I fell into the Jackson abyss | AspenTimes.com
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I fell into the Jackson abyss

Alison Berkley

Now I remember why they call it Jackson Hole.They should really call it Jackson Abyss, because it’s so easy to get lost up here in these remote, raw mountains in the farthest reaches of northwestern Wyoming. This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen in so deep I can’t find my way out. I was up here in 1997 on assignment for a ski magazine when I decided I wasn’t leaving. It’s hard to describe the pull this place has on little blonde girls without getting into one of those philosophical, forces-of-nature discussions that’s best conducted under the influence of some mind-altering drug. Let’s just say being drunk, stoned and horny doesn’t even begin to cover it. In addition to the predominantly male, hardcore, pro ski and snowboard community that resides here, there’s also the power of the Tetons. You only have to ride the tram once to understand it. I’ve been on snow since I was 4 years old and I’ve never felt more intimidated by terrain, weather and locals than I am on this mountain. It’s hard to believe they just drop any yahoo off up there, over 4,000 vertical feet from where they started, in the midst of high winds, blowing snow, and massive cliff bands with nothing but a few ropes and orange markers between to delineate safety and certain death. The mountain is so big, so tall, and so ominous, there’s a sense that you could literally fall off the edge and never be seen again. Let’s just say the warning sign at the top of the tram that begins, “This mountain is unlike anything you have skied before” does nothing to calm your nerves.The first time I ever snowboarded here, I got off the tram in a complete whiteout. I literally couldn’t tell the sky from the ground. Vertigo set in, so I kept falling over, unable to orient myself enough to stand up. I worried I might never find my way down or worse, drop into a place I wouldn’t be able to climb out of. The wind died down for a split second, long enough for me to spot a lone tree and point my board toward it, out of the blustering squall on the peak. Once I got out of the storm and into the calm, I felt foolish for how afraid I had been, like a little kid who’s afraid to jump in the deep end.The adrenaline rush that followed was enough to make me forget all my fears, and everything else, for that matter, at least for as long as I plowed through pitch after pitch of untracked powder. The runs went on for so long and were so perfect that I kept going even though my cramping legs and aching lungs begged me to stop.I picked up a paper that very same day and went straight to an apartment that was listed for rent in the classified ads, still dressed in my snowboard clothes. I signed the lease, flew back to California, packed my stuff and drove back a week later.I was what they call a “90-Day Wonder” because I lasted for one short season and went running home with nothing left in my savings account and my tail between my legs, hoping to salvage what was left of my career and maybe consider going to a few AA meetings. Suffice it to say I drank more than my fill and was happy I lived to talk about it.That didn’t keep me from returning, however. And every time I did, there was always an incident. On one trip, I was driving with my friend Matt from Salt Lake City who got us lost trying to take the most “direct” route (never a good idea in Wyoming). We ended up on a gravel national forest road with nothing but us and some wild horses when he went off the road, hit a tree and landed in a ditch. Lucky for us, no one was hurt, and there just happened to be a cowboy driving by in his pickup that was equipped with a winch. He pulled us out of the ditch and somehow managed to get the car started. Even though the tires made this horrible shrill noise every time they scraped against the metal frame, we drove all the way to Jackson anyway. When we got there, Matt asked the mechanic: “Is it the tires or the wheels or the frame?” The mechanic looked at him and said, “Yup.”On another trip, a massive winter storm set in and closed down the airport, Teton Pass and Hoback Canyon, so there was no way in or out for a week. I had to provide my employer at the time with various phone numbers for governmental agencies that could verify that I wasn’t making the whole thing up just to catch a few more powder days.This time was sort of my fault, though I still can’t help but feel there are powders – I mean powers – larger than me at play here. I lost my car keys. They must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere. Under the heavy falling snow (like 20 inches in the last two days, baby!), it was the virtual needle-in-a-haystack scenario.Audis are great cars, but those Germans do not account for mishaps that often occur to little blonde girls in big mountains. A locksmith can’t just roll up and make a new key – one has to be ordered, and it can take weeks. It took three dudes from AAA just to get the door unlocked, and my mom had to FedEx her last key.Here I am, stuck in the Hole, waiting for the powers that be to let me out. But while I’m waiting, I might as well enjoy one last powder day.The Princess really misses all her friends in Aspen. E-mail some good exit strategies to alison@berkleymedia.com


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