The “Bowling Alley” is a 2,600 foot technical ski descent on the north aspect of Teton Canyon’s Treasure Mountain. After a month of minimal snow I hoped this funky, elusive and likewise rarely descended line could be hiding some of the last untouched powder on the west slope of the Tetons. I scored, but not without significant tax.
Many years ago, local crusher Brady Johnston released the Targhee Backcountry Ski Atlas (TBSA), the first book to put Teton Canyon backcountry skiing on the map. In addition to the longtime Treasure Mountain trade routes, namely the Eddington and Boy Scout Chutes, Brady highlighted more obscure descents on Treasure’s easterly and northern aspects, as well as the striking “Painted Lady” south of the Eddington Chutes area. Over the years I have casually used this now-out-of-print guide as a checklist, slowly working my way through the descents one by one. Despite beginning below 10,000 feet, lines on the north and east slopes of Treasure Mountain can be quite serious. I rarely travel in this area without a rope. Dense trees and many hidden cliff bands make these descents a navigational nightmare, and unless one planned to spend half a day rappelling, the ability to jump small cliffs and pillow lines in steep terrain is an indispensable skill. I think of this zone as my backyard ski mountaineering boot camp, where I go to train my body and mind for bigger technical descents in Grand Teton National Park. The Bowling Alley was the second to last descent on my Treasure Mountain hit-list, and faced with Super Bowl Sunday obligations, I was jacked for a solitary half-day strike mission.
I gained the summit of Treasure Mountain via Eddington Canyon, skinning directly up the trees between the first and second Eddington Chutes (“Fourth Shot” and “Third Shot” in the TBSA Book). Light powder on a firm crust made for an aggravatingly slow ascent – three hours from the car, give or take. Beautiful spring-like bluebird weather afforded me the opportunity to kickback with a PB&J and call my girlfriend before slipping on my skimpy ski-mo harness and beginning my soul quest onto Treasure Mountain’s north face. Dozens of tracks gleaned the ridge but vanished beyond the ever popular Boy Scout Chute. As I continued down the northwest ridge, skirting large cornices and waving a few banks of powder, I began to get an eerie feeling I was lost. With a gargantuan half-mile wide cliff band lurking below, and only two established ways “through”, the north face of Treasure is no place for error.
I stopped regularly to consult my GPS and recon photos, eventually deciding the prominent drainage below must be the Bowling Alley, though had I not a rope there’s no way I would have committed to the slope. Large cornices and cliffs barred clean entry, so I built an anchor on a small pine and rappelled a fifty foot band of cliffs into a gentle forest. After pulling the rope I spent another few hundred feet traversing around two shorter cliff bands, tagging a few limestone shark teeth along the way. I trended towards the gut of the drainage and eventually found a definitive Bowling Alley. To my delight, the meat of the line was chocked with light snow and lightly spaced tress, and I enjoyed 1,000 feet of phenomenal fall-line powder skiing without another track in sight. The slope angle hovered between 35-40 degrees, and intermittent groves of dense pines remained me of steep Vermont glade skiing. Sadly, all good things come to end, especially in such thin conditions.
I required two rappels and too much side slipping to reach terra-firma in Teton Canyon. A lone ski track bisected my course from the steep trees east of my first rappel. Signs of ambitious sidestepping suggested this gentleman probably forgot his rope at home – yikes. I ski-rappelled off a dinky pine through a rocky constriction no more than three feet wide, side slipped another hundred feet, jump-turned some chalky avalanche debris and was confronted with one more intimidating drop-off. I couldn’t quite see over the lip, so instead of risking entrapment I traversed west to a group of old pines, popped off the skis and rappelled down to safety – about 20 meters. Upon further review from below, a snow ramp to the east would have provided safe passage through the final cliff. Half the reason I wrote this obscure article was to remind myself of this ramp. With 100 inches more snow and refined beta, the Bowling Alley will most certainly go top-to-bottom sans rope. I’ll be waiting.
Overall, the Bowling Alley gave me the experience I expected. Great steep tree skiing and light powder for the price of a few wrong turns, a few rappels and a longer than expected car-to-car for a 2,600 foot descent. When I first skied Lost Boys, the next chute east of the Bowling Alley, the line went down in much the same fashion – mostly fun with a little bit of sketchy. Like a rock climber seeking to perfect an already sent route, I look forward to striking glamorous gold in this zone with improved style. The lone tracks joining my skis from the east hinted at a possible fuller value descent beginning higher on the northwest ridge. From the Teton Canyon road, Lost Boys seemed about as shabby as the Bowling Alley. Despite their favorable north aspect, these lines need more snow than I thought… or maybe this 2022 “winter” has been even drier than I realized… or maybe, just maybe… both.
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