The Saga of the West: Tracking the White Wolverine
Words: Bryan Iguchi
Photos: Aaron Dodds
Originally featured in Snowboard Mag Vol. 10, Issue 3 | The Cerebral Issue
It’s getting dark and we’re lost. It’s the coldest day of the year at -20° F. and Carter’s sled isn’t running right. The crew is losing hope… did we make the right call? It’s getting serious, we’re exhausted and losing the struggle to keep warm. It’s been a long, brutally cold day spent exploring new terrain and we’re looking for a summer trail buried in snow. We’ve got to find it soon or we’ll have to resort to Plan B, retreat and go home – a thought that crosses our minds as we try to shake warm blood back into our hands to regain some feeling. Shelter must be close. Then we see it, the bright flash of a green reflector as the snowmobile’s headlight strikes it mid-turn. We probe the wall of trees for a weakness at the end of the meadow; a very welcoming sight marking the Forest Service trail. We’re back on track. We move forward optimistic into the unknown. We slowly wind down the steep mountainside’s impossibly dense forest. More evidence of the trail becomes visible with the occasional marker or scarred tree. We follow the single track through the thick trees and finally hit a snow covered logging road that leads us down into the dark remote river valley.
Living and exploring in Wyoming reminds me that much has remained unchanged in these parts since the West was developed. Aside from the abandoned, eroding logging roads and healing clear-cuts, much of these rugged mountains remain wild. Though the mighty Teton and Wind River ranges reign king with towering granite peaks and sharp awe-inspiring spires that steal the show, these ranges can take a lifetime to explore, leaving the less obvious and more obscure surrounding mountains alone for the most part. Native American hunters first wandered this wild place, braving hostile conditions with primitive gear and shelter. Survey parties later arrived and word spread about the abundant wildlife and opportunities to hunt and trap, luring “Mountain Men” to venture into the unknown. Tales of the brave risking their lives created the legend and lore of this land. In the past they tracked animals and braved the harsh winters for food, collecting exotic fur. Today as backcountry snowboarders we track storms, collecting photos and film shots. We launch snowmobiles in the same locations the mountain men held rendezvous over a century ago. Breaking trail in deep snow in search of untracked lines and unique features to ride, the saga of the West lives on.
For our crew, the expanding circle of riding begins in the avalanche controlled setting of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort during big winter storms, before echoing outward for miles in all directions as high pressure systems set in and the storms clear. It’s a pattern that has evolved over years of riding here and has helped us manage the winter snow cycles safely. I love those carefree inbound storm days, hot lapping the tram with friends firing off the hit list. After getting our fix on favorite cliff drops and kickers, the days following the storms are usually spent hiking slackcountry, splitboarding and snowmobiling to access the vast backcountry terrain. As each storm passes we move further into the backcountry observing and investigating the new snowfall.
Every season we look for new terrain through various avenues, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a big score. That was about to change.
Early this past year Travis Rice, Mark Carter and I were driving back from a day of shredding discussing plans for the season, and we all agreed we needed to get out more together. Travis and Mark have been my favorite guys to ride and spend time with in the mountains. We’ve had a lot of good sessions over the years as these two natives broke into the snowboard scene with their raw and powerful riding style. They both possess this amazing, instinctual ability to navigate mountainous terrain and find the best riding around. Beyond their skills, I have endless respect for them and the strong character bred by their Wyoming upbringing. In the past few years we haven’t been able to spend much time riding together as we’ve been divided by separate film projects and schedules. That said, by the end of the drive we knew we were overdue for a good outing and started making the plan. We began watching the weather and stability, closely making daily updates and were ready to go at a moment’s notice. The next high pressure coming through looked promising with clear and cold temps expected.
In Wyoming we have over 600 miles of state-maintained winter trails, with several hunting lodges operating in winter to accommodate snowmobilers. I had a spot in mind that I’d wanted to check out for a while, but from my research I came to the conclusion that accessing the terrain would require spending at least a few days out there. No trailheads existed for at least fifty miles in any direction, but there was a hunting lodge that we could base out of for day trips and hopefully get into something good. My research indicated that a wall of steep peaks, deep valleys and densely forested foothills protect this area from the masses of hill climbing slednecks who frequent these mountains. So I started making arrangements.
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