First Ski Descent of North Face of the Grand Teton

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Brendan O'Neill partway down Third Ledge on the Grand Teton's north face, during the first ski descent. Photo by Greg Collins

Brendan O'Neill partway down Third Ledge on the Grand Teton's north face, during the first ski descent. Photo by Greg Collins

Teton guides Greg Collins and Brendan O'Neill have completed the first ski descent of the north face of the Grand Teton, one of the Lower 48's steepest and biggest alpine walls. On March 31, the two skied the large majority of the nearly 3,000-foot face, linking narrow ramps and snow-covered ledges.

"We both had individually climbed and guided the Direct North Face several times, and I had climbed it in winter and did a new route, The Golden Pillar," Collins said. "We realized there was potential for good skiing on it."

Greg Collins contemplates the next step on the north face.

Greg Collins contemplates the next step on the north face. Photo by Brendan O'Neill

The two climbed the 13,770-foot peak's "normal" ski mountaineering route on the south side, linking the Tepee Glacier and the Stettner, Chevy, and Ford couloirs, in about seven hours from the road. Collins said they climbed unroped with one tool each, finding foot-deep snow above the Ford Couloir. From the top, they downclimbed windswept bare rock and icy snow to the top of the "V" on the north face, then rappelled over the standard route's crux Pendulum Pitch to reach Third Ledge. They started skiing on an exposed "5.5 slab," following Third Ledge to Second Ledge (both narrow, ca. 40-degree ramps) "on very steep, very exposed, soft snow."

The north face of the Grand, with the descent route marked

The north face of the Grand, with the descent route marked. Photo by Tom Turiano / Tetonskiing.com

At the bottom of Second Ledge, they rappelled near-vertical rock to First Ledge and skied 1,000 feet down this ramp to the top of the "Guano Chimney." Out of skiable terrain, they cramponed back up the ramp, and then rappelled to the Grandstand, the large buttress below the Grand Teton's north ridge. From here, they skied down the very steep Grandstand and Teton Glacier, and then out crusty snow to the car. The total descent to the valley floor was more than 7,000 vertical feet.

"We needed and had a warm, calm day," Collins said. "All the surrounding sunlit snow was avalanching in thunderous wet slabs, but in the shade of the face the snow was mostly soft and stable."

Greg Collins on the lower face.

Greg Collins on the lower face. Photo by Brendan O'Neill

The two men did a total of 10 rappels with one rope, but said they probably could have limited the raps to six or seven with a longer rope. They did not belay any of the skiing. O'Neill told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that the Direct North Face was as "technical a ski descent as there probably is."

From car to car, the day took 15 hours. "It was difficult, we were worked," Collins said. "Brendan is a beast."

Date of descent: March 31, 2013

Sources: Greg Collins, Jackson Hole News & Guide, Tom Turiano / Teton Skiing

Skiing the Grandstand

The Grandstand formation, below the north face, is very steep but has more space and better coverage for skiing. Mt. Owens is on the right. Photo by Brendan O'Neill