Honoring the Life of an Extreme Skier: The Coombs Classic

Doug Coombs in La Grave
Doug Coombs in La Grave
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“When Doug Coombs died, it really shook us up as a company,” says Tom Fritz, VP of marketing, Marmot.  “He wasn’t just a sponsored athlete, but also a good friend to many of us. When we were done being shaken up, we started thinking about how we might keep Doug’s legacy alive.”

Doug & David, Courtesy of Emily Coombs
Doug & David, Courtesy of Emily Coombs

The fifth annual Marmot Coombs Classic will be held Sunday, March 30, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort .

“Doug was a competitive guy, but at the same time he was all about fun,” Fritz says. “So we made the event a ‘classic’ and not a race.” Still, even the less challenging option of the event’s two route options requires the ability to handle off-piste terrain. After all Coombs was a two-time (1991, 1993) World Extreme Skiing Champion. Perhaps even more impressive, he was one of the stunt skiers, the one who skied the frozen waterfall, in that wonderfully campy movie Aspen Extreme.

Skiing in Teton Bridger National Forest
Skiing in Teton Bridger National Forest John Johnston

The Coombs Classic challenges participants; about 300-350 people have done it each of the prior four years, to complete as many laps on designated routes as they can have fun doing. There are no prizes other than the raffle prizes for which every participant is eligible. Everyone gets a commemorative patch. “There are regulars who do it every year and now have quite the collection of patches,” Fritz says. “We use the same main image every year, but change the year and color.”

The images used on the patch and event posts are iconic moments of Coombs' ski adventures. It is not unusual, at least when scouring images to see Coombs making a graceful turn with a huge smile on his face.

“All of us who knew him, in large part it was his big-ass smile that first made him approachable,” Fritz says. “Going by his resume, he could have been an intimidating guy, but that smile was the first indication that that wasn’t the case at all.”

Doug and David, Courtesy of Emily Coombs
Doug and David, Courtesy of Emily Coombs

Fritz says he once got a letter from Coombs, who was one of the founders of Valdez Heli Ski Guides , accompanying a pair of Marmot’s Ultimate Ski Gloves.  “The gloves were pretty cut up, but still functional,” Fritz says. “The note said something about how awesome the glove was because it had survived 65 days of loading skis onto helicopters. Throughout the note, Coombs had inserted not just smiley faces, but moon faces and all of these cute little illustrations. In some cases, he had just drawn some random faces and put eyeballs and smiles on them.”

Fritz adds, “Here’s the burly-ass extreme skier, with a heart of gold, and he's confident enough that he’d do all of these funny little faces.”

Courtesy of Emily Coombs
Courtesy of Emily Coombs

Fritz so loved Coombs' letter and illustrations that he asked Coombs if he could replicate it. The whole thing, exactly as Doug had sent it, was turned into a point of sale display for the gloves and placed in retail shops across the country.

When Coombs helped Marmot design its very first ski pack they wanted to name it the Coombs pack. Doug insisted it be called La Meije, the main peak immediately above La Grave, France. Doug and wife Emily spent winters there and ski guided in La Grave after Jackson Hole Ski Corp. banned Doug for skiing out of bounds in the early 1990s. “He’d never talk himself up at all,” Fritz says.

Doug Coombs in La Grave, Courtesy of Emily Coombs
Doug Coombs in La Grave, Courtesy of Emily Coombs

While Coombs didn’t want a pack named after him, he’d probably find it pretty funny there’s now a run named after him at the resort he was once banned from. The Coombs Headwall is one of the two runs Coombs Classic participants can do. The other is Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

The Coombs Headwall is the more challenging route, requiring a 10- to 20-minute hike up Pepi’s Bench from the Cirque to the top of the Headwall. Mr. Toad’s follows the Casper Traverse from near the top of the Bridger Gondola. It heads north into Casper Bowl.

Participants do laps between 9:30 and 1:30. From 3 to 5, there’s a party with music by the Chanman Roots Band on the deck at Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Café, immediately behind the tram. “Interspersed with the music and partying is usually some talk about Doug,” Fritz says. “This year we’re going to be talking about The Doug Coombs Foundation too.” The Doug Coombs Foundation provides the opportunity for children from low socio-economic families to alpine ski.

The Coombs Classic
The Coombs Classic

Details

8:30am—1:00pm Register

Head for the Marmot tent between the tram and the gondola. Pick your route and get your patch. Registrants get a raffle ticket for every lap you do, up to five.

9:30am—1:30pm

Ski Do your chosen route as many times as you feel like.
3:00pm—5:00pm

Party Music, raffles, and friends on the deck of Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Café.

The Doug Coombs Foundation
The Doug Coombs Foundation

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