JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (CBS4) – A quartet of hardcore mothers stranded at a mountain resort opted to get more of what they came for — skiing — and earned themselves an adventurous trek home in the process.
The group of longtime Jackson friends gathered for a weekend getaway at a lodge in Grand Teton National Park in late February. Cross-country skiing, fat biking, and fine food were on the menu. But a snowstorm moved in and their numbers dwindled as participants headed home in their vehicles. Roads in the park were soon closed. Mountain passes outside the park were soon impassable. “Departed” friends struggled to reaching their destinations.
Carolyn Ripps, 36, Stephanie Thomas, 40, Ali Wheeler, 37, and Juniper Troxel, 44, were the only ones left, and they were left with a decision: Drive 333 miles and still not make it home.
Or ski out.
“I said, ‘We could try to bike or ski back,’ saying it a little bit facetiously,” Ripps told the Jackson Hole News. “Then we realized that was a possibility.”
The four waited one more night to see if the storm would let up and the roads would be cleared.
“We called the hotel and got back into our cabin for the night,” Troxel said. “We were actually psyched to stay an extra night and have an Oscars party.”
As they ate breakfast at Turpin Meadow Ranch, the news came — the main road through the park would remain closed.
“I asked a ranger, and he said chances of the road opening was 1 percent,” Thomas said. “He said ‘If you’re up for the 14-mile ski that’s the sure way to get home.’”
They packed essentials. With only one backpack, pieces of luggage were strapped on instead. They drove as far as they could, where Teton Park Road was closed, and left their truck at 11:38 a.m., Monday, Feb. 25.
“When we started off the visibility was fine,” Troxel said. “But we were having to break trail through this heavy, deep snow.”
“It was just one foot in front of the other,” Ripps said. “I remember joking that it was a lot like childbirth. You know the end is coming and you’ll look back and be happy you did it, but there were periods of really high intensity. A true suffer-fest slog.”
“I kept thinking I hadn’t done an adventure like that since my early 20s,” Thomas said.
Between the roadside snow poles that guide plow drivers and Thomas’s GPS app (she’s a member of Teton County Search And Rescue), the group stayed on course.
“It was snowing the whole time,” Thomas said. “If it had been groomed, we would have been home in about three and a half hours. But breaking trail was tricky.”
At the 10 mile mark, the wind increased. The women had difficulty talking over it.
“It’s like we were the only group in the park that day,” Ripps said. “There aren’t many opportunities to have the park to yourself. There were definitely moments of beauty even though we couldn’t see any mountains.”
At 6:28 p.m., nearly seven hours later, the women reached the Taggart Lake trailhead where a friend waited to drive them into Jackson.
“It’s really not that long of a stretch,” Thomas said. “Some people probably do it every weekend. But it was all the drama that came along with it, between the roads being closed and the worried husbands and kids at home.”
They could smile and chalk up another group adventure. But there were other rewards, too.
Wheeler ate chicken wings while she took a hot bath. Thomas had a burrito and kissed her kids good night while still wearing her outdoor gear.
“It was a nice reminder that we still got it,” Thomas said. “But now” – unlike 15 years ago – “we have to come home and put our kids to bed.”