Skiing the Apocalypse Couloir in Grand Teton National Park
Location: Prospectors Mountain, Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 7-9 hours
Vertical: 4850 ft
USGS Maps: Moose, Grand Teton
The Grand Teton National Park is a magical place for skiers. There seems to be an endless selection of incredible ski lines. One line that’s been on my hit list for a few years is the Apocalypse Couloir.
The Apocalypse Couloir is located on the north side of Prospectors Mountain in the Southern Teton Range of the GTNP. If you know where to look, you can see this line from Hwy 89 as you approach Moose. The Apocalypse Couloir has also been featured in guidebooks, websites, magazines, and even a famous TGR short film. It’s a technical ski descent with sustained 50 degree slopes in a committing couloir that deserves respect.
Aaron Diamond, Anton Sponar, and I set out to ski the Apocalypse Couloir from the top down in early December. From what we could tell, our descent was the first of the season.
We parked on the plowed out section of Moose Wilson Road near the Whitegrass Ranch. We quickly clicked into our bindings and set off down the trail following the power lines as the alpenglow hit Albright Peak.
We quickly made it to the Phelps Lake overlook, where we ripped skins and skied about 600 vertical feet. We moved quickly across the southern runout zone of Albright – a frequent flyer in the Tetons. Crossing the mouth of Death Canyon, we began the skin up the eastern flanks of Prospectors Mountain.
The uptrack started out steep before it mellowed out and worked a nice ridge. Warm weather made for sticky spring like snow. After skiing The Nugget the day before, my legs were more tired than I wanted and I struggled to keep up with two friends that skied the Big 3 in Alaska last spring.
When we finally reached the top at approximately 10,000 feet, we peered down the north face of Prosepectors Mountain. The stoke factor was up as we trundled some rocks down into the couloir to test the snow.
Entering the Apocalypse Couloir required three rappels. The first rappel was anchored off a tree. For the second, Aaron built one with a couple of nuts and a piton. The third had fixed gear. We used a 70 meter rope and each rappel was about 30 meters. The last rappel dropped us right into a perfect hidey hole with space to gear up for the ski descent.
At this point we were fully committed. Steep walls surrounded us on all sides reminding me of the ultra classic Chilean Super C couloir. Hanging cornices and loose rocks could fall from any direction. One botched turn could mean a thousand food tomahawk. A bit too much sluff could take us for a ride. It was game on. Time to ski.
From the hole we kicked off some snow and Anton gave the couloir a quick ski cut. Conditions looked good. It was perfect chalky couloir snow – edgeable, forgivable, and stable. Yes!
We continued to move down the couloir doing our best to leap frog from safe zone to safe zone. Eventually the couloir rolls over to about 55 degrees and entered a steep and narrow section above the dogleg. There was no room for error through this section that was no wider than an elevator shaft.
At the dog leg, the Apocalypse Couloir opened up and mellowed a touch, but a massive south facing wall now loomed overhead. We moved quickly down to the crux of the couloir – a final rappel over a section of blue ice. The shiny glare warning us of its presence from far above.
Moving onto a small ledge, Aaron made a quick v-thread and we rapped over the ice through this tight constriction with skis on. Below the ice was a funky double fall line that tested the camber of my Liberty Variant 97 skis and was barely skiable. I was glad to have my BD Whippet to help me sideslip through that section.
At the next island of safety, we regroup and skied the remainder of the couloir. It quickly opened up on to the debris on the apron and we cruised on down to the floor of Death Canyon.
We crossed the creek and did a nice sidestep/ski back to the summer trail switchbacks. Here we put on the skins for a final ascent back to the Phelps Lake overlook. Snow conditions allowed for a fast ski back to the car, which we drove straight to the Local for a burgers and beers.
The Apocalypse Couloir is a steep skiing test piece that I’m glad to have skied. It’s a demanding, technical ski descent that I hope to return to in the future because it is so impressive.
Select Shots from Skiing The Apocalypse Couloir in Grand Teton National Park (Photos by A. Sponar, A. Diamond, and D. Lennon)
You can read another cool write up on this same trip by Aaron Diamond on WildSnow.com.
The Apocalypse Couloir was skied on December 11, 2014.