Truthfully, I expected douche-y bro-brahs. I didn’t expect everyone to be a douche-y bro-brah, but I was certain there’d be at least a few. My expectations couldn’t have been further from reality.
At Exum’s first Live to Ski ski mountaineering camp, held over four days early last May with the goal of teaching experienced backcountry skiers advanced ski mountaineering skills, fellow campers had no attitude or overinflated egos; they were there to ski hard and learn harder.
Camp guides, the best of the best of Exum’s ski guides, certainly deserved to have attitudes and egos, but instead said things like, “This is just the way I do it. There are plenty of differing opinions that are equally right,” throughout the duration of the camp.
Of course, as the camp was started to honor the memory of Steve Romeo, a modern-day Teton ski pioneer who founded TetonAT.com, coined and embodied the phrase “Live to Ski,” and died in an avalanche in March 2012, this is only as it should be. I’ve never known anyone more stoked to ski and talk about skiing, or encouraging of others to ski than Romeo.
Unlike at many other ski camps that purport to be experts-only, everyone in Exum’s Live to Ski camp could really ski and had some significant descents in the Tetons and beyond under their bases. Also, everyone was fit and was avidly interested in upping their ski mountaineering skills. I later learned Exum turned away 30- to 40-percent of the skiers that applied.
Launching the camp in 2013, Exum wasn’t sure what to expect. “You can’t buy your way into this,” says Zahan Billimoria, an Exum guide instrumental in creating this camp, a former ski partner of Romeo, and the lead guide of the camp. “We need skiers with a certain set of skills—advanced backcountry skiing, fitness, and motivation to learn ski mountaineering—that only a very small slice of skiers have. We didn’t know if there were enough of this small slice that could come.”
Last May, ten arrived.
“This camp is for high-end skiers to take their skills to the next level,” Billimoria says. “There’s a huge gap between being a proficient backcountry skier who hunts for powder all winter long and developing the skills to go ski steep, high-consequence terrain that might involve a rappel or some belaying. That’s what this camp was designed for—to help skiers bridge that gap.”
That’s certainly why I signed on.
Prior to the camp I had done some ski belaying, built anchors, and rappelled with skis on my back, but only because I had partners whose skills exceeded my own and who were willing to guide me. Last spring I made the decision I wanted to learn the skills necessary to make me more of a partner and less like a client on future ski mountaineering outings.
Another local in the camp signed on because he wanted to ski the Grand, but “lacked the cojones” he said. “I called Exum to see how much it would cost for me to ski the Grand guided and it about blew my socks off. Then I saw this camp, which was much cheaper, and figured I could learn the skills and get the confidence I needed to do the Grand myself.”
While the Live to Ski Camp is designed to build ski mountaineering skills, as 95-percent of it takes place out, or up, in the Tetons, it’s also fun.
We could have talked about building anchors to belay off or rappel from in a small conference room somewhere, but we didn’t. Instead we found a giant boulder in the middle of the Meadows, a flatish area up Garnet Canyon and beneath the black-diked east face of the Middle Teton, and actually built anchors.
But first we skied the 50-degree north face of Spalding Peak or the West Hourglass Couloir. On the skin up, campers had naturally broken into two groups of five. Each group had 3-4 guides. My group skied Spalding Peak, practicing skiing on belay right from the summit, where the face is steepest.
Done skiing and at our outdoor classroom, guides showed us half-a-dozen different ways we could belay our partners in steep, consequential terrain, from burying the tails of our skis into the snow perpendicular to the slope, to making a snow bollard, or using a deadman. Each offers a different level of security, and takes a different amount of time to set up. And guides showed us multiple ways to do each. “There’s not one correct way to do this stuff,” Billimoria said. “We want to show you several different ways and then you can make the choice which is the way that works for you.”
Even more than the skiing we did, what I enjoyed most about this camp was that it challenged us to think for ourselves, a skill necessary in the mountains.
Because of avalanche conditions in the winter, the Live to Ski camp is held in the spring. There are two this year: April 30-May 3 and May 7-10. There is about 5,000 feet of climbing and skiing daily. The first two days, campers tackle one-day objectives while developing skills in high angle ski techniques, anchor construction, belayed skiing, and rappelling, returning to Jackson in time for dinner. The third and fourth days are an overnight culminating in the ski descent of a route off a major Teton peak such as Buck Mountain or Mt. Moran.
The camp is $995 and, “you can’t buy your way into this,” says Billimoria. “We need skiers with a certain set of skills—advanced backcountry skiing, fitness, and motivation to learn ski mountaineering.” Exum screens all camp applicants and says last year they turned away about thirty- to forty-percent. There were 11 campers last May and six guides. Download an application at Exumguides.com . 307/733-2297