The Truth: Bill Briggs

Bill Briggs on making history, his reputation, and his last run.
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Bill Briggs



BILL BRIGGS MOVED TO JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming, in 1965 to climb the mighty Tetons, but it took him only six years to etch his name in the annals of big-mountain skiing. On June 16, 1971, despite a fused hip, Briggs made the first ski descent of the Grand Teton. The writer, musician, and mountaineer is now in his 39th year as director of the Snow King Resort ski school.

IT SEEMED FEASIBLE that I could ski it, so I told the local radio station what I planned to do and it made really big news. The story went something like, "Local idiot tries to ski the Grand Teton."

GETTING ON MY SKIS at the summit was terribly difficult. What a relief to get into them. Now I'm thinking, this is gonna be fun. Here's my reward.

THERE'S THIS TOTALLY DISORIENTING SOUND like a loud, tinkling, mad rush of noise. You're in the frost feathers and then it's knee-high, and the entire time the snow feels unlike anything you've ever skied.

WITH EACH TURN I COULD FEEL THE WHOLE SLOPE break off below my skis. I'd stop and let it slide by and then make another turn and the process would repeat itself.

THE FATHER OF EXTREME SKIING? No. I'm not. I didn't invent it. I once heard someone say, "Briggs opened the door to anything being possible." That I can accept. I can do that.

USED TO BE JUST MY CAR and (former U.S. Ski Team member) Betty Woolsey's car parked at the top of Teton Pass. I think the surge in backcountry skiing is great. Riding lifts and being on groomed terrain? That was never the objective.

NEVER MISS A CHANCE AT IMMORTALITY. That's an old Bogart line. It was intended to be humorous, but it's one I've tried to follow.

I WANT MY LAST RUN TO BE DOWN MOUNT GLORY, on Teton Pass, in perfect corn snow. And I think I'd like some company. The icing is always the company.

MARCH/APRIL 2006

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