Capturing the golden age with Jackson Hole photographer Wade McKoy

07 Feb 2023

Ski photographer's iconic backcountry images have captivated viewers for 45 years

Winter/Spring 22-23

Written By: Monica Fedrigo | Images: David Bowers & Courtesy Wade McKoy

Anyone who has spent time in Jackson Hole has undoubtedly admired the work of ski photographer Wade McKoy. He’s created iconic images that perfectly capture a golden age of ski culture, photographing classic names in skiing such as Doug Coombs, Pepi Stiegler, and Suzy Chaffee.

Wade arrived in Jackson in 1974 with a college friend, prepared to enjoy the ski-bum lifestyle. Having finished a motorcycle trip through Europe, he muses, “got me into the documentarian frame of mind.” Savings from Wade’s summer job got him to Jackson, and allowed a detour to Glacier National Park and Banff, but Wade was keen to begin working immediately and quickly accepted the first job offered. “When we got the call, we jumped in the 1964 Ford Econoline van and went straight to the Village.” Wade began work at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, digging a ditch for the communications cable at the first Casper chairlift. This job led to meeting lifelong friends and a future business partner, and working at the resort for over a decade as a chairlift operator and on the trail crew. Wade didn’t know how to ski at first, but learned quickly, skiing on 207- and 210-length skis as everyone did at the time. Bob Woodall recruited Wade as a business partner shooting Nastar races at the resort, an endeavor that evolved to include photographing tourists and, more importantly, photographing the resort’s many marketing needs. Eventually the two also started a publishing business with multiple local magazines. Wade also began pursuing a career as a ski photographer, and in 1978 Powder Magazine published his first photo feature and article. Wade warmly recollects the moment of excitement when a friend showed him the latest issue. “I was right under the tram, he walked up with the magazine open to the two-page spread,” he says. “The editor said it would run the following year, so it was a total surprise. I started jumping up and down and shouting for joy. That’s when I knew — this is what I want to be doing.” Thus began Wade’s trajectory to establishing himself as a successful ski photographer. “It took about 10 years to develop a career, then I was traveling around the world for assignments and commercial work, and teaming up with writers like Porter Fox,” Wade recalls. He remembers memorable trips to Peru, China, and Antarctica, but also that what he enjoyed most were the friendships and camaraderie. Wade feels fortunate that he was in the right place at the right time, and able to be one of the early photographers of many now-famed lines in the Jackson Hole backcountry. “It was the end of the ’90s when the backcountry gates opened, and it was all out-of-bounds photography from then on.” Wade comments that the challenges of ski photography were different when he began. One challenge was the weather. “Back then you had to wake up early and look out the window, and the only way to get ahold of each other was landlines,” he jokes. To view photos, lm needed to be mailed to a lab for processing. “Opening the boxes of slides after picking them up at the post office was a big, exciting moment,” he recalls. These days life has slowed in pace, but Wade’s constant love of skiing and Jackson Hole has not diminished. He always looks forward to winter, noting that, “now I have time to ski as much as I want, and it seems like I want to every day.” Wade has recently been perusing his decades of photographic images, working on a future coffee table book. “I love summer, but I love skiing best,” he says. “It’s just the best sport, and the best feeling.”
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