Author: Kelsey Dayton


Skiing for science; National Geographic adventurer maps glaciers

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is almost 20 million acres of tundra, glaciers and pristine habitats unaltered by roads or even trails. It is a completely intact, unaltered ecosystem home to Dall sheep, wolves, wolverines, arctic fox, snowy owls and polar bears.

“There’s nothing but pure nature,” said Kit DesLauriers, a Teton Village-based ski mountaineer known for being the first person to ski the highest peaks on all seven continents.

In the spring of 2014, DesLauriers, 45, lent her skills to science, carrying a GPS device to the top of some of the Arctic’s highest mountains to test the accuracy of glaciologist Matthew Nolan’s new mapping device that will help measure glacial change.

DesLauriers gathered data in areas only skilled mountaineers could access, and then skied mountains in one of the wildest places in the world. Her work with Nolan also earned her the title of one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year. The list includes people pushing the boundaries in athletic pursuits, exploration and conservation.

DesLauriers grew up in New England where she learned Nordic skiing. She didn’t try Alpine skiing until she was 14 years old, but was instantly drawn to it and set her sights on Colorado where she moved as soon as she graduated from college. There she set bigger and bigger ski goals. But her first big expedition was climbing in India when she was 28. As she trekked below the giant peaks she had one thought; “I wished I had my skis with me. For me, that was the turning point.”

Ski mountaineering, where people climb mountains so steep they wear their skis on their back and use ropes, crampons and ice axes to get to the top, combined everything she loved about the outdoors. She’d look at mountains and see the lines on rock and snow.

“And they just kind of invite you in,” she said.

It was on an expedition in Siberia in 1999 that she met Rob DesLauriers. She fell in love and moved to Teton Valley, Idaho, and then eventually to Wilson. Kit DesLauriers continued her pursuit of skiing peaks, eventually becoming the first person to ski the Seven Summits, the highest peak on each continent, when she successfully descended Mt. Everest in 2006.

Skiing took her all over the world, but there was one place she’d dreamt about for years — the Brooks Range in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

“It captivated me,” she said. “It’s the wildest place I can imagine that we have in the United States of America.”

In 2010 she set out with a North Face team to ski the highest peak in the area, but found conflicting information about whether that title went to Mount Chamberlin or Mount Isto.

Too far apart to tackle both in one trip, the team decided to focus on a single area in a glaciated valley where they climbed and skied several peaks.

DesLauriers met Nolan, the glaciologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, while waiting for a plane during that trip. Nolan was on his way to a research station on the McCall Glacier. He told DesLauriers about the disappearing glaciers he studied and the two kept in touch.

In 2012 she volunteered to go back and help him with an ice radar survey, lugging gear to areas Nolan couldn’t reach. She returned again in 2014 thanks to a National Geographic Grant after Nolan created a system to map the glaciers from the air. He recruited DesLauriers to test the accuracy of his method by collecting data from the ground to see if it matched. He said it didn’t matter where she measured as long as he could fly over it from the air. She decided to find out which mountain, Mount Chamberlin or Mount Isto, was higher.

It took a few days of skiing just to reach the base of Mount Isto and then eight hours to climb it. Getting to Mount Chamberlin was easier, but that climb took 12 hours. The skiing featured glacial ice and hard, frozen and sometimes rotten snow, with occasional corn, the snow found in the spring during the freeze-thaw cycles. But for DesLauriers it’s not about the quality of skiing. It’s about being immersed in a massive and wild landscape.

“Man, you are so far out there,” DesLauriers said. “You are completely self-reliant at that point. That’s an amazing experience in this day and age when everyone is so connected.”

DesLauriers’ work confirmed the accuracy of Nolan’s mapping system. And it turned out Mount Isto is about 70 feet higher than Mount Chamberlin.

DesLauriers isn’t sure what adventure she’ll pursue next or if future projects will have a science component. But she knows eventually she’ll go back to the refuge.

“I know I’m not done with that area,” she said.

