The Grand

My eyes snapped open and drifted to peer at my phone: 12:20AM, still 10 minutes before my alarm. It would seem that excitement easily overpowered fatigue.  Surprisingly alert and together after only 2 hours of sleep, a breakfast of 2 eggs and black coffee came together with quickness and ease.  Gear already packed, the first transition of the day (house to car) was effortless. 1:50AM and I was on the road.  Tunes: The Bambi Molesters: As the Dark Wave Swells.  The music complimented the tranquil road almost too well, and I found myself at Lupine Meadows Trailhead, unaware of my journey.

My objective remained invisible to me in those narrow hours of morning. A moonless night left the Tetons to their own devices beneath a deep umbral blanket. 2:30AM.  By headlamp I started out, following a path I knew well, up to the mouth of Garnet canyon. The night air was a warm caress that, combined with my brisk pace, quickly stripped away layers. The trail gave way intermittently to long stretches of firm snow, and despite variable conditions, I made it to the boulders in an hour and a half.    

My eyes drank deeply the monolithic silhouette of Nez Perce, and satisfaction set in; the real adventure could start now.  Sodden, cold shoes gave way to warm, dry ski boots.  Skins slid easily across the refrozen crust.  With the grade increasing, my lack of ski-crampons forced a transition to bootpacking after only an hour:


Dawn broke soon after, and for the first time that day, I felt a pang of worry. Being unsure of the exact route and of time needed for each leg caused my uncertainty to grow.  Maybe I started too late; maybe it was going to get too hot, too fast.  The possibility that I might have to turn back, shy of my goal, came into being.  I put my head down and got to work.  Without knowing for certain if I was behind schedule, I acted under just such an assumption, and spying a group ahead of me only intensified my fervor.  As I charged up the Teepee Glacier, I noticed that the snow was alarming punchy, and there was much moisture under the thin crust.  There hadn’t been a complete freeze overnight, even at elevation.  This could spell disaster the second sunlight touched it. Something to worry about later I supposed.  Onward and upward.

I overtook the pair ahead of me at the top of the col.  The sunrise was stark and sudden.  The play of light and shadow across the soft snow and hard rock made the austere beauty of this place come alive.


 I got some beta from the pair, and offered them bacon in return.  According to them about 2 hours from here to the summit.  6:30AM, with the sun already up, there was no time for dallying.  Crampons on and axes out.  The ascent, though steep, was pretty straightforward.  Only a couple of committing moves over some ice bulges; just enough to keep things interesting.


As I popped out the top of the Chevy only a few hundred yards remained between me and the summit.  And now I spied the only remaining group.  I thought to myself, ‘I must crush them’.  I pinned it as fast as I could go, and quickly gained ground.  Right as we all summited I caught up to the trailing member of their group. 7:56 AM, Mission Accomplished!



Turns out the group ahead of me consisted of a couple of local legends, Hans Johnstone and his wife and 15 year old son.  I guess when you are at that level, skiing the Grand is an appropriate family outing.  We had a nice chat and some chill time at the top, but it was getting late and it was time to go.  

I walked out onto the face, and prepared my skis.  Easy does it, a mistake here could be ruinous; with my tech toe in place, I slammed my heel down. *click*.  I watched in horror as my ski popped off my foot and started slowly rolling down the 45 degree face.  The snow was rock hard, but the brake-less ski wasn’t picking up much speed.  One last bounce, and it tumbled out of sight.  My cool gone, I started yelling profanities. I absolutely lost it.  “No fucking way did that just happen!!!”  I rapidly secured all loose items and went running after it, chanting under my breath, “please be lucky, please be lucky…”  Heart in the pit of my stomach, it began to sink in that I would be downclimbing and one-skiing it out of here.  As the last glimmer of hope evaporated, my gut did a somersault at the view before me.


I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was nothing short of a miracle.


