Mt. Moran, The Skillet

A Teton Journey

The Skillet is a famous ski line on Mt. Moran. Over multiple trips to the Tetons, I had never gotten close to the Moran because it is surrounded by water, with no trail access. But even in summer, I had admired the sliver of snow on its steep east face that looms over Jackson Lake. This feature is The Skillet, a “50 Classic Ski Descent of North America”. After a great day skiing in Garnet Canyon, Kelsey, Brigette, and I decided to go for the Skillet, along with their friends Connor and Alex.

Accessing Mt. Moran is a challenge. In the summer, people often kayak across Jackson Lake. In the winter, the lake freezes, requiring a 6 mile frozen crossing. Luckily, I have new weapons for such frozen lake crossings – the G Skin. I cut Brigette and Kelsey fresh pairs, loaned Connor a pair, while Alex cut up an old pair of skins.

The Skillet is due east facing and gets morning sun. The group was concerned about warming snow, so we wanted to be skiing the line only a few hours after sunrise. That meant a ridiculously early wake up time. Our goal departure was 2 AM, but we ended up skinning around 3 AM.

Down on the lake, it was bitterly cold. Our cars read -5 F, but it was likely colder down on the lake. Ice crystals floated in the air, illuminated by our headlamps. We were in for a rough crossing. It was definitely the coldest I have ever been backcountry skiing.

Brigette accumulating ice on frozen Jackson Lake.

We blazed ahead in the dark, following an existing skintrack that was kind of ruined by the sleds people pull behind themselves for camping on the far side of the lake. The surface was off-camber and slippery, so the G-Skinning was not ideal. Still, we crossed the 6 mile lake in 1:40.

At the far end of the lake, we changed to normal skins and started climbing through the forest. It was not long before we reached the bottom of a giant avalanche path coming down from Mt. Moran. Slowly, light begin to appear on the horizon.

Looking down at the freezing fog on Jackson Lake.

We were almost halfway through the climb when the sun’s first rays blessed us. It was very welcomed after a cold dark morning.

First light above us.

I loved watching the sun illuminate the fog sitting above the lake. The light seemed to sparkle and float over the frozen landscape.

Beautiful light and fog over Jackson Lake.
So warm and soft!

Eventually, we crested a plateau and crossed the actual Skillet Glacier, which was well filled in. The Skillet is the wide gully above that feeds the glacier. Most of it is actually hundreds of feet wide, wide enough for skinning. It only narrows for the last few hundred feet.

Brigette’s photo of me reaching the glacier.
Lots of zig zags up the Skillet!

After freezing our butts off, we were in an oven as we skinned up the Skillet. The morning sun was cooking the east facing gully, reflecting sun at us from all sides. The snow itself had a mix of sun and wind effect, so we knew it would not ski that well.

After a few hundred feet of booting, we reached the top of the line. Connor, Alex, and I left our skis and booted up the last rocky ridge line to the true summit of Mt. Moran!

Looking towards the Grand.
Some crazy straight line to the west.

In every direction, I could see distant snow covered peaks. There must of have been a dozen different mountain ranges visible in Wyoming and Idaho.

Looking NE towards the Absarokas.
A beautiful day for a winter summit of Moran!

Although the top was decent, The Skillet itself was not great skiing. Some sections were mashed potatoes, but the worst was breakable wind crust.

Brigette’s photo of me in the upper section.
Connor in the upper Skillet.

However, the snow beneath the glacier was excellent. The aspect here changed form East to NE. Despite the lower elevation, that aspect change meant the snow was still nice boot-top powder. The giant apron was super fun to ski, with plenty of bumps to jump off.

Fantastic skiing lower down!
We just skied that!

Back down at the lake, we put on our G-Skins and began a much more pleasant return trip across the lake. It was a comfortable temperature in the afternoon sun and we enjoyed the views of the towering peaks. I have heard the crust skiing (backcountry skate skiing) on Jackson Lake can be excellent in the spring.

Huge peaks looming above the lake.
Looking back at Moran.
Watching the others finish the crossing at the far end of the lake.

By the time we finished, the frozen dark morning felt like a different day! The Skillet was a trek but well worth it to ski such a classic, striking line. Now we seriously needed some sleep!

2 thoughts on “Mt. Moran, The Skillet”

  1. Very cool to see the Tetons in winter! FWIW, I think that line to the west of Moran is the Hidden Couloir on Thor. It’s AI3 in the summer, but people do ski it. It’s a fair trek in there up Leigh Canyon.

    1. Cool, thanks for the identification! Looks like a straight line on skis basically.

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