A new book by Montana photographer Tom Murphy reveals a side of Yellowstone National Park that few people have seen, much less understood and appreciated.
Winter, the park’s longest and hardest season, is celebrated—“respected” may be a better word—in Murphy’s large format, hardcover book, Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness ($29.95, Riverbend Publishing). The book’s 130 photographs range from sweeping panoramas of backcountry landscapes to details of delicate ice crystals. Many of the photographs show wildlife trying to survive in near-arctic conditions: bison stoically standing in a geyser’s warm steam, hundreds of elk following one another single file through belly-deep snow, and a red fox leaping high in the air to come down hard on crusty snow and pin a mouse to the ground.
In his foreword to the book, popular author and Outside magazine editor-at-large Tim Cahill writes, "These are photos that mirror a man’s passion, and I know of nothing like them anywhere. Tom Murphy is an artist of major distinction. More often that not, the image itself tells a story. This is because Tom, who has been a guide in the park for two decades, knows the flora and fauna and the natural rhythms of the place in the way that he knows the beating of his own heart. Consequently, his photographs are not simply stunning or striking: they are also knowledgeable and even wise.”
Murphy, 51, was the first person licensed by the National Park Service to conduct photography workshops in Yellowstone. He spends 80 to 100 days within the park each year, and once he skied solo for 125 miles across the park. That trip, made during one of the worst winter storms of the decade, took 14 days.
“I seek out the winter here because I find things that are difficult or impossible to find anywhere else,” Murphy writes in the book’s introduction. “I make these photographs because I love the quiet beauty of this wilderness. I hope others feel, through my photographs, the wondrous elegance, symmetry, surprise and power of the place.”
Murphy also provided the film for a new video by Montana Public Television on winter in Yellowstone. The video and a CD of the video’s music are companion items to the book and share the same title, Silence & Solitude: Yellowstone’s Winter Wilderness.
TWO EXCERPTS FROM THE FOREWORD BY TIM CAHILL,
Outside Magazine editor-at-large
“Don’t you think this idea is,” I asked gently, “oh, vaguely suicidal.” My thrifty photographer friend, Tom Murphy, wanted to ski across Yellowstone National Park: a two-week backcountry ski expedition where there would be little or no possibility of rescue in case of an accident or an unforeseen emergency. He wanted to slog through a country noted for 50 degree below zero temperatures and blinding blizzards and snow twenty feet deep in order to take pictures. Tom is not a high tech guy and owns none of the latest warmest gear. It seemed to me that his cameras would freeze up, along with his fingers, and hands and perhaps his entire body, and that it was possible he might very well die in the name of photography, which sounds noble enough from a distance, but moronic when the potential victim is a friend. It was an impossible trip. In order to navigate the country, for instance, one would be obliged to cross rivers fed by hot springs, rivers that consequently did not freeze and ran waist deep in the shallow sections so that it is necessary for a traveler to strip from the waist down, shoulder pack and skis, then ford the river, half naked, in the freezing cold, through the near-frozen water. Tom had just asked if I wanted to come with him—this was in back in 1985—I said, “uh, no.”
For the record, I need to say that Tom is also the world’s most “frugal” outdoorsman: his pack is 20 years old, as are his skis, and he wears thin red dress socks under his old leather boots, socks that, he is proud to say, cost him 50 cents a pair. But his gear does the job. He gets across the park in the winter, something few of us could accomplish. In the same way, his cameras are simple: he is concerned with composition and light and information that tell a story. That’s all. And that’s more than enough. Tom Murphy goes out in the winter in his silly red dress socks and he brings back these wondrous, these stupendous images. This book is the closest most of us will get to a backcountry ski trip through Yellowstone. It is a fine thing to have Tom Murphy as our guide. He a passionate naturalist, an artist of major distinction…and, as it turns out—red dress socks not withstanding—a man not nearly as suicidal as I once imagined. Sartorially challenged maybe, but not suicidal.
Teton Region Cross Country Ski
Here, you can submit information
on temperature, humidity and snow granulation, and our system
will make recommendations for the best Swix wax for the conditions.
These recommendations are based on our published guides,
along with the many years of World Cup race experience from
our Swix wax technicians.
• Teton Canyon -
Drive up Ski Hill Road out of Driggs. The road will change
it is noticeable, (I never did) just stay on the main drag
until about a mile after you go through Alta there is a turn
to the parking area. This is a beautiful ski at The Grand
Teton towers over you the whole way.