Emboldened by my preposterous luck, I quickly got everything in order and began my descent proper.  A short ski over chattery, steep refrozen crud gave way to several rappels and downclimbs.  Finally, I was back at the top of the Teepee glacier.  My prediction from earlier proved to be true, and the ski down the Teepee was more of a 35degree downhill wallow.  The sun had been baking the face, and the slush was hip-deep in spots. My tiny randonee skis did nothing to help the situation.  Luckily, the snow changed to a more agreeable firm corn after the Teepee, and the lower section of the descent was actually some good skiing.  12:50PM  The car was a sight for sore eyes.  Exactly enough time for a shower, then off to work!

Solo trips are so powerful, and the ability to explore and ski an unknown route/peak only adds to the excitement.  

Crazy fun adventure!  

Spring in the Tetons

This past month has brought many new things; some good, some bad:

I wrecked my truck


Don’t worry, I’m unharmed.


I went ice climbing for the first time:


Above: My mentor for the day, Dave Wade, getting some goods


And finally, I went mountaineering with some new faces.

It was a grand adventure: up Garnet canyon to the Lower Saddle, and from there we skied the Pinocchio Couloir off the north face of the Middle Teton.   My adventuring party consisted of Rob Deslauriers, Dr. Jeff, Aaron Pruzan, and Hans Johnstone. I had never skied with any of these titans, and had only just met Rob the night before.  I was in awe when I pieced together the caliber of the crew I found myself with. Local legends they were.  Much I could learn.  I’m usually pretty quiet when put with an unfamiliar group. This natural tendency was only amplified by the breadth of knowledge contained within these four souls.

The day was gloriously sunny with a refreshing breeze.  My steps felt light as the skis beneath them glided easily upon the skintrack.  With no firm destination or objective in mind, the easy pace set by my betters was relaxing and enjoyable.  The ascent to the lower saddle seemed to be over in no time at all.  As we rested and fueled up on a vast array of snacks, two options were presented before us: ski the glacier off the peak of the Middle Teton(a broad powder field) or start bootpacking up the Pinocchio Couloir(a narrow, steep couloir to lookers right.)  A shower of debris from the top of the glacier caused us to choose the latter.


Rob and Hans Set the skintrack up Pinocchio

As we transitioned from skins to bootpack, a group of snowboarders dropped the glacier, easing our fears that the shower of debris from earlier was a natural event.  The couloir was steep, but the snow was receptive to boot, and the final push was over.


Jeff and Aaron topping out

As I looked down what we had just come up, I felt my confidence slowly draining away. It was much steeper than I had anticipated, and was less than a ski’s-width for most of the top 75ft.  I don’t have a lot of experience with such things, so I waited to be shown how it’s done.  While I had been stuck in my head worrying, Rob was making moves.  He quickly deciphered his entry-move and dropped.  Grace incarnate as he linked one hop-turn to the next. There was no room for error; a fall here meant gathering yourself up 1000 feet down.  His level of mastery and confidence was awe inspiring.  After he had safely finished the crux and rounded a corner, I look at the rest of the group,”I’m not going to do it that way”.  A bit of side-slipping and a handful of hop-turns, where necessary, had me safely down.


Rob and I survey our handiwork before starting the long trek out.

From here, Rob and I decided to split off from the rest of the group.  He had a time constraint and had to be getting back, so we booked it out of there doubletime. With spirits high, we made it back to the car in no time at all, but not before enjoying some weird crusty warm snow.


Making the best of some awkward snow

A great day with even greater people.

Spring is coming fast here in the Tetons, and our snowpack is looking favorable for mountaineering.  Looking forward to many more adventures in the months to come!



Crystal Mountain Freeride Challenge

Nothing like a 16 hour drive to get the mind focused and ready for an athletic performance…

Last week I rallied up to Crystal Mountain, Washington with a heavy crew from Jackson to try my hand at a Freeskiing Competition.  What an incredible ski resort;  so much steep and feature-full terrain.   Spent only 3 days skiing, and felt like I could have easily whiled away a month there.  However, I get the feeling that a month, skiing every day, would only begin to scratch the surface. My friend, Tristan Droppert, is lucky enough to call Crystal his home mountain.  He played tour guide and showed our party around in a garish fashion.  I want to express my gratitude toward him and his parents, Mark and Beth, for showing us hospitality, generosity and a fantastic time!!  They played a huge role in making it such a memorable experience.

