Wyoming Adventures Dec 2019
After a great time last year snowmobiling with the Abbett’s in West Yellowstone, Fletcher and I were fired up to join the Abbett’s annual snowmobile trip again. But this year the trip would take us to the Togwotee Pass area just outside of Jackson, Wyoming.
On our drive to Togwotee last year, we passed through the small town of Smoot and I noticed a snowmobile trailhead that was packed with trailers and the terrain looked amazing. Once the season started, I began following the snow conditions in this area and despite a slow start to the year- they quickly racked up 100” of snow by the time our trip rolled around. With good conditions in the southern Star Valley, we decided to split up our drive and stay a night in Afton, the next town north of Smoot, and ride the Smith Fork zone in Smoot and then continue north.
We departed on Friday afternoon and our timing couldn’t have been better as it started snowing in Smoot on Wednesday and it didn’t stop until Saturday afternoon. But despite the continued snowfall, when we drove over Salt Pass (elevation of 7,600) to Smoot- the conditions at the Smith Fork trailhead looked rather bleak. In fact, I told Mark that we might want to consider driving to Togwotee the next day and riding up there instead of Smoot.
We stayed at a quaint and charming lodge, Kodiak Mountain Resort, that offered log cabin accommodations which was very apropos for this remote part of Wyoming. That evening, we ventured into “downtown” Afton, population of 2,000, and dinned at the local steakhouse, Heggs, where Mark (rightfully so) mocked my choice of selecting the house salad which came with slices of Velveeta cheese on top (fine dinning). The snow continued through the evening and the morning adding another 5”of light, fluffy snow in town so we elected to stick with our original plan and ride out of the Smith Fork trailhead.
When we got to the trailhead around 9:00, there were only 2 other trailers and the trail looked rather sparse with snow so I was little concerned (to say the least). An experienced snowmobiler at our lodge said to stay on the Smith Fork trail for about 10 miles until you reached the top of Commissary Ridge. The trailhead is located at 7,600 feet and the summit was at 9,300 so I tried to remain optimistic that the conditions would improve as we climbed the ridge. The first ~7 miles we traversed between 7,500 & 8,000 elevation and the conditions remained variable with minimal snowpack improvement but once we got above 8,500- it was a game changer. We approached our first open field and started to play around and to our surprise- it was incredibly deep with about 25-30” of fresh, light powder. I recall Fletcher jumping off his sled and sinking to his hips.
As we continued to climb the conditions got better and better. The depth of the snow seemed to increase about an inch or two per each 100 feet of elevation gain and since we were one of the first groups on the trail this morning, we encountered countless pristine powder fields. At about 9,200 we came to this wide open hill that was untouched with about 3+ feet of DEEP powder and Mark took the lead to charge up it as Fletcher and I surfed around the flats. After Mark descended from his hill charge, he was so giddy that he couldn’t contain his excitement. I obviously had to experience this firsthand so I drove down the trail a little bit as I looked for the optimal exit and when I turned off- I was immediately introduced to the deepest powder I have ever ridden. I had a GoPro on my helmet so the camera was sitting about 6 feet off the surface and yet the snow was blowing over my helmet. You didn’t want to get stuck in this deep pow so I pinned it as I carved back and forth up this white room of glorious light powder. I turned around at the top and there were sections of the decent where the snow was so deep that the snowmobile was completely submerged. In the GoPro video- you often can’t see the windshield of the sled and snow is billowing over my head. When I got the bottom- Mark and I high fived liked we had just experienced the greatest moments of our lives. Meanwhile, Fletcher was starting to perfect the art of counter steering and he was gaining confidence with each passing moment.
The younger boys were starting to get cold and we still had a 4 hour drive ahead of us so we decided to head back to the trailhead. There is no doubt that this was one of my best snowmobiling days ever and I anxiously await my return to Smoot to explore more of this phenomenal terrain!
We were originally planning on staying at Togwotee Lodge but Mark’s cousin, who lives in Jackson, had a friend that just completed a house in Dubious that they remodeled from an old restaurant. I was a little skeptical but the house was extremely well built with all modern amenities plus it was large enough to house our party of 10 people. Glen Abbett flew out from Indiana with his 3 sons, Tyler, Austin and Casey, his daughter’s boyfriend, Brent, and one of his friends, Dean.
