Seventy years in the making, the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club embraces the future of snow riding
Jeff Moran is director of the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club’s freeride program. It’s representative of the new directions the organization is taking—snowboarding, mountain biking, and skateboarding are other avenues.
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Pete Karns was one of the first Olympians to come out of the Jackson Hole Ski Club. Karns, who raced biathlon—that somewhat esoteric winter sport coupling cross-country skiing and target shooting—might have trouble recognizing his old organization these days.
As a freshman in high school in 1957 when he started with the club, Karns would strap on his skis and schuss a downhill training course under the supervision of coach Bill Ashley, then the club’s sole coach. Ashley trained a couple of dozen athletes at most, including Karns and his teammates.
“At first I was a downhill skier,” says Karns, now sixty-four. As he matured, he took on cross-country, slalom, and jumping. “In high school, the boys did all events. Some weekends we’d have downhill alpine races. Some weekends cross-country or jumping. We’d have four races in two days. I always liked doing all events,” he says, recalling his developmental years that led to a berth on the U.S. biathlon squad at the XI Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, in 1972.
If Karns were to hop in a ski club team van today and head for a weekend meet in, say, Park City, he’d have to recalibrate at the parking lot. To begin, the seventy-one-year-old club is now the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club, and nobody participates in “all events.” If Karns traveled with kids in the freeride program, he’d likely need the “Tricktionary,” published by a snowboard magazine, to comprehend what the others were talking about. Whether the conversation turned to triple corker aerial maneuvers or terrain park features with serious Wu-tang, Karns would be swimming upstream in a river of words that have been flowing only for the past decade or so—a vocabulary that reveals how different some aspects of the club, and of winter sports, have become.
If Karns wished to be educated during his four-hour ride to the Utah mountains, he could turn to coach Jeff Moran, the thirty-three-year-old director of the club’s freeride program who oversees snowboarding and terrain-park, mountain, and halfpipe freeride skiing. For those unfamiliar with snowboarding—generally, those old enough to have their names listed in the Jackson Hole phone book—Moran has a three-inch-high flexible figure affixed to a miniature snowboard that he can twist and twirl in the air as he names various maneuvers and explains them. If you were to run through the Tricktionary with him, he’d start with the Mute Grab: “front hand on front edge behind your first foot.” Then would come the Method: “back hand on front edge in front of your back foot.”
These moves, of course, are performed while flying through the air and strapped to a snowboard—either regularly (left foot forward) or goofy footed. The elementary moves, and terms, grow from the casual although structured worlds of surfing and skateboarding, the grab likely evolving from the need for skateboarders to somehow keep their board in contact with their sneakers while performing tricks in the air. Except for boardercross—the Chinese Downhill of snowboarding, where a number of racers set off on a course all at once—events aren’t measured by the stopwatch.
“To try and put in a structured, timed event doesn’t fit into most peoples’ idea of the sport,” Moran says.
Whether it’s a terrain-park run, a trip back and forth and down the halfpipe, or a freestyle event in which competitors ride down a cliff-studded slope picking their own lines and jumps, freeriding is judged on often unquantifiable parameters. Save for “amplitude,” an MC’s importance-infusing phrasing for the height of a jump or move, judges mark on “self-expression,” Moran says (not unlike figure skating or synchronized swimming). Of course, there’s the number of rotations or flips, too. Largely, however, “It’s more of a moving art form,” he says; “how well you’re able to do a particular trick and make it look good. They don’t want to see kids just hucking off a jump [without] command.”