The entire event had such an air of camaraderie, I was moved.  Everyone was so nice, so supportive.  Competitors and event staff alike.  Everyone was just fired up to be there.  I made the acquaintance of countless excellent people, and had some great experiences with those I already call friends.  So exquisite…

Day 1 Registration, inspection and Day 2 Qualifiers

We were allowed to side-slip through our day one ski venue.  I am told this is not always the case.  Most often inspection consists of visual only from afar.   After 5-6 laps through I began to piece together a line. This was a strange experience: worrying not only if i will be able to properly execute my chosen line, but also given perfect execution; will the judges like it?  Everything sought to sap away my focus and resolve.  Conditions were chossy; skied up chunder on top of icy hardpack.  The cold (0 degrees F) was moist, sinking bone deep.  I knew other competitors were going to be putting it all on the line, was my line choice too conservative?

Day 1 was capped off with an athlete meeting and bib draw.  I drew #98.  Dammit. Guess I’m last.

Knowing I was 2nd to last skier to drop, I took my time getting ready in the morning.  Plenty of coffee, nice breakfast and some much needed zen time with my skis on a tuning bench.  Feeling alright, I plunged into the cold.  I waited, and I waited.  I took a run, and I waited.  I waited and I watched.  I took another run, and watched some more.  It felt like I had been standing still in the cold for 2 straight days.  I began to doubt the whole format,  “This isn’t skiing, it’s far too contrived.  This is a stupid waste of time and money; I could be back in Jackson skiing powder right now.”  So I stood still in the cold, or in the warming shack, with these thoughts to keep me company.  My chosen ski line played over and over in my head.  Continual visualization.  I took another lap, waited and watched.

After what seemed like several eternities, my time was quickly approaching.  I walked slowly to the starting gate.  Was I nervous? not very: its just skiing after all.  Mostly I was pissed and cold.  I just wanted it to be over.  Official: “Jacob Stearns?”   “Yeah that’s me.”   “Okay, you’re going next.”   “Cool.”
Over the radio: “Rider number 98, Jacob Stearns dropping… 3-2-1 dropping.”
Deep breath and I dropped.  Quiet mind, it’s just skiing after all. The line that had been playing over and over in my head, with an edge of uncertainty, suddenly became clear.  At that moment, I was fully committed.  Full clarity.  Smooth easy turns, and my two planned airs felt like child’s play.  Just a couple of seconds of tail-gunning out the bottom checked my rising euphoria, but only slightly.  One more big turn through the finish, and I felt like god.  It was a small, conservative line, but I nailed it and it felt SO good.  I couldn’t wipe the shit eating grin from my face, and suddenly it all made sense.  THATS why you do it.  It is for the pursuit of that feeling.  Picking a line you have never skied or even seen before, and styling it, is an incredible high.

My run placed me in 17th place and was good enough to take me to the finals.

Day 3 The Finals

Last minute, they decided to give us a single inspection run through the final stage.  Up till then it was understood that it would be visual inspection only.  Never have I ever been so mislead by my eyes. My chosen line, when seen from afar, was so aesthetic, so clean, so fluid.  Up close it was thin, scary and full of barely covered shark’s teeth.  With a sinking feeling I realized i had no clue where I was going to ski.  My one inspection run was used up, and the area I inspected didn’t make sense to me.  I decided to just get into some steep tight trees and see what I could prestidigitate.  Ended up finding a steep, tight(really tight) straight line, but a few seconds hesitation cost me some points.  The rest of my run was decidedly lame, and I felt a little bit disappointed with myself.  Oh well, you live you learn.

Huge shout out to my homeslice Zac Simon.  He skied the line that I had originally planned. He was the only competitor to ski that line, and that is because it was gnarly, scary, spooky, and kind of made you feel like you got kicked in the gut.  He skied it with grace and style.  I feel so blessed that I get to ride with great skiers such as he.   Endless inspiration is all around me.

