I’ve got Olympic Fever! Up here in Jackson Hole, as the old joke goes, we have two seasons: Winter, and the Fourth of July. The warming climate has subtly altered this once-accurate description. We still enjoy just two seasons, but while Winter has become noticeably shorter, the Fourth of July has extended on both sides and is now known as Road Construction. (For those of you from more temperate climates who are wondering about the two seasons that remain: Spring in Jackson Hole is three days of mud, and Fall lasts about a week.)
In truth, we do have a nice, long summer in this high mountain valley – long enough for our Barker-Ewing boatman to guide more than 200 trips each down the Snake River before low water and early sunsets bring the season to a close. But Winter comes early and it sticks around. Usually we have enough snowfall to start skiing before Thanksgiving, and in many years, spring “crust” skiing is still going strong in late May. These long winters have given many of us locals the chance to excel at winter sports. And with such an abundance of snow and cold, what choice do we have?
I was lucky to be a member of the Jackson Hole Nordic team in the 1970’s. Our training center at Trail Creek Ranch on Teton Pass was owned by Betty Woolsey, a legend in the valley and captain of the first women’s alpine ski team that raced at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany. Her generosity in sharing her ranch with local skiers launched the careers of many Olympians – including biathletes, Nordic skiers and Alpine skiers. (For those who don’t know, Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.) Many more locals became members of U.S. National teams, representing America in non-Olympic years.
Two former Barker-Ewing boatmen enjoyed long careers in skiing. When I first started floating back in 1983, Peter Ashley taught me the ropes. Born and raised in Jackson Hole, Peter was on two national championship teams while skiing for the University of Colorado. In addition to floating for Barker-Ewing, he coached a generation of local skiers (myself included) as Nordic coach for the Jackson Hole Ski Club and National Junior Coach for the U.S. Ski Team. He eventually became the women’s Nordic Head Coach and Director of Coaches Education for the U.S. Ski Team. Peter recently retired as Fisher USA’s Nordic Vice President after 20 years with the company – and I still run into him out on the ski trails.
In the late 1980s, I helped train a boatman who eventually floated over 28,000 miles in his career with Barker-Ewing. In addition to being a talented river guide, Martin Hagen was the first U.S. Junior Biathlon champion, a member of the U.S. Biathlon team for fifteen years, and he competed in three Winter Olympic Games. That’s a lot of staying power, in both river guiding and Biathlon! Martin retired from the river and now works as an artist. It’s a family tradition: Martin’s father, Grant “Tiny” Hagen, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division in WWII, a well-known painter and sculptor, and designed the first Barker-Ewing brochure way back in 1963.
I’m amazed at the level of talent on display at the Winter Olympics in Korea. I’ve watched in awe as France’s Martin Fourcade completed the 15k Individual Biathlon in under 36 minutes. And the Norwegian cross-country team, led by the wildly talented Johannes Klaebo, seems unstoppable. And the US women’s cross-country ski team is among the best in the world. I’m not nearly as fast as those guys and girls, but I’m still skiing more than 40 years after learning the basics from Peter Ashley. And while skiing may not translate directly to floating, it does help me stay in shape and stay outdoors throughout the year. And as hard as it can be to get outside during the Winter – it’s only three degrees out there today! – it can be even harder during Road Construction.