In the meantime, the public can vote for DesLauriers and any of the other adventurers on National Geographic’s list for the “People’s Choice” award. Voting is open until Jan. 31.

“Then,” she said, “get out and do something inspiring yourself.”

This article was originally published on Skiing for science; National Geographic adventurer maps glaciers

There’s a lifetime of skiing south of Teton Pass

Driving from Jackson to Alpine, if you look up, you can see ragged cliff-looking faces with broken trees. But Thomas Turiano knows what lies just above and out of view: Classic ski terrain. The lines and terrain in the Snake River Range and other mountains south of Jackson are not well-known.

“There’s an actual lifetime of skiing south of Teton Pass,” Turiano said.

The Jackson author is familiar the skiing assets of the region, and he shares much of that knowledge in his new book Jackson Hole Backcountry Skier’s Guide: South. It features backcountry skiing opportunities for all abilities in the Snake River, Salt, Wyoming and other mountain ranges south of Teton Pass.

Turiano, also the author of Select Peaks of the Greater Yellowstone,  arrived in Jackson in the early 1980s on spring break during his freshman year at the Colorado School of Mines. After that first spring break in Jackson, he decided he wouldn’t return to school the next fall. Instead he moved to Jackson.

A New York state native, he grew up learning to ski and hone his mountaineering skills on a big hill in his backyard. Backcountry skiing in Wyoming offered much more adventure than resort skiing. Always curious about the terrain that lay outside the gates, he started exploring the Tetons with experienced friends and mentors, seeking out untracked snow.

“It’s the religious experience of having that smooth feeling underfoot, along with the exploration and finding new places,” he said of the instant appeal.

But Turiano, like so many others in Jackson, focused on exploring the obvious peaks in the Tetons, even writing his first book, Teton Skiing: A History and Guide, on the area. Right after it came out in 1995 he started thinking of writing another skiing guidebook to the southern area mountains. At the time, fewer people were skiing in those mountains — including Turiano, who didn’t realize the expansiveness of the terrain.

“I would soon find out though, because I started on Select Peaks,” he said.

Select Peaks was broader, not focused solely on skiing, but also on the history of the mountains, mountaineering and climbing. In the process of researching the book Turiano got to know the southern mountains well.

He started on the southern ski book in 2003, pecking away at it until two years ago when he decided if he ever wanted to finish it he needed to devote more time. The book, which is the only ski guidebook to the southern mountains of the area, is divided into 14 chapters and organized by access points. Everything in the book is accessible from Jackson within a day, leaving time for skiing once you arrive.

“It’s for the Jackson Hole skier,” he said. “This is your terrain. This is your world.”

Turiano doesn’t keep anything back. He includes even his favorite lines and secret powder stashes.

“That’s really hard for me to do — to horde something awesome for myself,” he said. “I’d rather tell about it than hoard it.”

It also doesn’t fit a writing ethic that Turiano committed to in his first book.

“I’m not going to write something that doesn’t do justice to the place or the people that were there first,” he said. “I want the reader to become a steward of the place rather than just a user.”

There is some history woven into the information on the more than 1,000 lines the book describes. The book spans a range of difficulties, including buttes and foothills for beginners.

“Anything with good skiing that I saw I included,” he said.

He omitted only areas with convoluted access that involved skirting private land. There are also more than 500 photos, some with routes drawn on them to show less obvious terrain.

Since Turiano started exploring the ranges, he’s found he prefers the terrain south of Jackson more than skiing in the Tetons. The ascents are shorter, so he can get in multiple laps on one peak. The mountains allow for linking peaks and creating unique adventures. The snow is also better. The Tetons are higher, but there’s less direct sunlight in areas like the Snake River Canyon, so even south-facing slopes are colder.

Plus, there’s still more left to explore. He’s already thinking about the next edition. But that will have to come after he writes the guide to the northern range and revises Select Peaks, which is out of print, but still in demand. He also plans in the next few years to write a revision of Teton Skiing in the same format as his new book, including areas like Togwotee Pass and the Big Holes.

This article was originally published on There’s a lifetime of skiing south of Teton Pass