Day 1 brought 63 competitors thinned to 32 for day 2.  Out of the 32 I got 23rd.  Not too bad for a greenhorn.

Nothing like a 16 hour drive at night to ease the nerves.  Arrived back in Jackson at 8:30am.  4 hours of sleep, then it was off to work!!

All things considered, it was an incredible experience that I will cherish.  It was very eye-opening; I must really step up my skiing if I expect to do well at these events.


Nikai “The Industry”

I love my job…

Sure, day in, day out, there is a fair share of tedium, frazzled nerves and exhaustion, but-fortunately- these days are the exception and not the rule.

I am of the opinion that all restaurants -for those employed- are two-faced.|
There is the blissful peace of pre-opening: Pleasantries are exchanged, music is played, laughs are had, seems like someone always has a story or two. Corny as it sounds, Nikai is one of 3 places I feel I can be exactly who I am: I am truly at home, and I dearly love the people I work with. Obviously, this social scene is secondary to miscellaneous set-up, general maintenance and prep. Mountains and mountains of prep.
And then there is service:  when every soul that walks through the door is a mortal enemy trying their very best to see that you fail.  Okay, this is an exaggeration, but sometimes it sure does feel that way.

Sushi is edible art.  High quality ingredients are the blank canvas, and the knife is the brush.

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My skill improves every day I work; I think that is one of the reasons I love it so much: constant progression.    When the restaurant gets very busy, It is extremely hard for me.  Every dish I send out is a reflection of my skill, heart and soul.  I would like everything to be flawless; true art conceals the artist.  Every mistake, every imperfection belies the creator’s fallibility and subsequent humanity.  I have had to train very hard to be able to say “good enough”.

I love when people sit at the bar and say say “make me something”.  They have just made my night.  I know I will be able to make them something fantastic, and if I’m lucky, something they have never had before.  There is such a quality of intimacy, it makes me smile every time.

I adore making tasty things for people, however prep is my favorite:

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Preparing some sushi condiments: (Left) Negi (thinly sliced green onion) (right) Finely diced red onion.

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American style Kobe Beef.  Cut: Zabatone, notice the marbling:  Soooo pretty!!!

Just the task at hand, no distractions; constantly improving the finished product, and streamlining the process.  Breaking down proteins, cutting vegetables just so, measuring, metering; its all very tranquil. Raw ingredients have the most austere beauty.

My favorite thing to prep is tuna.  I dream of, one day, breaking a whole fish down, but for now loins are good enough.   Tuna is the most beautiful thing I have ever laid a knife to.  When I find something better, I’ll let you know.  Going to show the first part of the process here:  receiving and initial processing.  Once it is broken down (as shown) its peak flavor is reached after up to a week of aging.

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Here I am readying my workspace: knives, wet towel, plate for scraps and paper towels to wrap.

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The loins are broken down into 8″ lengths starting from the head. this is the optimal size for fitting into our sushi cases.  I position the loins to optimize removal of the bloodline.

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Here I carefully remove the bloodline so as to have a minimum of wasted flesh.  The good meat I remove with the bloodline will be meticulously reclaimed later and added to spicy tuna.

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Notice how the newly exposed flesh is purplish, and the flesh that has been exposed to air is pink.  This is highly desirable and is a strong indicator that this tuna is very fresh and well cared for.  So pretty!!
Also note the plate of scraps on the top of the case; these will be picked over to make sure there is no waste.  Tuna is Expensive!!

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Cut into lengths and bloodline removed, time elapsed: about 15 minutes.  Time for a breath and a sip of some liquid motivation.

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The freshly cut loins are double wrapped in paper towels and then triple wrapped in plastic.  This best protects them from air and keeps them from getting slimy.  Also, if the tuna was not bled properly, this will draw out excess moisture and blood.  Work station and tools are sanitized, ready for the next task.

My first edit: Late evening solo mission

After a great morning of powder skiing, Friday, I iced my aching shins, and then hit the pass for a nice easy skin. Topped out, and took a few deep turns. Great way to end a day.