• Darby Canyon - This is
an ungroomed multiple use trail. Between Victor and driggs
on hwy 33 you will turned east
on Darby Road
it dead ends
at Stateline road
then turn right it will then turn left on Darby Canyon Rd
and soon the road will end where the trail starts.
• Fox Canyon - This is an un-groomed
multiple use trail. Between Victor and Driggs on hwy 33 you
will turn east on
it till it ends.
• Moose Canyon - This is an un-groomed
multiple use trail. About a 2 miles east of Victor torn lift
on Old Jackson
about a half mile then turn right on
to e. Moose Creek Road and go to the end.
• Cabin Creek - is at the bottom of
the west side of Teton Pass. park at the parking area on the
north side of
the road. At the bottom and on the south side of
the road you will find the Cabin Creek Trail.
• Cache Creek - located on the southeast
corner of the town of Jackson east of Snow King Ski Resort. This
is a busy
trail but it
does provide a quick access out of the town of Jackson.
• Game Creek - travel south from Jackson
on Hwy 89/191 approx. 7 miles, and turn left onto road #30455
9Game Cr. R.)
toward Game Creek. Parking is on left less than a mile
• Granite Creek Hot Springs - Go 12 miles
south of Jackson and head south on Hwy 191 through the beautiful
fifteen miles up turn on Granite Creek Road and right away
you are at the trail head. It is a ten mile ski to the Granite
Hot Spring but even if you make it a shorter trip you will
enjoy it. This is a popular groomed snowmobile and dog-sledding
Ventre Road - go about 7 miles north
of Jackson to the Kelly turn off and after go through the
town of Kelly go about another 2
miles then turn right on Gros Ventre River Road, follow it
until it ends at the parking area above Slide Lake. The exposed
red cliffs juxtaposed against the snow is a beautiful site.
Rocky mountain Bighorn Sheep wintering grounds and the chances
of seeing some are about 90%. This is a popular groomed
• Shadow Mountain - is
about 15 miles north of Jackson, look for Antelope Flats Road
then turn left when the road ends and
till it ends.
This Trail is about an 8 mile loop with about a thousand
foot elevation gain that provides
• Harriman State Park is located 20
miles north of Ashton on Highway 20. There is a total of 21 miles
of trails, and
10 of those are
groomed, providing opportunities for all levels of skiing.
Harriman is a wintering ground for the majestic trumpeter
swan and is home
to many other animals. A warming shelter and restrooms are
provided at the trail head. The $3 entrance fee is waived
if you have a
Park N' Ski permit on your vehicle.
• The Fall River Ridge Park N' Ski
area is located 10 miles east
of Ashton on the Cave Falls Road. The various loops are suitable
for beginner and intermediate use. The terrain consists of rolling
hills dotted with meadows, and stands of lodgepole pine and aspen
trees. A small plowed parking area is provided and is shared by
snowmobilers and skiers. They also share one mile of trail. Nearly
seven miles of trails make up this area, which is groomed periodically
when funding and weather conditions permit.
• Bear Gulch/Mesa Falls
- This ski area is located seven miles northeast of Ashton on
Mesa Falls Forest Highway 47. The trail parallels
the snowmobile trail out to the spectacular Lower and Upper
Mesa Falls. The trail then branches away from the snowmobile trail
and travels along the canyon rim, then returns to the trail
head. This trail is recommended for intermediate and advanced
because of the steep climb in the first mile. The trail is
nine miles long and is groomed periodically when funding
and weather conditions permit.
•The Brimstone Trail is located
one-quarter mile north of the Island Park Ranger Station on Highway
20 near Ponds Lodge Resort. The
terrain varies from gentle grades to downhill runs through tree
groves. The nine miles of trail offer scenic views of the Island
Park Reservoir, Box Canyon, and Buffalo River. The trail provides
opportunities for all levels of skiing ability.
• The Buffalo River Trail - is
2.6 miles long, starting at the Island Park Ranger Station and
along the Buffalo River
through forests of lodgepole pine. The trail's gentle grade provides
an excellent opportunity for beginners to polish their skills.
Both trails are groomed periodically when funding and weather
• Palisades Creek - just east
of Irwin turn left on Palisades Creek Road and drive till
at the trail head. This is a beautiful narrow canyon for
the first mile and you will want to watch for big rocks in
the trail early in the winter, a mile up after there first
bridge the canyon opens up some for some beautiful views.
