Steep and Deep at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

John Johnston
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There’s no mandatory air, but for 20 feet, the line is no more than three feet wide. Maybe four. Today’s skis are certainly shorter than they were 15 years ago, the first time I saw this weakness in a cliff band just south of The Cirque at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. But they’re still not short enough that turning is an option until you’re spit out at the bottom.

It’s not labeled on JHMR’s trail map, but this line has a name: Meet Your Maker. Standing at its lip, I’m a bit nervous. I’m not here to meet my maker.

“Don’t worry,” says Bill Truelove, one of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Steep & Deep camp coaches. “I’m not going to make you ski that now. Maybe in a couple of days though.”

A confession: I’m not an awesome skier. Compared to the general population, I can certainly hold my own, but when it comes to most sports influenced by gravity, Jackson’s population is far from general. Take our Olympians and ski movie stars out of it and we’ve still got amateurs who huck themselves off 50-foot cliffs because it’s Thursday and who ski you-fall-you-die lines seemingly as if it’s like going for a spin on a merry-go-round.

My skis like contact with the snow. Once a line begins to approach 40-degrees in pitch, my heart begins racing, out of nerves, not excitement. Not that that has kept me from skiing them. I signed up for one of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Steep & Deep camps to become better and more confident at skiing steep stuff like Meet Your Maker. My first camp—I’ve since done it twice more; the first was best though—there were 30-some of us from across the country and even around the world. I met a recent college graduate from Mexico City and a retired banker from London.

In its earliest years, Steep & Deep was an informal affair that pretty much involved a group of hard chargers chasing Doug Coombs and friends around the resort. Nowadays, each four-day camp has between 20 and 50 skiers. There are sponsors , video analysis, a welcome reception and closing party, and a curriculum that ensures skiers progress each day while also reinforcing previous lessons.

One thing that hasn’t changed? It’s still hard-charging. Each morning, we’re on the 8:15 tram and ski straight through until 4 with only a single break (lunch). I’ve done JHMR’s Women’s Camps. In those, the day ends when a camper is tired. In all of my Steep & Deeps, even though my and fellow campers’ quads were visibly quaking, no one ever quit until the lifts did.

Steep & Deep Camps aren’t men only, but it’s about 90-percent/10-percent in their favor.

The camp starts with a trip up the tram and each camper – there were about 30 of us my first year – taking a run down the open area to skier’s left of Bivouac Woods. Coaches watched us from below. It amazed me how much the coaches could get from four turns. My group that first time was matched perfectly. We all had different bad habits to break and things we were looking to improve, but we all were looking to ski the same difficulty of terrain and were all comfortable pushing ourselves into unfamiliar places. There were five of us – myself, a 60-year-old radiologist from California, a 40-something retired firefighter from Long Island, a 23-year old from Mexico, and a real estate developer from Seattle.

Each day started with us getting on an early tram. By 4, we had skied close to 25,000 vertical feet.

We hit multiple lines around Toilet Bowl, did some Expert Chutes, Alta Chutes, Lower Faces, and Tower Three. All black diamond or double black diamond runs. We hiked the Headwall and traversed around into the Crags. We practiced smearing our turns in some tightish, soft bumps in the trees beneath the gondola. We listened as Truelove gave us instructions for drills. We fell. One morning, we went out of bounds and did a Rock Springs and a Green River run (after getting a briefing in avalanche basics). We saw a huge fracture line in Four Pines. I got better.

Details: The Mountain Sports School has two more Steep & Deep Camps this winter: February 5-8 and February 26-March 1. Camps are $1,255 including lift tickets and $1,050 without. The camp fee includes daily lunch—which is actually really good and always ends with fresh cookies or brownies—evening social activities, and a decent schwag bag.

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