March 15, 2020. That date was the line in the sand for many. That was the day, with 23 inches of new snow on the ground and a town full of spring break visitors, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort made the decision to stop spinning the lifts for the season. Or, for some, it was March 18 — the day the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Teton County. For others it was earlier — or later — depending on perspective and circumstance, but we all have a memory of when it became evident that the virus was real and that it was really here.
Those first few weeks were uncertain and scary. Businesses were closing and people were losing their jobs. Questions around prevention bloomed: Did masks help? Should we stay at home? Is it three feet of distance or six? Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials were issued almost daily. There was a sense of nervous anticipation in the community — what will happen next?
Slowly, like the sun in Aslan’s Narnia, the people of Jackson Hole began to find a new pace. Resilience and creativity surfaced, and today, the fruit of that resourcefulness is still visible. It’s what you might call Mountain Town Ingenuity.
But what really is Mountain Town Ingenuity? Long ago, I was introduced to the concept of river guide ingenuity, or RGI. It refers to a guide’s ability to create a solution (or opportunity) using only what’s currently available — often in a wild and remote setting. Mountain Town Ingenuity is much the same thing.
But what factors allow for Mountain Town Ingenuity? Looking around town as the pandemic and its restrictions progressed, it was easy to see the key ingredients — a sense of humor, community, grit, confidence, and lastly (and maybe most importantly), acceptance. And just like that, the door to ingenuity was open.
And once that door was open, the people of this community charged through it.
Jackson’s legendary philanthropic spirit’s response was swift. The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole established the Community Emergency Response Fund and raised 2.5 million dollars in its first month. Local companies like Rob Kingwill’s AVALON7 (page 34) pivoted to produce face masks. A new nonprofit formed to ensure access to testing.
What also stood out were the more personal and organic examples of ingenuity. The nightly 8 p.m. “support front-line employees” howl is a great example. It was goose bump inspiring. Knit on Pearl delivering yarn and patterns to Legacy Lodge residents is another; as is local comedian and author Andrew Munz’s wonderfully distracting Instagram persona “Your Girl Catherine” (page 52).
A local resident remodeled a spare room and launched her self-identified “crafting habit” into a long-envisioned small business, two chefs forced to close their restaurants collaborated to create Provisions, a private catering service (page 70), and local musicians produced the first ever Spaced Out Summer Sessions.
Meanwhile, across the county, local teachers shifted on a dime to create lesson plans that could be taught online (page 46) and high school seniors graduated in a parking lot (in what ended up being an overwhelmingly celebratory event).
Just like a river guide faced with limited options in a remote setting, the people of Jackson Hole and the Tetons are showing their ingenuity by rising up, finding new opportunities, and creating solutions.
And that, is what Mountain Town Ingenuity is all about.