Dubois (pronounced Du-boyz as the locals didn’t want to pronounce it the French way), is an authentic throwback cowboy town with a booming population of 800 people. I asked one of the locals at the bar if they knew everyone’s name in town and he replied, “everyone in town knows that you took a piss before you do it”. The main street still has wooden sidewalks and you can envision the old cowboys just 125 years ago tying up their horse to the wooden pillars that held up the porches. Given the size of the town, our restaurant options were limited but we found a delightful and rather upscale steakhouse called the Lone Buffalo Steakhouse that was rocking. After being mocked by Mark for my house salad choice the night before, I elected to go with the elk burger and it didn't disappoint. One of the boys ordered a double cheeseburger and it was the tallest burger I have ever seen.
Since we didn't know the area well, we hired a professional snowmobiler, Cam Chimenti, to guide us which proved to be invaluable. We departed from Dubious at 9:00 and drove about 20 miles to the top of Togwotee pass and parked at the Brooks Lake lot.
Within a few minutes of riding, we went off trail and someone immediately got stuck but never fear with Cam around. Cam hopped on the entrenched machine and pulled a wheelie out of the stuck position like a bucking bronco being shot out of the gates. At that moment, we collectively determined that hiring a guide was money well spent. We crossed over the frozen Brooks Lake and came to a wide open field which was perfect for everyone to warm up and polish their skills after a long hiatus from sledding. Although Fletcher had been improving by leaps and bounds, he was still having trouble “hill siding” given his limited weight and shorter arms which are required to pull the sled on edge and hold it. He was getting very frustrated but Cam spent some time with him and provided some valuable pointers. I left those two alone because no son wants to hear advice from their dad and when I returned- Fletcher was a changed man with new found enthusiasm.
I was excited to learn that the plan was to have lunch at Brooks Lake Lodge as we had dinned their last year and this old rustic lodge became one of my favorite hotels in all of the U.S.. Upon our arrival, we learned that the hotel had a recent fire which was started by an amber from the fireplace that landed on the roof. They were able to extinguish the fire and save the log structure but they had to replace the roof and some of the beams. They were still working on the restoration so the lodge and restaurant were closed but they allowed us to warm up inside. As such, we got back on our sleds and made our way to Togwotee lodge for lunch. After lunch, we started making a way back to the car and Cam directed us down a powerline route which was super fun but it did result in a few sleds getting stuck. Fletcher was apprehensive at first but once he got into the thick of it- he raised to the occasion and was able to keep up with the big boys. I was thoroughly impressed and astonished at how quickly he progressed.
After two days of deep powder snowmobiling, Fletcher wanted to switch gears and do some skiing at Jackson Hole since he had heard me raving about this iconic ski resort for years. The drive from Dubious took longer than expect at about 2 hours so we arrived at the mountain around 9:30. We naturally headed straight for the tram which whisked us to the top in about 12 minutes. We were hoping to ski Corbet’s Couloir but the snowpack was still too thin for it to be open so we settled on skiing Rendezvous Bowl and then doing a few laps on the Sublet Chair before making our way over to the Thunder chair. Fletcher wanted to hit some jumps/cliffs so we were constantly on the lookout for obstacles to catch air.
What I love about JH is that the whole mountain skis big so no matter where you are on the mountain, you can always find challenging terrain.
The one plus about taking our kids to the Warren Miller movie each year (against their will), is that they can recognize ski “celebrities”. We walked into the Rendezvous Lodge restaurant and Fletcher immediately spotted Marcus Caston.
We didn’t know his name so we did a quick search online and then waited until he got up from lunch. Fletcher approached him and asked him why he was skiing JH and not his home mountain of Snowbird (Technica event) and then he got a pic with him. Marcus actually then took out his phone and took a picture with Fletcher. Super nice guy.
I look forward to returning to JH with Fletcher and the rest of my family when the snow depth is a little deeper.