On Wednesday, in high winds under sunny skies, a pair of local über-gals became the first female team to ski the 13,770-ft Grand Teton.
Julia Niles, 26, and Lisa Van Sciver, 27, spent 14 hours car to car climbing the highest peak in the Teton range and skiing down it via the Ford and Stettner couloirs. Neither had climbed the route or skied the peak before.
“We were just being silly and having fun,” said Niles, over pancakes and PBRs the next day. “Our skills and strong-points complimented each other so well. On the way up, I was a little bit more comfortable and on the way down, Lisa was more comfortable.”
Starting from the Bradley-Taggart parking lot, at 4 a.m., with Van Sciver coughing from a cold and Niles bothered by a stomach ache, the girls decided to play the day by ear.
“We started off being like, ‘Who knows? It could be too warm, it could be too crusty, it could be avalanchy. Who knows what’s going to happen?’” Van Sciver said.
“We just kept going up and up and up,” Niles said.
Fortified by chocolate-covered graham crackers, they reached the Stettner Couloir by 9:30 a.m. Simul-climbing over ice bulges and slogging through snow, the duo found variable conditions as they wove through the Stettner and Ford Couloirs.
“We were post-holing the entire way,” said Niles, a Jackson Hole Mountain Guide who earlier this year became the first woman to free-solo the 10-peak Grand Traverse alone.
“We were less than 300 feet from the summit and still switching out every 20 steps to break trail. … It was so much fun.”
She wasn’t kidding.
At the summit, clad in a pink puffy jacket, Van Sciver clicked in to her double-fat Igneous boards and started sideslipping. “This is going to suck,” she said, just before making her first jump-turn.
“From the summit I was just trying to suss it out so I could tell Julia what to do,” she said. “It was never really scary, but, you are skiing off the top of the Grand, the top of the Tetons, and you hit a rollover that’s 50 degrees and it’s glazed over with a crust. It’s a little gripping for sure.”
Following their tracks from the slog up, the team rappelled down the Chevy Couloir and most of the Stettner before clicking back in.
“I would have been scared if it weren’t for Lisa, but she went down first and I could totally sense the conditions from her skis and the way that she went, so I wasn’t going into anything that was unknown,” Niles.
“Julia’s never scared,” said Van Sciver of her long-time climbing and skiing partner.
As for Van Sciver, she claims she enjoyed the descent, though conditions deteriorated from a one-inch-thick crust to boilerplate.
“I did three big traverses in the Ford trying to find the softest snow,” she said. “Then, I realized there was no soft snow.”
“The whole thing didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but we were marveling at how it is pretty logistically complicated,” Niles said. “You’re carrying your skis, you’re two-tooling, you’re carrying ropes.”
“Yeah,” Van Sciver said. “There’s a lot of shit going on.”
The girls found the best turns on the shady Tepee Glacier, where the women cut sinuous tracks, writing their own names in the annals of Teton Skiing.
“We just went out and had a blast,” Van Sciver said. “It’s exciting to do something that you know no other female team has done as far as I know. Jules and I have been friends and climbing partners for a while so it was just fun to get out there, just the two of us, and have a good day. I think the coolest part is skiing off the top of the range, but I’m a skier, so of course I’m going to say that. … It was the best girl day I could ever imagine.”
The sun setting, the pair arrived back to trailhead at 6 p.m., just in time for a $9 Cosmopolitan and a $4 whiskey at the Cadillac.
For Van Sciver, who two days earlier had placed second at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Dick’s Ditch Banked Slalom, the downtime was brief. She faced another 4 a.m. alpine start the following morning.
This time, it wasn’t a fully-female trip, but it was harrowing. She spent the morning suspended from the ceiling of the Brew Pub cleaning blankets of dust off beams and pulling balloon strings from fans.
“I gotta make money at some point,” she said. “And hazard pay is good.”
Click here to read Julia Niles’ first-hand account of Wednesday’s adventure.
Check out the team’s skiing footage on thesnaz.com.