Share this Post
Like most mountain guides in mid-March of 2020, I lost all my employment prospects for the foreseeable future due to the fallout of our worldwide pandemic. Ski patrol work at Big Sky: terminated early. Ski guiding season: terminated early. Denali guiding season: canceled. Summer guiding season: hard to say; maybe?
Mountain Guiding to COVID Screening
With limited options available, I took the first job that came my way. I ended up working for an EMT company doing health screenings for COVID-19 at a local mine. The position is to complete a quick health screening for each employee going on shift in both the morning and afternoon.
Mining shifts generally clock in close to 3:00 am, and then again at 3:00 pm with 4-5 hours of actual work time on each screening shift. This usually leaves roughly 7-8 hours in-between shifts for sleep or play. Generally, after our afternoon shifts, my co-workers and I (many laid-off ski patrollers) have usually been able to get about 4-5 hours of sleep before waking up for the early shift, and then napping again in-between the afternoon shift cycles. On occasion, motivation outweighs the need for sleep. Sometimes, we opt to go skiing near Beartooth Pass, fly-fishing in the Stillwater River, or kayaking on the Yellowstone, instead of maintaining our sleep schedules.
Weathering the Psychological Storm
Sleeplessness, the doom and gloom of the pandemic, and the uncertainty of our futures all seem to have concocted a mental slurry of blended reality that has made exercise and time in the mountains that much more necessary. As the light at the end of the tunnel flickers, we have all done our best to light our own candles and weather the psychological storm.
On one particular cycle of gloomy emotions, I got a call from the owner of Montana Alpine Guides in the middle of my mid-day nap. Through a groggy and near-incomprehensible fog, Sam asked if I could guide a client to ski Gannett Peak the following week. I had never met the client before, but she had an impressive resumé. I would have a tail guide, Matias Francis, and four days to complete the objective.
Without being able to actually process the contract offer, I agreed and went back to sleep. I was trying to ekk out as many Zzs as possible before I had to don my Tyvek suit and respirator once more. When I woke up and drove to my next shift, I almost thought the Gannett Peak ski guiding offer was part of a dream. I actually took a moment to look at my call history to ensure that it was indeed real. Desperate to change my scenery, I did everything I could to take time off from the screening job to ensure I was able to get on this trip.
I got my shifts covered, and then packed and repacked my kit culling as much gear to go as light as possible.
Gannett Peak Ski Guiding kit:
- Voilé Vector 180 cm skis with 22Designs Lynx Bindings, ski crampons, Voilé CamLock 2 Carbon Poles and BD Mohair Mix STS Skin
- Voilé XLM Shovel and Guide 320cm Probe
- Petzl Gully Ice Tool (hammer) with Black Diamond Nevé Aluminum Crampons (modified toe bail to fit NTN ski boots)
- Scarpa TX Pro lowers (black/orange generation) and Maestrale RS uppers for my ski boots. See @goskiracer on Instagram for instructions on this modification…
- BD liner gloves, Marmot Exum insulated gloves, and Petzl Belay gloves
- ¾ length puffy pants
- Denali-weight puffy jacket
- rain shell
- wind shell
- rain pants
- uninsulated 4-season softshell pants
- hardface fleece jacket
- 4 pairs of socks
- sun shirt (not pictured)
- Technical gear:
- 2 pickets (4 in total with the tail guide carrying 2)
- 4 single-length alpine draws with 2 double-length single carabiner draws
- ½ set of nuts (every other size)
- BD cams .2-.5.
- one quad-length Dyneema runner
- one 6mm 18’ cordalette
- one double-length nylon runner
- Petzl Mini Traction and Tibloc
- Petzl Triple Action Carabiner
- BD Alpine ATC Guide
- and a few extra locking carabiners, HMS carabiners, and non-lockers
- 70 meter BD ½ rope
- Petzl Ascent Alpine Harness
- Old generation Wildthings Andinista pack with a modified brain to carry BD Vapor Helmet, and modified front face to attach shovel blade
- Patagonia ½ sleeping bag
- Alpine Threadworks rescue sled/tarp shelter
- BD Hooped bivy sack
- Nemo air mattress, and some lightweight stakes
- Nalgene screw top bowl, old Outward Bound coffee mug, 1 liter Nalgene water bottle (not pictured), sawed-off plastic spoon to fit in the bowl
- Dakine binding tool
- Goal Zero battery bank
- Leatherman Skeletool
- Speedy Stitch
- repair tape
- backup iodine in case our Steripen stopped working
- First aid:
- Numask CPR mask
- blister stuff
- small trauma kit
- 2 cravats
- 2x rubber gloves
- trauma shears
- Benadryl and Ibuprofen
- Costco headlamp
- write-in-the-rain notebook/mechanical pencil
- Zinc sun protection
- 2x pairs of Julbo Glacier Glasses
- mosquito head net
- lightweight running shoes
Notes on Gear
*I could have ditched my ½ set of nuts since snow level was so high and pickets were mostly the ticket. Cams were nice…
*Denali-weight parka was overkill. I could have done with a three-season puffy jacket, even with the ½ bag sleeping bag.
*I never really used my bivy sack. However, it would have been nice if it was wet like it was forecasted to be. I had to bring my Threadworks rescue tarp for summit day anyway, so I decided to make that my shelter as well. Without a bug net or ground tarp, I wanted something else to make it a little drier and bug-free.
Shenanigans & Shuttles
After quite a few shenanigans with my last-minute food packing practices, Matias Francis and I met our client in the town of Crowheat, WY. We completed a gear check and paid for our permits as well as shuttle fees. Next, we loaded up the bed of the Chevy pickup that brought us 15 bumpy miles up into the Wind River Range all the way to the Cold Springs trailhead.
Although this was to be my 7th time guiding a Gannett trip, I had never done it on skis. Even though summit day would be easier with the advent of glisse and flotation, our approach would be significantly heavier and riddled with the dreaded tennis shoe post-holing phenomena at lower elevations. Regardless of the heavyweight or faster than normal schedule, our client Melissa had an outstanding attitude and never once complained. Her enthusiasm for the beautiful scenery and making turns in the summer was enough for us to keep the psych alive and complete our objective.
With the best weather day on the forecast period and a 2:00 am wake up, the three of us completed what is likely to be the second-ever guided ski descent of Gannett Peak. After a crushing few months of pandemic-related shifts in reality, the sunrise on summit morning sparked an optimistic fire in my consciousness that made me believe all could be, and then eventually all would be, well in the world again.
Even though most of us haven’t been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel these past few months, we all need to seek experiences outside of our potentially gloomy sphere to re-ignite the energy of optimism. I know I will be back at my Tyvek-clad day-job this week with a new and brighter outlook on our situation. And although I have been luckier than most through the pandemic, I believe that we can all persevere through this wicked storm and come out better on the other side for it.
Huge thanks goes out the to Wind River Indian Reservation, Melissa Dismuke, Matias Francis, and the rest of the Montana Alpine Guides team for stoking the Gannett Peak Ski Guiding psych.
About the Author
Location: Bozeman, MT
Ty is a career Outdoor Educator, Mountain Guide, and Ski Patroller currently working for Montana Alpine Guides, the Colorado Outward Bound School, and Bigsky ski resort. Originally from southern New Hampshire, Ty developed his passion for Backcountry skiing on the eastern flanks of Mt Washington in New Hampshire’s Presidential range. Currently Residing in Bozeman Montana, Ty skis as much as possible in and around the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Although Bridger Bowl is his home mountain, Ty likes to explore other skiing venues including Alaska, South America, New Zealand, and New England.
Share this Post