There is a lake up about 4 miles.
• Indian Creek Trail - is about
15 miles south of Swan Valley Hwy26 drops into the indian Creek
parking on the west side for
the road the trail starts on the east side of the Hwy. This is
a also a snowmobile route
• Fall Creek Campground - is About
5 miles north of Swan Valley you cross the Snake River there you
left on River Road and go up about
2 miles to the parking area on the left side of the road. Ski
along the river to get to Creek
Campground this parking is the same one for Fall Creek trail which
is also a groomed snowmobile trail as is all of River Road. Bonneville
county grooms Fall Creek Campground for cross country skiing.
• Bear Creek Trail - is about 4
miles south of Irwin. Go till you get to Palisades Dam an park
in the parking lot at the top then
ski south on the Groomed snowmobile trail. for the ambitious the
forest service rents a cabin 12 miles up and makes a nice little
• Fall Creek - About 5 miles north
of Swan Valley you cross the Snake River there you turn left and
about 2 miles to
the parking area on the left side of the road. Ski up the Fall Creek
Canyon groomed snowmobile trail as far as you like. This is a great
wildlife viewing area.
Backcountry skiing means off the beaten track, so how do you get to the backcountry? If you're an extremist, then you'll set off under your own power from Greater Yellowstone's many hundreds of trailheads toward a snow-covered crag. However, this is not a decision to be taken lightly – the terrain can be dangerous if you are inexperienced or ill-prepared.
Gearing Up • Some skiers shove their feet into regular ski boots, strap their alpine skis to their pack, and slog uphill to grab a shot of snow. But that gets old fast. Modern backcountry skiing gear, which is otherwise known as randonee (pronounced "ron-doe-nay") or alpine touring gear (known as AT), lends itself to hiking. It's very lightperforms some quick math to calculate that, depending on the brand, randonee gear weighs 30 to 50 percent less than resort skis, boots and bindings. If you're going uphil lthat all translates to more energy saved.Randonee or AT gear is designed to for skiers to climb steep hills and ski rugged terrain. Contrary to telemark gear, alpine ski turns transfer to the backcountry on these skis and bindings with no new techniques to learn. You will, however, shell out around $2,000 for skis, bindings, boots, beacon, probe, shovel and skins. While any ski works with a touring binding, most backcountry skiers go for boards that are fat for flotation and lightweight to save energy climbing.
Backcountry Ski Spots
Teton Pass • (Jackson Hole) Interested
in maximum vertical with minimum approach? Try Teton Pass. Teton
Pass is a popular backcountry
skiing destination outside of Jackson
Hole Wyoming and Teton Valley Idaho. You can easily access this
area by driving west on hwy 22 from Jackson Hole or west on
hwy 33 from
Pass • (Dubois WY) Towgotee is a region more than just a pass
and the whole region provides many skiing opportunities,
and some backcountry downhill. Towgotee Pass receives over 600
inches of snow annually and there are many around the touring
areas I include where you can bushwhack some good downhill turns.
Beehive Basin • (Big Sky, MT) Beehive Basin Ski Trail is a moderate 5 km single-track loop near Big Sky. The trail begins with a few switchbacks, which are a bit steep. The route then flattens out for about 1 mile before turning steeply uphill. Near the end is a very steep hill. The view is spectacular. Near the end of the trail you will find a shallow lake surrounded by vertical cliffs. Avalanche hazard areas are common. Ski route goes into Lee Metcalf Wilderness. In the fall and winter Beehive Basin and nearby Middle Basin are THE spots to get some early season powder turns in Big Sky. Skinning and snowshoeing are viable ways to travel through the snow, but often the trail is already boot packed most of the way. As a word to the wise, anybody who plans to hike Beehive in the snow should go only with others who have knowledge of the area. It's agreed that certain places shouldn't be hiked without avalanche gear. Avalanches are a reality at Beehive. According to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, on Jan. 20, 2008, a skier was buried and killed there by a slide. This trail is not groomed. map
Hyalite Canyon • (Bozeman Montana) Hyalite Recreation Ares is quickly becoming a very good backcountry skiing resource around Bozeman. The Blackmore and Grotto Falls trailheads will lead you to great skiing. Another option is the History Rock trailhead. The short approach and smallish open meadows means it may get tracked out faster but it's great for a few quick runs. This is a busy back country destination so it is best to arrive early. Also, it's a long way to Blackmore Peak so consider arriving as early as possible and doing a few laps on the actual face.