Meanwhile, Jackson is getting murdered with snow: 12″ last night, a few more today, and another foot predicted for tonight. I had some of the best turns of my life today, and even better I got to share them with my roomies: Forrest and Matt. Storm skiing at its finest… Time to do it all again tomorrow!!!

Wyoming Randonee Roundup

    Somewhere in the middle of Corbet’s I had to decide:
Drop the iced Buff that was choking off precious oxygen, or protect my face and hope my numbed hands didn’t freeze solid.

    I raced my first Randonee event yesterday; a grueling course that zigged and zagged its way across Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. It was an extremely fun event, I only wish I had my gear a bit more dialed in.  A new race backpack which I was unfamiliar with, less than fresh climbing skins, and general inexperience with the format all added stress and reduced speed.

The start of the race was the coolest part: a mass start with all souls clambering for post position.  I quickly found my pace, and was moving at a good clip.     –going to take a break from the narrative for a second and briefly touch on my reasons for racing: 1. Ever since I started skiing with Mere I have grown to appreciate speedy uphills  2. kinda and extension of one; I wanted to get a feel for her sport 3. My aerobic fitness has increased greatly over the past two years, and I wanted to be able to weigh my progress against the fittest–    The tête de la course flew up the first climb and out of sight in minutes, and I was left straggling at the back of the peloton.  I maintained this position for the whole race; I ended up yo-yoing with 10 other racers.  One would pass at a transition only to be passed in turn at a downhill and so on.

The first downhill was heinous; refrozen icy moguls with 4 inches of sticky fresh on top.  It was impossible to tell the difference between a soft pile and a rock hard, eat-your-knees bump.  Smooth sailing to the top of tower three. Transition then one of the best Tower Three chute’s I’ve ever skied.  As the course clears the top of Toilette Bowl the wind really starts kicking up.  Hands start to numb on the White Spider, and as I rise to the top of the Headwall a gust of wind-driven snow stops me in my tracks and burns my face.  It is at this time I simultaniously praise the thick layer of Dermatone on my face, and curse the lack of foresight at bringing only sunglasses and no goggles.

Shot 10 was some good skiing, and as I’m settling in for the climb up Tensleep I realize all of my water is frozen solid.  Nothing to do but keep going.  At the final patch of trees, I don my puffy and buff and prepare to enter the jagged maw of Corbet’s.  Transition to bootpack, and the volunteer is telling me to keep my face covered as there are white patches beginning to form.  The buff, already saturated with ice, was making breathing extremely difficult, but removing it allowed the icy wind to burn my skin.  My hands are already long numb.  Nothing to do but keep going.  The bootpack is steep and arduous, but the ladder finally enters view.  The top of Rendezvous bowl slaps me in the face and calls out my lack of goggles as my contact lenses freeze to my eyes. I throw on my iced sunglasses to offer any sort of barrier but still I am frozen in place by the arctic blast.  Finally there is a minute break in the wind and I seize this moment to attack the final bit of the climb.  Safely tucked in behind Corbet’s Cabin for my transition I battle with myself, should I step inside and warm up?  Hell no.  Nothing to do but keep going.  The blood and feeling rush back into my hands all at once, and with it comes such a white-hot sensation it takes my breath away.

On the ski down, once again I lament at my lack of goggles, I feel wet behind the ears at my lack of preparation.  The wind in my eyes and the ice on my glasses make it impossible to see.  Blind, I make it to the bottom of Cheyenne Bowl and am greeted by milder weather.  The final climb and descent are relatively uneventful, though I would have killed for some water.  The harrowing part was over, and I was able to find solace even in the familiar burning of exhausted legs.

Great experience, Great race!

Here it goes…

Welcome one, Welcome all.

After some prodding from some loving family members, I have decided to give this social media thing a go.  As much as I dislike self-promotion, it seems to be a necessary evil, especially in this future we live in.  So here’s whats going to go down here:

  • Photos (as often as I can)
  • Videos (hopefully in the near future, though less often)
  • General humdrum lifestyle ballyhoo

I think the latter option will be the most common, but lets see how I do.