Girl Crush: Lessons Learned in the Storm

While filming “Girl Crush,” which was released this week, writer Leilani Bruntz and her crew found themselves making a different movie than they perhaps envisioned. Bruntz describes the trip below, and the movie is now available on Salomon TV and Youtube. —The Editors

Jessica Baker, Mali Noyes, Nicole Jorgenson and Leilani Bruntz tow their sleds of gear toward Wyoming’s Mt. Moran, where they had hoped for stable snow and big-mountain skiing. [Photo] Mary McIntyre

A long-awaited spring trip to Grand Teton National Park didn’t result in the big lines I’d expected to ski. Instead, the opportunity laid in learning with a group of inspiring female skiers by making the hard decision to back off our objectives, day after day after day.

My expectations for this trip were lofty. I yearned for the satisfaction of a grand adventure with my friends, getting to feel shattered physically from hard efforts, long days and little sleep, yet buzzed from excitement and a sense of accomplishment. This trip, I anticipated, would test my backcountry skills and experience by offering the opportunity to work through route planning, technical rope work, group management and decision-making to ski technical, challenging backcountry descents in new terrain. What I hoped for was that our partnership and combination of skill sets would translate into skiing certain objectives because I wanted to feel empowered by making empowering decision alongside other women.

Initially, our group—Jessica Baker, Nicole Jorgenson, Mali Noyes, Mary McIntyre and me—planned to traverse the Pioneer Mountains outside Sun Valley, Idaho, a remarkable range that manages to hide from the backcountry crowds. Due to a lack of snow in the Pioneers, we pivoted to the Tetons. The avalanche danger there drop to low just days before our trip, with forecasts calling for high pressure.

The promising weather forecast predicted trace to 2 inches of new snow on our first day, followed by overcast skies before warming temperatures and clear skies. We discussed the length of ropes we’d need, eyeing lines with mandatory rappels while we studied maps of Mt. Moran, Thor Peak and Mt. Woodring. Though we were initially bummed to divert from our season-long plan to traverse the Pioneers, the Tetons’ deep, stable snowpack quickly fueled our wild ideas.

The skiers of “Girl Crush,” a new movie about an all-female trip to Mt. Moran in Grand Teton National Park, is about dialing back expectations and learning to find fulfillment in time spent with your ski partners and making safe decision.

Unseasonably bitter temperatures greeted our early morning departure across Jackson Lake, across which we settled into camp beneath the dramatic 6,000-foot relief of Mt. Moran. Being my first time skinning five miles across a flat lake with a sled full of gear tethered to my ski harness, I didn’t anticipate just how efficient it’d be to haul loads with no elevation gain. I quickly regretted not bringing more comfort and luxury items—camp boots and hard cheese will come for sure next time!

Our first morning, we woke to a dusting of snow. Embracing what we believed would be the only day of unsettled weather, we indulged in conversations many of us aren’t able to have over breakfast—hearing from Jess, a ski guide, how she balances being a mom, guide, wife and athlete. Seated on sleeping pads that insulated us from the bench of snow we’d carved out next to our snow-packed kitchen table, Nicole told us how her season ski patrolling during the pandemic at Sun Valley Ski Resort went. Mali shared her relief in passing her exams to become a nurse, pondering the balance of nursing and skiing. Mary discussed her struggles to overcome mono while continuing to work as a photographer, videographer and athlete.

As the morning wore on, the snow didn’t let up, nor did the wind. The conditions set the tone for the rest of our trip. Each day we awoke to more snow and winds up high. It’s ironic how all winter we live for power days, then once a spring snowpack takes form, peak bagging, corn skiing and ski mountaineering objectives become far more appealing than face shots.

Begrudgingly, we dialed back our objectives, practiced whiteout navigation and worked as a team to make complicated decisions in equally complicated terrain while the winds howled. Dinner conversations centered around what to ski. Might the weather change? Breakfast would roll around, and the conversations resurfaced. Could we step out today? Snow continued to fall. Wind continued to transport snow. Despite feeling good about the snow underfoot, we had to turn back at times due to overhead hazard as the mountains shed the new snow. Being someone who doesn’t usually feel overly attached to objectives, my disappointment surprised me. Rather than seeking steep and tight lines, we deferred to low-angle terrain with deep stashes of snow.

Jessica Baker enjoys some unexpected powder turns in Grand Teton National Park. [Photo] Mary McIntyre

Conversations continued, revealing different risk tolerances, thought processes and, ultimately, goals for our trip. Backcountry missions are dynamic in nature—dependent on variables like weather, conditions, group dynamics, fitness and skill. We learn to observe and respond accordingly, and on this trip, we didn’t even attempt one major objective. It’s natural to tie goals to objectives, yet we accomplished our goal of coming together, camping in the snow and working together to navigate the mountains, snowpack and weather. Sharing a tent with Jess, someone I look up to, nearly peeing my pants from laughing night after night, reinforced the friendships that are strengthened on adventures like these.

Deciding not to ski what we wanted was much harder than if we had the ingredients to push ourselves the way we had imagined—physically, technically and as a team. We listened to the mountains and to one another, learning immensely through it all, even without sharing a single summit.

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