Bridger Bowl Backcountry • (Bozeman Montana) Bridger Bowl is world-renowned for its fantastic terrain and great powder. Bridger is unique in that it offers vast amounts of steep, backcountry terrain accessible to those with a beacon, but within the ski area boundaries. Skiing the Bridger Ridge is more accessible, especially since the addition of Bridger's newest amenity: Schlasman's lift, which carries skiers to just below the Bridger ridge.
Bell Lake Yurt • (Pony Montana) The yurt will be equipped with a full kitchen including a gas stove top with BBQ grill, wood burning stove and sleeping accommodations for up to eight people. Guests will find a wide variety of terrain for the knowledgeable backcountry skier, snowboarder or winter traveler adjacent to the yurt for multi-day adventures........................More Info
Beyond the Grand -- The life of America's Most Influential Ski Mountaineer - Bill Briggs Biography By Louis Dawson • Bill Briggs gulped from his water bottle, laced his boots, and clicked his ski bindings. Standing at the apex of Wyoming's precipitous 13,770-foot Grand Teton, he caught his breath and took in the view. To his east, the Gros Ventre mountains rose from the haze like a Tolkien fantasy, while the plains of Idaho faded two hundred miles west. Below his feet, snow like a steeple roof dropped thousands of feet to the chasm. Briggs plan was to slice turns on that snow -- to be the first to ski down Grand Teton. On that day of June 15, 1971, as his skis carved arcs down to Garnet Canyon, his goal became reality.
Skiing the Grand Teton - Yes they do
Winter in the Snow; Tenting and Telemarking in the Tetons By David Noland • LEANING wearily on our ski poles, the three of us
stood at the crest of Beard Mountain, a smooth, rolling, 10,500-foot summit
in Wyoming's Jedediah Smith Wilderness. My friend Ted Buhl, an accomplished
back-country skier, grinned like a madman in anticipation of a dream run:
vast expanses of feathery, untracked, knee-deep powder and a brilliant blue
sky with the jagged peaks of the Grand Teton Range as a backdrop. Best of
all, there was not another human being within miles -- a just reward for
the grueling four-hour climb on skis from our camp in the valley below.
on the other hand, could manage only a tentative smile. A novice back-country
skier, I was a long way from the gentle, packed
cross-country ski trails
I'd happily shuffled along for years near my Hudson Valley home. I suspected
that my usual technique to avoid oncoming trees -- fall down as quickly
as possible -- might not suffice here. "Just stay crouched and bounce
up and down a little to get a feel for the powder," said our guide,
Glenn Vitucci. "You'll be fine."
Perhaps he was right. An expert skier, naturalist and an
11-year veteran of the Teton back country, Glenn had inspired confidence
from our first meeting
three days earlier----------------------------------> more
Chronology of North American Ski Mountaineering and Backcountry
By Louis Dawson • This chronology is always being improved and updated.
Note that the focus here is ski mountaineering and backcountry skiing that
involves climbing mountains and skiing down them. While less emphasis is
placed on ski traverses, these are considered as well, provided such traverses
cover mountain terrain and involve climbs and descents as an integral part
of the route (other than ski traverses included for context). One of the
most important milestones in this list of events is the first time a particular
mountain is skied down from the exact summit or near. While many mountains
in North America were explored by people on skis in the early 1900s, the
actual event of a person climbing to the top and skiing back down may have
occurred at a date later than the first ski exploration. I've attempted to
note both events when possible. My picks for the most important ski mountaineering
events in North America are marked with a yellow background. -------------------> More
Avalanche - Highland
By Louis Dawson • Aspen, Colorado. For myself and John "Izo" Isaacs,
the morning of February 19, 1982 dawned clear, calm and filled with excitement.
At 3:30 AM we strapped climbing skins to our skis, and began the long climb
via the Highlands Ski Area to the summit of Highlands Peak. We intended to
ski Highland Bowl, the stupendous amphitheater formed by the north and south
ridges of the peak. Hundreds of avalanches fall here each winter. Most of
these grind to a halt on the low angled "flats" midway between
the summit and valley. But during heavy winters, monster slides roar almost
a vertical mile to the valley floor.
