For decades before adventure racing hit the headlines, Jackson Hole has been hosting a four-sport race. “Pole Pedal Paddle combines the things you love to do in winter with the things you love to do in summer,” says Carrie Boynton, executive director of the JH Ski & Snowboard Club. Although calling the fundraising event a “race” really doesn’t do the event justice. “Experience” is more appropriate. The experience entails a 3.9 mile GS course down Rendezvous Mountain at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, a 10k Nordic leg, a 19-some mile road ride, and, finally, a 9-mile paddle down a class II section of the Snake River.
Held on March 29, registration is open until March 26—the PPP was started 39 years ago by former Jackson Hole Ski Corp. marketing director Harry Baxter as a celebration of spring. Ever since, it’s challenged racers and recreationalists alike. There are race, recreational, family, and fun classes as well as individual and team categories. It’s a toss-up as to whether the racers, inspiring-for-their-speed, or the costumed fun classers are the most exciting to watch.
One year, a fun team built a giant glittery stiletto out of who knows what and somehow managed to lash it onto an oversized rubber raft. I don’t know such a craft had ever before—or has since—plied the waters of the mighty Snake River.
While it is the shortest of the race’s four legs, the opening leg, the alpine leg, is perhaps the most difficult. The course screams down 3,500 feet of vertical in a bit over 3 miles. It follows the Women’s World Cup Downhill course. The racing class starts at the top of Rendezvous Bowl; the rec class starts at the top of Thunder lift.
When you arrive at the bottom, your quads are screaming and, rather than rest, you (very) quickly trade alpine boots and skis for Nordic gear. Although if you race as part of team, you can pass the responsibility onto a teammate.) At the end of the Nordic leg, individual racers are still far from being able to rest. They hop on lightweight road bikes, often kitted out with TT bars and Zipp wheels to ride along Highway 22, and then south on U.S. 89 to the South Park boat ramp. The afternoon before, racers left their craft on the riverbank here.
Jumping into a constrained boat cockpit after three leg-intensive sports is difficult. The first time I did the race solo I paddled down the Snake suffering from the worst leg cramps of my entire life.
At the Astoria Boat Ramp, the race does finally end. And the partying begins. It really swings into high gear at the awards ceremony, which is at JHMR just before the ski resort’s annual free concert, part of Jackson Hole Rendezvous (stay tuned for more details on this).
Race registration is available online through March 26. Until March 24, individual registration is $60 and teams are $45 per person. A fun team is $80 (per team). March 25 and 26 registration is $75 for individuals, $60 per team member, and $95 for the fun class.
This video of a recent race sums up the experience well.