There’s 20-plus inches of fresh snow at [R191R,Jackson Hole Mountain Resort] and I’m following one of the founders of the legendary JHMR Air Force through it. We plummet down Rendezvous Bowl and cruise the flats at the bottom. I pull up at the lip of Cheyenne Bowl, my smile as big as the open terrain below.
It’s only the first run of the first day and already JHMR’s Steep & Deep camp is blowing my mind.
For years I’ve been curious about the camp, which was started in the mid 1990s by the late Doug Coombs. This season I finally enrolled. For 14 years I’ve been demonstrating varying levels of grace and skill—never approaching confidently proficient—getting myself down the resort’s steeps. It was time to seek professional help.
Skiing Jackson's steep crags. Photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Several dozen Steep & Deep campers are perched atop Cheyenne Bowl alongside me. The tips of our skis hang out into thin air. Cheyenne Bowl is far from one of JHMR’s steepest runs. It’s a good pitch to gauge everyone’s level though. The camp’s nine instructors wait at the bottom, watch each of us descend, and separate us into compatible groups of four or five. I’m put in a middle group with four others, a 40-something retired firefighter from Long Island, a 60-year-old radiologist from California, a 23-year-old recent college grad from Mexico and a real estate developer from Seattle. We get Bill Truelove as our coach. This is his second Steep & Deep camp but he’s been teaching at JHMR’s Mountain Sports School for six years and is going for his PSIA level three certification this year.
Camp is on!
The various groups disperse from the bottom of Cheyenne Bowl. Our group heads for Thunder Chair. Starting camp, I’m worried about a few things: making an idiot out of myself, being the weakest in my group, being the strongest in my group and standing around listening to a coach spew rather than skiing, to name just a few.
It takes only a couple of hours to realize my worries are moot. I don’t know how the camp instructors did it watching each of us for only a few turns, but we are a perfectly-matched group. Each of us have very different skiing styles and bad habits—one of us is all over the place but aggressive, another is hesitant but has good form, I’m a backseat skier but have the quad strength to make it work (usually)—but we all come to the bottom at pretty much the same time and are capable of skiing and wanting to ski the same difficulty of terrain.
Snow falls heavily as the gondola takes Steep and Deep students to their next test. Photo by Tristan Greszko. Courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Bill’s ability to give each of us feedback that addresses our own issues is even more amazing. As is his ability to explain the same thing in as many different ways as it takes for each of us to finally get it and doing this explaining in short bursts that don’t really impinge on our quantity of skiing.
Thanks to learning and practicing extension turns, I feel like a different skier at the end of the day. And my quads don’t hurt! Could Bill have gotten me out of the backseat?
Total vert for the day: 25,400
Having spent most of yesterday skiing open bowls, learning to check our speed, today we head into chutes and couloirs. Snow is still falling—hard—so it’s both steep and DEEP. At the top of the tram, it’s also a bit vertigo-inducing. Bill gives us some pointers for skiing terrain you can’t really see. It seems to boil down to, “Be ready for anything.” I guess not all ski technique is rocket science.
A steep and deep instructor looks on as a skeir begins his descent. Photo by Tristan Greszko. Courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Out of Rendezvous Bowl, we can’t see and we take full advantage of that fact. Tower Three, Central Chute, Expert Chutes, Mushroom Chutes and the Alta Chutes—we hit them all. In the afternoon, we go back and re-ski several of them with the camp’s videographer taping us. And then we head for the cramped, locker-room-smelling former ski patrol office in the basement of the gondola to watch. For me, it is equally enlightening and embarrassing. For each bad habit Bill calls out, he finds something we’ve improved at. I’m still picking up my ski to turn more than I’d like, but I’m also leaning forward more often than not.
It’s another day of skiing until the lifts close. Famished and fried, we head to the room we’ve been eating lunch in all week. One of the resort’s backcountry guides does a slideshow on avalanche safety while we devour free pizza and beer.
Total vert for the day: 23,450
I’m starting to get used to this early tram thing—we catch the 8:36 a.m. tram every morning. This morning for the first time it’s calm and sunny at the top. Still, we head into Corbet’s Cabin. Before we ski into the resort’s backcountry we need an avalanche briefing. Inside, we meet legendary Alaskan heli-guide, and our guide for the morning, Theo Meiners.
Sitting around a polished oak table, Meiners stresses the seriousness of the backcountry, especially considering the feet of new snow we’ve gotten the past several days. We’ve all been outfitted with avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes.
And then we’re off, heading first into an area called Four Pines and then, after skiing back into the resort’s boundaries at the bottom and catching another tram, a run in the canyon just to the south of Four Pines, called Green River. Getting to Green River requires that we take our skis off and do a short bit of boot packing.
A regular backcountry skier, I’m not impressed with the snow—it’s pretty wind slabbed for both runs—but for the others in my group, this is their first backcountry experience in completely untracked snow and they are pumped. Even about the boot packing.
This is the one night the camp doesn’t have an activity planned for. Thank goodness. I’m in bed by 9 p.m.
Total vert for the day: 21,742
Graduation Day. Corbet’s Couloir is supposed to be the camp’s graduation exercise. I’ve actually skied it before, albeit not in any sort of amazing—or even half-amazing—style. Still, I’ve been dreading it all week. Even with the new snow, it’s kind of bare. There’s a rock in the center that I had never noticed before.
When we peered into it yesterday, I could tell I wasn’t the only one with hesitations. But I knew if others in my group did it, I would want to as well, even if my body woke up this morning feeling like it had been hit by a truck. It can’t be good when everything hurts before you launch yourself into Corbet’s mandatory-air entrance.
The very sore Steep & Deep campers show some smiles on graduation day. Photo Courtesy of Dina Mishev
I have never been so happy to see a closed sign as I was to see the one at the top of Corbet’s when we go to look at it again today.
There’s no doubt I’m a different skier than I was four days ago. I’m also a much more tired skier than I think I’ve ever been. Four days of bell-to-bell skiing on the steepest terrain JHMR has can do that to you.
Total vert for the day: 28,071
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