Back in 1982, Highlands Bowl was closed by law to most skiers (it is now
part of the ski area's "extreme" terrain). The ski-patrol would
take the occasional guided tour, but neither Izo nor I cared to deal with
red tape, nor have someone tell us where to ski. ------------------------------------> More
on steep snow - Ice ax, crampons, and self arrest
By Lou Dawson • Climbers and skiers die every year from sliding falls on
snow. Thus, no discussion of safe snow climbing and steep skiing would be
complete without a review of the self arrest -- the time honored method for
stopping such falls.
For snow climbers and mountain skiers the self arrest has four forms. These
depend on gear. While climbing, you'll need to know how to self arrest with
your ice ax. While skiing, you can use specialized self arrest grips on your
ski poles. These are less effective than an ice axe, yet skiing while holding
an ice ax is dangerous and awkward, so arrest grips can be useful. If you
have ski poles, but no arrest grips or ice ax, you can perform a self arrest
with your pole tips. This is awkward and ineffective. Lastly, if you have
nothing, you can try to arrest with your hands and boot toes. This is bogus
-- but good to practice so you know why you need a tool for an effective
- The Avalanche Center • The CSAC Snow and Avalanche
Center provides global snow avalanche information. It is
a comprehensive source for current conditions, education,
incident reports, and more.
Hole Snow Observations • This site is meant to
be a public forum in which backcountry users can share
activity and snow-pack conditions. By recording snow and avalanche
Information , we hope to create a database that will allow
users to track weak layers and avalanche
cycles throughout the year. In addition, the Weather Summary
can help you track changes to the snow-pack as they occur. If
you find value in viewing these observations, please help
perpetuate the site by contributing notes from your next tour.
There is no technical standard required for submitting observations,
however, we do ask that users adhere to our site guidelines
when scoring stability tests.
Teton Region Back Country Ski Tours
Ski and Snowboard Tours • Established
in 1986, Rendezvous
Ski and Snowboard Tours operates three backcountry
ski yurts high on the western slope of the Tetons near Jackson
Hole and Grand Targhee Ski Resort. Our huts provide access to the Jedediah
Smith Wilderness Area and Grand Teton National Park, where over 500
inches of legendary light, dry powder snow falls each winter. A variety
from high mountain ridges and broad, low-angled powder bowls, to the
steep and deep combine to make some of the best backcountry ski terrain
in the lower 48.
Guides • Exum offers group and private avalanche training,
alpine and nordic ski tours, and ski and snowboard descents of the remarkable
mountains of the Teton area. You will gain basic avalanche awareness, improve
your skiing and snowboarding technique, and practice the use of avalanche
rescue transceivers. Technical skills, such as steep skiing, rock and ice
climbing, and rappelling are practiced during ski and snowboard mountaineering
Expedition • Let us show you the finest way
to experience a true Yellowstone winter, at a cross-country skier's
Join our certified back country ski guides to explore the Yellowstone
backcountry. Our multi-day cross-country skiing excursions are based
from the comfortable Canyon Skier's "Yurt Camp" located only
one half mile from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Hellroaring Ski Adventures • Hellroaring Ski Adventures will help you create the adventure of a lifetime. Touring, Powder Skiing / Riding, Ski Mountaineering, the Extreme. Let us know what your dreams are and we'll make it happen.
Montana Backcountry Alliance • Montana Backcountry Alliance was formed in 2005 to build an organized community advocating for traditional, human-powered winter recreation. We have commented as a group and individually on forest service management plans, held ski movie premiers, and helped conduct citizen monitoring projects. We intend to build on our success and further strengthen the traditional winter recreation community by advocating for specific non-motorized areas with reasonable access for human-powered recreationists. The motorized lobby is powerful, organized, and well-funded. But we are motivated and dedicated to establishing a strong voice in this important debate. We are also hopelessly addicted to skiing and riding, and will be busy enjoying the wonderful opportunities Montana offers in the winter. Get out and enjoy them too!
Montana Mountaineering Association • Montana Mountaineering Association promotes the values of rock climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing and backcountry skiing by offering a variety of instructional programs. These diverse programs are taught by an incredibly qualified instructors and guides. We offer individual and group instruction in our local mountains around Bozeman Montana with one of our programs extending to the Andes of South America. Our goal is to give prospective alpinists the tools they need venture out on their own, whether it be mountaineering, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, or rock climbing.