A Backcountry Love Triangle: Why I Left My Heart In Jackson Hole, WY

Words by Jill Young. Photos by David Stubbs.

Imagine yourself in an old western romance film. Picturesque ranches are surrounded by the massive Tetons; boardwalks that lead to cowboy bars and herds of elk roaming fields are blanketed in white. You’re swept off your feet by a dark & mysterious cowboy who takes you off into the sunset only to never pay income tax again. Call me a hopeless romantic: it’s hard not to fall in love with Jackson Hole.

I’m on my way to this dreamy town to take a chance on a relationship I have considered, but shied away from for so long: ski mountaineering. I have long been in love with powder, but he is not always easy to find. Not answering my texts for weeks on end and getting stolen by all of the other skiers on the hunt for easy access turns. I need to find new ways to track him down, and I’ve heard having some mountaineering skills can help. I may sound like one of those crazy girls, but it’s not me, it’s him.

As is the dating game, getting into Jackson Hole can be a little bit rocky. With storm season in full effect I step off the plane with a slight wobble in my step and my stomach. Trying to find the horizon to steady myself results in a slight blinding by a sheet of white – it is impossible to tell where the land meets the sky. It seems that powder might have followed me here. He gets a bit jealous.

I meet up with our matchmaker, Brenton from EXUM Guides, for a bit of liquid confidence and a recap of what to expect over the next couple of days. It turns out I can relax. Powder showed up in full force, as first loves do, and the team has made the executive decision that the turns are going to be too deep to be fiddling around with ropes. I’m not mad.

Harnesses, crampons and ice axes left at home, we head out to Grand Teton National Park the next day for a date with the some of the best low angle, blower powder I have ever gotten to know. For a date location, the Park is ideal for easy access, high quality touring, and has plenty of safe options for when the avy danger is high.

Day two rolls around and it’s time to give mountaineering a second chance – lucky for him my legs are tired. EXUM is all about taking things slow – not so slow that you feel like you’re never going to get anywhere, but slow enough that you can really get to know your date – in this case, tying knots, rappelling with your skis on, skiing on belay and other basic ski mountaineering skills. Snow King resort sits conveniently on the edge of Jackson and is where EXUM takes first daters with ski mountaineering. It’s a great place to get comfortable with the lingo, the gear and ease into your new relationship. By the end of the day, I feel like the sparks are flying. This guy isn’t so scary after all.

Now, I like to give everything a solid effort. But for some reason in Jackson this guy powder just would not leave me alone. As I ease myself into the saddle bar stool at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar sipping on my après beer (is it still après if it’s at midnight?), I see him walk past the window, over and over again. He’s on my mind. Thankfully, EXUM is flexible and understands that sometimes you just can’t fight true love (or that avalanche danger is too high and the powder is too good to mess around).

Like the stand up guy he is, powder wins my heart back the next day. Guided to dreamlike chutes, “somewhere in the Tetons” as EXUM describes, we are connecting at a waist deep level under the energy of the Grand Teton. The skiing & mountaineering potential in the area is endless, and EXUM moves around the terrain safely, always willing to share tips and stories to give their guests a world class experience.

My extended date with Jackson’s powder was unforgettable, but, we all know he can be a bit flakey…  which keeps me curious for ski mountaineering, and thanks to Exum I’m ready for a second date.

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EXUM Guides offers a range of ski mountaineering courses from Intro to Advanced in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The intention isn’t to pull you away from your true love, but just to make you be more competent and comfortable having the skills to access new, and challenging terrain when you need to spice things up.