It was dark and late and a glass of whiskey was waiting for us somewhere in Jackson, Wyoming. There was no moonlight, and as we drove the side-streets on the south side of town, I could barely make out the white trails of Snow King. I knew the local ski hill was up there somewhere, its trails looking down on these old ski shacks, the stacks of fire wood, the beat-up vans and every other piece of life that makes a ski town a ski town.
Finally I found my contact, a friend from a former life, a shady character who agreed to be my Jackson guide on the strict condition of complete anonymity in what he called this “silly little blog.” Dr. Felix Gropius, as I’ll call him, welcomed us with a glass of Wyoming Whiskey, a local bourbon distilled in nearby Kirby.
“Are you two ready to be punished tomorrow?” Gropius asked me as he handed me a plastic cup of ice chips and brown booze. Sesko and I looked at each other.
“By Gandolf?” I asked.
“No, by me,” Gropius said with an evil snicker. “You’re a coastal weakling now, your blood is thick and slow, and I plan to embarrass you.”
“Great,” I said. “Then we better get some sleep.”
As I yanked my bags from the Subaru’s tangled mess of ski boots, pots and pans, and rusty weathervanes, the storm’s first small flakes were already falling. I had been to Jackson enough times before, scrambled up enough routes and down plenty of rocky chutes, to know that it would be a big day. And I was worried about keeping up.
The forecast was for anywhere from six inches to a foot of fresh powder, temperatures below zero, and high winds. This, combined with an unusually stable snowpack in the early season, meant we would also be heading out of bounds and hiking into the side country. I sorted through safety gear I hadn’t looked at in nearly two years—beacon, probe, shovel, flat-light lenses, Avalung, powder straps.
“Powder straps?! Bwahahaha!” Gropius pointed and laughed when he saw them. “You sad creature of 80s ski magazines. Wait until they see this on the Tram Line.”
“I use these all the time,” I said, holding the neon straps like a cartoon beggar pulling out his empty pockets. “Ever since that time I wasted an hour looking for a ski on a powder day at Sun Valley, I use them.”
Gropius glared at me. “If you wear powder straps here tomorrow, you won’t be skiing with me.”
I stuffed the neon cords back into my duffel bag, said goodnight to Sesko, and got into my sleeping bag. With Gandolf’s winds picking up outside, I thought about the day ahead of us: tram laps, powder turns and the massive mountain out there in the dark, inviting and taunting me, silent and alive. I thought about the trills and the risks, about taking chances and staying safe, and as the first drips of adrenaline flowed through me, I laid there with my eyes open for the next seven hours.
Editor’s Note: Liftopia travel bloggers Michael Ames and Michael Sesko have just embarked on the road trip of a lifetime. In a mere two weeks, they’ll be hitting up all four Mountain Collective resorts: Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. They’ll be documenting their journey right here on the Liftopia blog in a series called The Mountain Collective Chronicles; from early mornings to late nights, from snowy slopes to ski towns, from meetings with Mother Nature to close encounters of the local kind, follow along each week as bits and pieces of Ames and Sesko’s story are revealed. Want to play a hand in shaping their adventure? Keep an eye on the Liftopia blog, Facebook page & Twitter handle— we’ll be asking YOU to suggest the gnarliest trails, the best places to grab chili cheese fries, and the coolest après bars near each of these four legendary ski areas. Now, without further ado… The Mountain Collective Chronicles! For the first chapter, click here.
About Michael Ames: Michael Ames is a reformed Idaho ski bum. But thanks to Liftopia and the Mountain Collective pass, he recently fell off that wagon. To see his non-ski-related work, visit www.michael-ames.com.
About Mike Sesko: Mike is a sustainable agriculture entrepreneur with a penchant for discount lift tickets. He grew up skiing the icy peaks of southern New England but often hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to get his Western fix. Sesko often dreamed of making these bigger and steeper mountains his home but could not leave his roots behind. After 32 years of New England clam chowder, he is ditching the double agent lifestyle and moving to the Bay Area in search of more fertile ski fields.