Untracked Powder in the Symmetry Couloir – Symmetry Spire/Storm Point Area – Grand Teton N.P. (02.06.22)

The Symmetry Couloir is the large avalanche path directly south of Symmetry Spire, north of Storm Point, on the opposite shore of Jenny Lake. On February 6th, after almost a month of minimal to no snow, Chase Krumholz and I set off for this obscure line in hopes of harvesting untracked turns.

Cascade Canyon and the Symmetry Couloir viewed from Jenny Lake

The Night Before – A Grim Snowpack

After skiing and observing a multitude of aspects in the North Tetons the day before, I had a very strict set of powder hunting parameters. January brought virtually no snow, and the first week of Feburary saw a measly six inches of fluff coupled with colossal winds. Anything above 10,500 feet was out – wind hammered and breakable. South and west facing lines at all elevations were toast, sun baked and crusted. North facing lines, unless extremely guarded, were also wind affected. Only the most sheltered east faces were left standing. Making matters worse, any line within reasonable distance to any parking area was tracked to hell and back. To find good snow we would have to earn it.

I rifled through Connor Miller’s Black Book for the better part of an hour, eventually deciding on the Symmetry Couloir. Luckily Chase was game for the slog. With large walls on either side and a seven mile approach, I figured the Symmetry could hold some of the park’s last scraps of tasty scavenger powder.

Socked in. – Photo: @chasehrumholz

Difficult Navigation

The Tetons were socked to valley level with clouds, slaving us to Chase’s GPS for navigation. North of Teewinot Mountain signs of human travel typically disappear. After punching a track through heinous windboard across the deceptively large Jenny Lake, we were greeted with surprisingly deep powder, up to two feet in spots. Excitement rose as we hacked across Cascade Creek, north of Inspiration Point, and blindly wove through the dense forest in pursuit of the Symmetry Couloir. We reached the GPS confirmed base of our line around hour three and mile seven. With temperatures rising we took little time for nourishment, cutting a skin track through the tight lower constriction on the gully’s left side (the chute on looker’s right cliffs out) and veering into the belly of the beast. With such low snow, a moderate flow of water ice (WI-2) barred entry to the goods above. Armed with horizontal crampons and a single aluminum axe, sans proper tools and rope, we began soloing the disconcertingly hollow ice, taking care not to plunge into the ripping creek below. After forty feet of delicate front pointing we reached a short bulge of steeper ice that stopped Chase in his tracks. With aluminum crampons and a straight shafted axe he was insufficiently equipped climb higher. I had steel points and thus could have managed, but as a team it was time to improvise. We bailed from the ice and ascended a very steep cliffside of mixed terrain studded with small saplings, unglamorously yarding up snow slicked boulders tree trunk to tree trunk. We jokingly deemed our ascent “5.2 steep trees”.

Hollow ice before the 5.2 trees – Photo: @chasehrumholz

With an average slope angle just over thirty degrees the lower “couloir” was shockingly mellow, reminiscent of Prospector Mountain’s Banana Couloir and the “pan” of Mount Moran’s Skillet Glacier. To our delight a firm foot of medium density snow atop a supportable crust provided efficient boot-packing. By eleven the clouds burned off, revealing an epic scene of Jenny Lake and the Gros Ventre Range beyond, and a stoke-worthy line above. Just as we’d expected, no ski tracks adorned the Symmetry Couloir – even after a full month of high pressure.

Just above the “5.2 trees” – Photo: @chasehrumholz
Booting the lower Symmetry Couloir – Photo: @chasehrumholz
@chasekrumholz gets Symmetrical

The view from the top of the Symmetry Couloir was striking. Symmetry Spire rose proudly to the north and the small summit of Storm Point stood just south. Cloud caps ripping over the Grand Teton spoke to cataclysmic alpine winds, affirming our choice to cower below 10,000 feet. The apron beneath the Teewinot-Owen cirque, home to the Tallboy and Diagonal Couloirs, was quite literally scrubbed to scree. Despite our line sitting in prime time condition, the Teton snowpack is in truly dire straits. Pray for snow, pray for snow… pray for snow.

Teewee, GT, Mount Owen & Me – Photo: @chasekrumholz
Staring down a loaded Symmetry Couloir

Considering the weather of late, our skiing was all-time. The 45 degree, 700 vertical foot upper couloir gifted slough chasing turns in a dramatic setting. The belly was a mixed bag with intermittent crust, but dished mostly ripper turns on it’s north tilted bank. The down-climb through the “5.2 trees” and subsequent ice was the ultimate crux, but proved more passive than expected. Further great lowland powder and a few spicy pillows off Inspiration Point were the cherry atop our very sweet Symmetry sundae. Were the run 1,000 feet longer, or were there not an exposed mid-route waterfall, I’d be willing to deem the Symmetry Couloir a Teton classic. I look forward to re-visiting this area and exploring the nearby Hanging Canyon in years to come, as several unique couloirs dive both north and south off Symmetry Spire’s eloping east ridge. The return slog on the GTNP groomed nordic track was downright painful, exacerbated by skate skiers whizzing by at ward-speed, but at least we saw that part coming. Ten-some roundtrip hours we reached the car, tired, hungry and ready for snowflakes to return, though turns like these make the wait for Old Man Winter ever slightly more bearable.

Chase tearing the upper Symmetry Couloir
Ripping the belly.
Milking the northern banks – Photo: @chasehrumholz

As always, I would like to give a huge thank you to my supporters, Icelantic Skis and Chasing Paradise.

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The information presented in this article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Mountains are dangerous. Conditions, routes, experiences and gear requirements change by the day, season and year. If you attempt anything you read about on this website, you are doing so at your own risk.

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