I drove through snow over Teton Pass on my way to to Jackson, Wyoming, with visions playing in my head of tight turns in steep sugary chutes. I had been told that it would be a weekend of partying, but I didn’t drive five hours in a mild blizzard over two mountain passes for a hangover.
It had been a huge winter in Jackson, well over 400 inches, and a cold spring storm was forecast. People in Jackson are hedonists, Pleasure Principle junkies who go after the next endorphin high the way a sheepdog chases a tennis ball. Some friends I knew there had promised me a good time, but I had underestimated their celebrations.
For starters, I was underdressed. By the end of the weekend, I would watch a friend of a friend in a giant Cookie Monster mascot snake down a distant bowl like a dot on a Google Map. The lift lines were filled with nuns and penguins, bumblebees and hippies. All I had was a weird wig and some ugly Reusch gloves. When my old friend Maurice saw me in my regular blue Gore-Tex shell, he hissed at me with disdain.
“Nonsense! You’ll wear this,” he said as he threw a swan-white woman’s one-piece at my face. It had purple and fuschia racing stripes, and it fit fine as long as I was standing up. If I sat down, like on a chairlift for instance, the suit sliced into my groin like a piano wire wedgie. But by the time Sunday’s flurries turned into an inch-an-hour dump, I wouldn’t have cared if I was wearing a leather dirndl.
Life in Jackson can look like an escape from reality, especially during Closing Ceremonies. But there are hard truths about living there, namely that each ski season, like all beautiful things, must end. Hazy rules that govern the wildlife corridors in two nearby national parks and the terms of the resort’s US Forest Service lease are inflexible.
Spring at other resorts tends to unfurl in a slow awakening of freeze-thaw cycles, precious corn, and mandatory sunburns. At Grand Targhee, Sun Valley, Tahoe, Mammoth, and countless mountains between the Great Basin and Colorado’s Front Range, the benefits of skiing through April are clear. Live bands are happy to play outdoors. Enjoying your apres al fresco means stripping layers off, not bundling up with your mocha and mittens.
Not so at Jackson, where early April can bring storms and frostbite just as easily as January. And unlike nearby Targhee or Snowbird or Snowbasin, spring in Wyoming’s northwest corner is not a month-long party. Each season finishes abruptly on the first weekend in April, and thousands turn out to observe the annual rites.
Jackson Hole is a massive, intimidating mountain, full of incredibly fun and seriously dangerous terrain. It’s not smart to explore the place solo, so I followed my adopted crew. Some of them started slowing just after noon. After paying $83 for a lift ticket and outfitting myself like Ted Koppel-goes-to-a-Japanese-ice-planet, there was no worse option than standing around at the top of the Sublet lift waiting to find out where this purposeless posse would head next.
I was about to make the unwise choice of skiing alone when I heard a primal scream.
“Aaaaargh! I cannot just stand here! I need to ski! Let’s goo-ooo!!!” Betty yelled. I skated over, shared our common frustration and proceeded to follow this angry young woman and her boyfriend, Fred, as they broke away from the pack. They didn’t say where we were headed, just pointed downhill and waved me to follow. After a few laps, it was clear that we all rode on the same frequency, similar lines, and as long as I could keep up, just about the same speed.
Around 2:30 the storm picked up, our tracks filled in on each new lap, and a good day turned into an epic marathon. As the sky darkened and the lifts shuttered to a close for the last time until November, we headed for the Hobacks, the long way home.
We stopped out there, somewhere halfway down a huge slab of rock and snow at the southern end of the Tetons, and we drank cold beers in awesome silence. When it was time to go, Fred poured some beer on the snow with gravitas, and I followed my new friends, tracing their lines through powder that turned to spongy corn as we lost altitude.
When we finally pulled into the base, the freaks were well into their revelry. Bikers danced with hippies. Dirtbag ski-tuners hosted impromptu raves in sweaty wax rooms, and Cookie Monster bobbed through the throngs.
Monday Morning, with the residue of bacchanal still on me, I struggled to drive back to work. Dropping out of the fog on Teton Pass I saw two moose standing in a misty field, knee-deep in snow. I was truly depressed that winter was ending. By the time I pulled into Driggs, my mind had drifted to summertime in Chile when I realized that Targhee would be open for weeks. Winter only ends when you stop chasing it.