When I first moved to the mountains from the Midwest 12 years ago — in my mid-20s with about three days on a ski hill under my belt, ever — I was enamored with resort culture.
As many of us do in the beginning, I worked an intro-level job at the base of the mountain, getting on the chairlift daily until I could finally rip down (almost) anything on a snowboard.
As the years went by, my ski pass didn’t accumulate quite the same amount of worn-out wear. I had gotten a better job in journalism, which eventually came with the more standard workweek, and the allure wasn’t as strong as the slopes started to feel more crowded. I had, however, found a new passion: cross-country skiing in the backcountry with my Chesapeake Bay retriever. There is something so serene, so calming and exhilarating all at the same time, clicking into a pair of skis with perhaps a friend or two and our four-legged companions for company. Surrounded by aspens or open space, reveling in comfortable shared silence with only the sound of sliding skis and canine breath to guide us.
Like Nordic coach Luna Wasson says, “It’s a very individual outing that you can make entirely your own thing.”
Cross-country skiing is my backcountry jam. But the Tetons offer such an abundance of opportunities to stray from the resort — from fun traditions like cutting your own Christmas tree or ice skating on Jackson Lake to the more extreme sports, such as big mountain freestyle or heli-skiing with local guides like John Wauters, and everything in between.
These mountains have inspired and propelled a daring few to accomplish incredible feats, starting with the early mountaineering pioneers Glenn Exum and Paul Petzolat, to present-day athletes like big mountain freeskier Jessica Baker and Wyoming-raised pro backcountry snowboarder Mark Carter. An intense love and awe for the wilderness has led some to pursue professions that allow them to spend most of their waking hours in the backcountry, such as award-winning filmmaker Mark Fisher, photographer Wade McKoy, and longtime mountain guide and ski patroller, David Bowers. And, following in the footsteps of Warren Miller, the Jones brothers and Teton Gravity Research have had a profound influence on the culture of backcountry snowsports, leading the next generation of athletes to dream and explore beyond the slopes. There are so many dedicated and accomplished backcountry enthusiasts here, it was easy to fill the pages for this winter’s theme: The Backcountry Culture of Jackson Hole.
As American culture shifts from desiring possessions to craving experiences, driven in higher numbers into the outdoors by the pandemic, areas in the backcountry are seeing more traffic. Luckily, a vast majority of Jackson Hole is protected from development, and we should feel grateful to those who help protect open space. We should thank the people who selflessly work to protect us, like the volunteers at Teton County Search & Rescue, or educate us, like the folks at Teton Backcountry Alliance. Rather than grumble, we should teach; rather than feel covetous over “our’’ space, we should feel thankful that more of our society is learning to love and protect the backcountry and pass that love on to their children. As long as we have respect for the environment, and each other, we can all enjoy this stunning area we call home.
All of the people and organizations mentioned in this editor’s note are featured in the JHStyle Magazine: Winter/Spring 22-23. Look for the magazine on stands in early December, or check out the e-edition here.