Rebellious Progression

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a history of being a bit of a rebellious outsider, one that everyone wants to high five, explore, and attempt to tame.

Words like steep, wild west, rugged, and extreme, define Jackson Hole and its old western cowboy persona.

The name Jackson Hole immediately brings to mind words like steep, wild west, rugged, and extreme, and there may be no other town and ski area that still capture the persona of an old western cowboy. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a history of being a bit of a rebellious outsider, one that everyone wants to high five, explore, and attempt to tame. 

The JHMR opened back in 1965 as Après Vous Mountain, with the original tram carrying 52 skiers to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Roughly 15 years later a group known by the name of the Jackson Hole Air Force was beginning to take shape. The Air Force was initially no more than a name to indicate a group of skiers who were good at what they did. As more adventure seekers began to descend on Jackson, the Air Force members - with founding fathers Captain Benny Wilson and Howie Henderson - began heading outside ski-area boundaries more regularly in pursuit of fresh tracks, powder, and steeps. The sole purpose of the group was skiing and accessing new and wild terrain. The number of members began to grow, and after many ceremonial offerings of the JHAF patch at the bar or in the tram line, patrollers caught wind of the rebel group. As a tiff grew between the JHAF and patrol, the stigma of “rope ducking, patrol-provoking alpine outlaws” followed their tracks. As the JHAF needingly began to be more stealth in their missions, they accepted the motto “Swift, Silent, Deep – 1st Tracks OB.” The motto would become synonymous with the JHAF and stories of the group were passed and whispered on chairlifts and in the iconic Jackson tram. And beyond JHMR’s founder, Paul McCollister, who saw enough in the terrain to take a chance, the actions of the Jackson Hole Air Force were falling right in line with the cowboy mentality of Jackson.

Chris Wellhausen/Natural Selection Tour/Red Bull Content Pool

"...the inner cowboy again began to rise up with Jackson’s “we do things our way” mentality."

Rider: Austen Sweetin | Photo: Dean Blotto Gray/Natural Selection Tour/Red Bull Content Pool

As the Air Force opened the doors to JHMR’s backyard, the ski and snowboard world caught wind of the unmatched terrain and Jackson quickly became a “prove yourself” destination. Even within bounds it is some of the steepest terrain in the U.S. and once you pass through the gates into the backcountry, everything you thought you knew is right out the door. And with rugged terrain easily accessible, the inner cowboy again began to rise up with Jackson’s “we do things our way” mentality.

Born, raised, and continuing to call Jackson home without so much as a blink of an eye, Travis Rice brought a true rider’s contest back to JHMR. Rice, who is arguably one of the best and certainly most influential snowboarders ever, had previously given the contest circuit a go and medalled at the X-Games and in countless big air events. Rice no doubt found his calling in the backcountry and in 2012 founded the Red Bull Supernatural in Nelson, British Columbia. And years later and after the release of Art of Flight, the Fourth Phase, and taking home first place two consecutive years at the Freeride World Tour in Hakuba, Japan, Rice brought his friends home to Jackson for the Natural Selection Contest. Working hand in hand with riders from around the world and JHMR, Rice took the best of Jackson’s natural features and created an event that was for riders and judged by riders. JHMR opened its doors to Rice and creatives to contrive a contest unlike any other. Natural Selection was about the progression of the backcountry adventure and getting back to the soul of snowboarding on natural and out of bounds terrain, and most importantly, in Jackson’s backyard. Ultimately, the Natural Selection Tour’s mission is to inspire people to forge a deeper relationship with the outdoors. JHMR is the first stop of three, the others being Baldface Valhalla in B.C. and Tordillo in Alaska and each stop comes with a 7-day buffer built in to provide the absolute best conditions for the riders and ample powder refills. The Natural Selection Series, while offering a very chill and backcountry experience, is the mono e mono battle eventually crowning both a male and female victor, voted and scored by known riders of yesteryear. The series is something new and challenging the monopoly that the X-Games and the Dew Tour have established over the last decade. And it should go without saying that Rice has stumbled on something truly unique and that only JHMR would undoubtedly promote and back.

And while Rice and the Natural Selection Series has gained traction with some big sponsors and multiple stops, JHMR was two steps ahead when the Kings and Queens of Corbet’s went full send. 2021 marked the fourth year of the event of skiers and snowboarders launching themselves off Rendezvous Mountain into the famous Corbet’s Couloir. Again, Jackson with the help of Red Bull, recognized an opportunity to use natural terrain that can only be found on JHMR, mixed with one of the “prove yourself” features to create an event focussed on progression with the understanding that the industry is heading back to the heart of skiing/snowboarding and hot-dogging off what’s naturally provided. The Kings and Queens contest, again, was centered around the progression of the sport, rebellious in concept, and excitedly different from other circulating contests.

Paul McCollister saw something special when he looked up at the 10,450 ft face of Rendezvous Mountain and after selling to the Kemmerer Family in 1992, the cowboy mentality and culture has stayed true to JHMR. Skiers, snowboarders, and adventurers will always flock to the area because of the immediate access to the outdoors only found in and around Jackson. And in addition to redefining what we’ve all come to expect from a ski/snowboard event, JHMR has continued to stand tough and stayed as close to an independent mountain as the industry and culture allows. Similar to what the JHAF was dealing with, JHMR continues to hold strong and prolong the sense of purity synonymous with JHMR, hopeful to avoid overcrowded slopes and potential for overzealous folks heading to the backcountry. 

While JHMR’s resilience to distance itself seems steadfast, the resort has formed unique and beneficial partnerships with Ikon and Mountain Collective passes. The passes offer a joint effort of resorts across the country and world, offering the chance to ski some of the most sought after terrain. JHMR and the other resorts recognize the fight is all about strength in numbers and confidence in respective terrain to continue to draw the right crowds, that appreciate the culture and community that support the resorts. 

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is still very much considered to be part of the wild west. Sure, there are some posh landmarks within city limits, but the heart of Jackson Hole and JHMR remains true to that of the cowboys that rode in centuries ago. The spirit of Jackson continues to run free and the local and world renowned JHMR is right in tow. 

It’s not so much that Jackson is rebellious, the resort and community simply hold true to their heart and understand the importance of progression while supporting the adventurous and often extreme culture that gets in the tram line morning after morning. 

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