MAX VERTICAL DROP:
AVERAGE VERTICAL logged PER DAY:
$700 per person (includes four days of guiding and food).
Fly into Jackson, Wyoming, and they'll pick you up.
Beta: Peter Linn, whose family owns Teton Outfitters, remains a testament to the existence of the bona fide Wyoming mountain man—at least the twentieth-century version of the Wyoming mountain man. "I'm a fourth-generation cowboy—ski bum, following my great-grandfather, who homesteaded here in 1905, says Linn. These days, Linn's ranch is a base for 50 horses that he uses for trail rides, hunting trips, and backcountry skiing. Picture equines, steaming nostrils and all, fording icy streams and heading deep into the Tetons where the guides set up a rustic camp of canvas tents. The steeds are essential: Linn's permit area spans the Jedediah Smith Wilderness—with the Grand Teton towering in the background—where snow-mobiles and other forms of mechanized travel are forbidden.
Along with Linn, AMGA guide Glenn Vitucci and a couple of moonlighting Exum guides tag along to steer you safely toward the steepest chutes, the highest peaks, and the best bowls of corn snow in the western Tetons. Which is to say this is a springtime affair: They run just two trips in early June. But be forewarned: Teton corn—like all corn—isn't perfect all day long. When the snow turns to knee-deep oatmeal in the afternoon sun, you can slug PBRs on your Therm-a-Rest or tiptoe into Darby Canyon's pitch-black Ice and Wind Caves.
Of course, you'll most likely just cram into the wall-tented kitchen, where liquor ritually flows. Exum guides have a tendency to douse fistfuls of snow with splashes of cranberry juice and vodka—and they don't wait for it to corn up before they drink it.
Spring snow at altitude goes through freeze-thaw cycles that bond crystals into dreamy pellets called corn. Hence, dry slab avalanches aren't a problem, but later in the day, slow-moving wet slides can easily snap ACLs and femurs. End the day early.
Circumnavigate Darby Canyon, starting with the 500-foot treed chutes on the northwestern wall (be sure to check out the Grand Teton from the keyhole) before heading north to lap the wide apron off Fossil Peak. On the opposite side, boot-pack up the 50-degree, limestone-lined couloir for a 1,000-foot descent.
Though you could be sweating bullets one minute and chattering in a westward storm the next, average daytime temps hover in the low 60s; at night, it'll drop to the mid 20s. Wet snowstorms are a possibility.
Get in shape before you go: You'll be amazed by the aerobic capacity of the perma-tanned Glenn Vitucci—a 20-year, AMGA-certified Teton ski-guide veteran.
Small, comfy tents shelter you from storms; cots are available. An A-frame of canvas strapped to lodgepole pines makes a perfect cowboy kitchen.
Since the horses do the lugging, the rations are sizable. Think cooked-to-order eggs and bacon for breakfast, PB&J's for lunch, and elk-sausage fajitas for dinner. Linn also holds a degree in culinary arts—some mountain man.
BANG FOR BUCK
It's a dirty-joke and canvas-tent operation, so don't expect to be totally pampered. The catalog of terrain options—steep chutes, wide-open bowls, well-spaced pines—compensates for the hardscrabble vibe.
Most of the skiing is above tree line (and there are cliffs around), so stay close to your guide when a storm rolls in.