For the Love of Mountains
|The Tetons, rising like a sentry wall on the horizon of Jackson Hole, offers skiers a measure of humbling perspective (Nathan Borchelt)|
Dave Simpson, a 36-year-old Jackson resident with soothing eyes and a healthy beard, is typical of most area residents. He came to Jackson for a yearlong internship at the local newspaper to check out the scene and ski as much as he could. Thirteen years later, he's still there, married to a local and working for Basecamp Communications, a PR firm that handles the slope-side Teton Mountain Lodge. (For more information on Teton Mountain Lodge and other Jackson Hole accommodation, click here.) And on the first tram ride of the day, I came to understand why.
"I can't get over the view," I exclaimed, looking out the window as we soared through the low-lying clouds and into the blinding sun. The entire valley below looked as if it had been filled by a giant, downy-white lake. "I sound like a broken record, but this place just blows me away."
"I know," Dave replied. "I've been here 13 years and I still can't get over it."
At the summit, we followed Dave to Corbet's Couloir. It was closed due to icy conditions, and after we ducked under the ropes and inched close to peer over the edge, I understood why: No matter how you enter the run, which that day was nothing but a gutted chasm of ice, you face a 20-foot drop, and then you have to stick your first turn.
"I've only done it once," Dave admitted. "And that was on a serious powder day." He said nothing more, but the look of dismay on his face indicated that once was enough. Throughout the day, when we passed over a few other truly treacherous runs, like Meet Your Maker (another insanely narrow treacherous drop into a rock-studded gully), he'd admit that he'd run them as well, but (again) only once.
Dave wore telemarks, and the crusty conditions made for tricky free-heeled skiing, especially when we strayed off the corduroy. But he was determined to get some turns in on his teles; in two weeks he'd be in Utah for the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer Show and had already made plans to hit the backcountry with a few colleagues. And lucky for us he was on telesfor the first half of the day, we could actually keep up with him.
After lunch (a delicious meal of buffalo chili and more of that Snake River Ale at Cascade Grill House, the restaurant in the lower level of Teton Mountain Lodge) he switched to a pair of alpine skis and schooled me and my father on a series of rigorous blacks like Thunder Bumps (a dense, mid-mountain mogul run that punished my knees).
At the end of the day, after parting ways with Dave, while soothing our savaged muscles in the lodge hot tub, two things were evident: We were out of shape. And we needed fresh snow.
On our third day we got it, a two-inch dusting that lasted until just after noon, covering the mountain in a thin carpet of fresh white on the otherwise crusty surface. Again we stuck to the north-facing slopes, save for those times when our ambition inadvertently guided us to the choppier sections. By midday, my legs were rubber, my skis unresponsive. My father, who'd out-skied me the entire time, fared better, but we were weakening. Two city slickers done in by the Rockies, yet again.
As we struggled toward the Casper Lift Restaurant for some much-needed sustenance, something Dave said the day before echoed with sage-like wisdom in my spinning head: "The best way to get in shape for skiing is to ski."
Truer words have seldom been spoken, and Jackson Hole may be the best place to follow that advice. Three days of self-inflected on-piste punishment had established a regimen that left me and my father surprisingly strong and able on the fourth day. Alas, it was our last. But by the end of that final day, we felt as if we could've skied for weeks on end, and Jackson Hole is the kind of fantasyland where you can ski for a month non-stop and seldom retrace your tracksunless of course you're anxious to repeat the last run.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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