Not all family outings conclude with a broken record on one of the most notorious peaks in the Lower 48, but the Johnstones of Jackson Hole, Wyo. aren’t your average family.
This past May, father Hans, a Nordic combined Olympian and Exum guide, and mother Nancy, a biathlon Olympian, climbed and skied the Grand Teton with their son, 15-year-old Sasha. In so doing, Sasha became the youngest skier to ever descend the Grand. Although Sasha is most interested in park and pipe skiing, where his own Olympic dreams lie, he was still thrilled to “shralp” Wyoming’s second-highest peak.
We sat down with Sasha, Nancy and Hans at the Alpine House, their family-run lodge in Jackson, to find out how a family outing like this comes to fruition.
Backcountry: To ski the Grand is a pretty big deal at any age. Have you spent much time in the backcountry working up to this?
Sasha: I’ve skied Teton Pass a little bit. I don’t ski the backcountry at the Village [Jackson Hole Mountain Resort] much. I haven’t actually skied any of the other peaks in the Tetons.
Hans: We would carry Sasha up Snow King [the town ski hill] on tours, and then he skied between my legs. He’s a park and pipe kid, but growing up in Jackson, it’s just a big mountain here. He’s had a lot of steep skiing experience just from skiing here.
Nancy: Remember that time you thought he was just being fussy when you were touring up, but one mitten had actually fallen off and his whole hand turned white? He was OK, though.He skied Corbet’s at a really young age, also.
Hans: We did do a family Haute Route trip this spring with everyone [Sasha and his two siblings, 15-year-old Masha and 13-year-old Vladimir], but we got weathered off that. It’s a little much to push it with the whole family in a whiteout with glacier travel. So we only went from Chamonix to Champex.
Sasha: It was pretty hard, but it was fun skiing down.
Backcountry: Have you climbed a lot before?
Sasha: I’ve done a little rock climbing, on trips with my parents. When I first heard that my dad had skied the Grand, I always wanted to do it.
Hans: We climb as much as we can and we drag all the kids along. We’ve always been climbers. We actually tried to ski the Grand with Sasha last year, but the weather wasn’t good. We got up to Glencoe Col, but we had to turn around. Sasha’s always been like, “Let’s ski the Grand!” This whole thing was all Sasha’s idea. It’s too nerve-wracking for me to bring it up.
Backcountry: As parents, how did you prepare Sasha and yourselves for the trip?
Hans: I never worried about his skiing skill much. He’s spent a lot of time on skis in his life. Sasha’s climbing skills and technique are fine. And we knew he wouldn’t get freaked out from the exposure.
Nancy: I wasn’t even planning on skiing it. I was just going to camp and help porter. But once we were up there and Sasha and Hans were going, it seemed like it would be cool to keep going with them.
Backcountry: What was the toughest part of the trip?
Hans: I was a little nervous. The climbing was good, but the snow was a little soft. It hadn’t been freezing hard so the window to ski down safely was pretty short.
Sasha: It was my first time ice climbing. That was scary in parts, but it wasn’t too bad. My mom and dad helped me a lot with the ice climbing, but the rest was just hiking. I knew we’d get to the top. I was not nervous. I knew we were going to ski it that time.
Nancy: That’s the audacity of being 15.
Backcountry: Are there other big peaks coming up in the family ski plans?
Sasha: I’m not sure if I’ll keep skiing big peaks for now. I want to keep focusing on park and pipe. I want to go to the Olympics for that.
Hans: I bet we’ll get a few done along the way though.
Sasha: After the Grand, I was exhausted. I was so happy. It was some of the most awesome skiing I’ve ever done. It might have been the steepest thing I’ve ever skied. I cared a little bit about being the youngest to ski it, but mostly I just wanted to ski it with my dad.