
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