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Pitch Perfect

No matter how skilled a skier you are, learning to tackle seriously steep terrain takes determination, courage, and, yes, a little bit of ego.

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“Looking great, now try it with your eyes closed!” my coach calls from a half-dozen turns farther down the deceptively steep groomer. The snow above me is littered with cuts and schmears of quick turns and hockey stops, all made in rapid succession to instill confidence in stopping and changing directions quickly. For day one of the aptly named Steep & Deep Camp in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the drill seems somewhat trivial. So, with little consideration and eyes tightly shut, I point my skis downhill. 

Ultimately, it is hubris that humbles me. By the fourth turn my form has all but vanished, and with my eyes still shut out of pride, I shove my wayward skis sideways to halt my descent. From there, basic physics takes over, tossing me from my backseat position onto my chest and into a rapid downhill slide.

Hoots of encouragement greet my ears as I slide to a stop at the skis of my instructor and the other skiers in my group, all of them covered in snow from suffering similar fates mere moments ago.

“Identify your line, keep your head up, and yours eyes open!” shouts our coach, longtime JHMR ski instructor Grant Bishop. “You want to be able to stop and change direction at any time when we get to the real terrain.” 

Lesson one in the books and my ego in check, we turn off the groomer and traverse under a black sign for the Expert Chutes, marking the true beginning of our deep dive into technical terrain and plentiful snow. 

Skiers who want to venture out the gates and into the Jackson Hole backcountry may do so with certain Steep & Deep groups.Photo credit: Jay Goodrich

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort hosts Steep & Deep Camp four times a season, with its legendary terrain providing the perfect playground for skiers to hone their form and develop new skills. The four-day intensive camp pairs small groups of participants together by skill level as well as personal goals. Want to learn how to properly enter Corbet’s Couloir, ski a zipper line down a mogul field, hug tight trees, or drop short cliffs? At Steep & Deep, there is a group for you. 

Each group is led by an expert instructor who helps navigate the enormous and technical terrain and provides tips to better approach a slope and choose a safe line through unknown areas. This is invaluable in a place like Jackson Hole—even for the one local in my group—where cliff bands litter the slopes and the powder stays stashed in tricky areas. Every new zone we explore brings new challenges and more insightful feedback from the instructor, inspiring confidence to try new techniques and line choices. 

The terrain and the pace is challenging, to say the least, and by the end of each day my legs shake as I pull them out of my boots. But even as blood flow returns to my toes, there is more to learn, and we pour over videos from the day’s accomplishments (and failures) to pick apart our form and make goals for the next day. 

By the last day of camp, I’m exhausted, yet I can’t seem to wipe a stupid grin off my face. Standing atop our final line of the camp, the infamous Corbet’s Couloir, I’m almost giddy for my turn, and am spinning through all of the feedback and suggestions from the last week as I watch my fellow skiers vanish one by one over the cornice. With my eyes wide open and my nerves calmed by practice and new knowledge, I drop into something I thought I would never be able to ski. Hands forward, knees bent, fully committed to the slope below, I’m briefly shocked by the speed of my downhill acceleration. A quick, high-impact left turn nearly boots me, but as I was taught, I lean even farther downhill and rocket safely into the open bowl below with only one thought in my head: “Again! Let’s do it again!”

Jackson Hole’s Steep & Deep Camp

  • Where: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
  • When: Jan. 8-11, Jan. 22-25, Feb. 5-8, Feb. 26-March 1, 2019.
  • Cost: Camp with lift access: $1,650; camp only: $1,350
  • More info: 

Originally published in the January/February 2019 Double Issue Print Edition of SKI Magazine. Don’t miss an issue and SUBSCRIBE.