Howard “Hollywood” Henderson, 1958-2011

Heart attack claims co-founder of Jackson Hole Air Force

Photo: Wade McKoy/

Photo: Wade McKoy/

(Ed’s note: This story has been updated to include more information about Howie’s daughters and firm plans for a memorial service—Sunday at 11 a.m. in Teton Village.)

By Matt Hansen

Unless you are a Swift.Silent.Deep. fan or a Jackson Hole local, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Howie “Hollywood” Henderson. Because to most people outside of this corner of Wyoming, Howie was just one of those older guys you see in the lift line that doesn’t attract much attention beyond his 6-foot-2 frame. You might think he’s just a linebacker-built man probably past his prime. A guy with bad knees out for a blue square and a burger.

And that assessment would be terribly wrong. Howie, who died of a heart attack Saturday night at the age of 53, was just the opposite.

This was a guy who would take out skiers half his age and pummel them into submission. A pioneer of out-of-bounds skiing at Jackson and co-founder of the Jackson Hole Air Force, Howie was such a part of Jackson ski culture that he has a run named after him—the Howie Chute. There is an entire category of skiing these days called “sidecountry” that wouldn’t be jack without Howie.

Howie Henderson sticking S & S Couloir at Jackson. Photo: Wade McKoy/

Howie Henderson sticking S & S Couloir at Jackson. Photo: Wade McKoy/

Howie was so strong that after Jackson Hole closed for the season, on April 3, he skinned up 4,000 vertical feet to ski his beloved Granite Canyon nearly every weekend, often by himself. “He was a solid, clean skier,” says fellow Air Forcer Paul Huser. “And he went to Granite Canyon religiously.”

He was so in love with the Jackson Hole ski area that in the summer of 2006 he hiked it 133 times, staking claim as Master of the Mountain. This season, he hiked it 75 times, and had summitted the day before he died.

The truth is that if you ever tried to snake a few powder lines under a rope, or if you ever thought about it but didn’t have the balls to go through with it, you can thank Howie for being that guy to make it happen. For being that guy to lead the charge. For being that guy who would go no matter what. Though a Jackson skier, his influence stretches far and wide.

“Howie was one of the most important catalysts in the history of Jackson Hole,” says Rick Armstrong, who moved to the valley in 1989 and sought to be part of Howie’s Air Force. “He was a no-BS, no-compromise powder skier. He encouraged and welcomed all who dared to follow. He was a legend in Granite Canyon, doing multiple laps daily. Everyone who goes through a backcountry gate anywhere has him to thank. A true legend.”

Henderson moved to Jackson from Michigan as a med student more than 30 years ago. In the 2009 film Swift.Silent.Deep., which chronicles the rise of the Jackson Hole Air Force, Henderson says, “I went to college, was going to be a doctor, and I go into my old man’s office and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to be a doctor, I’m going to be a ski bum. You got a problem with that, or what?’ And he said, ‘Not if you do it in Jackson Hole.’”

As a way to make a living on the hill, he started Teton Video, where he’d film tourists skiing and then edit their own ski video. Soon enough, he started pointing his camera at his friends like Benny Wilson, Tom Bartlett, Jon Hunt and Doug Coombs skiing Jackson’s legendary terrain and powder. As Henderson, who became known as “Hollywood,” explains in Swift.Silent.Deep., this is how the Air Force took shape, as the skiers continually tried to go bigger than each other. Eventually, the Air Force’s rebellious attack beyond the ropes led to the resort opening its backcountry gates in 1999, a move that is widely regarded as one of the most important policy decisions in skiing over the past few decades.

Trailer: Swift.Silent.Deep

In 1998, Henderson started his own construction firm, and this past year was recently engaged to his girlfriend, Abigail Moore. He has two daughters, Garnet and Addie, from a previous marriage. Garnet, 20, is a junior at Columbia University studying dance and English literature, and Addie, 16, is a junior at Jackson Hole High School. “They were everything to him,” says Abigail. “They were the house surrounding his life.”

Wilson wrote of Henderson on his Facebook page: “Last night Howie Hollywood Henderson passed away and a huge hole opened up in the night sky. We will all remember him for every reason in the book but once again we are reminded that our time here on earth is short and sweet. Our hearts soar out to friends and family… (sic) so get out there today and do something… climb , ride, run, walk, hug, comfort the weary, send out good good vibes (sic).”

Troy Beauchamp, co-producer of Swift.Silent.Deep., had the opportunity to get to know Henderson during the making of the film, shooting and interviewing him. He says trying to keep up with Henderson in his favorite haunts were true highlights in his skiing career, and that Howie’s responses during interviews were poetic. “They were the best days of skiing in my life, following Howie through Granite Canyon,” Beauchamp says.

This past year, Powder magazine invited Henderson to be part of its annual ski demo in Jackson called Powder Week. While everyone in attendance was in awe of his skiing ability and endurance, he remained humble and gracious. Henderson repeatedly thanked the magazine staff for including him, when it should’ve been the other way around. We felt honored to be included in his world, where his commitment to skiing powder was unequaled. He was a true soul skier, a man of the mountains and a friend of many.

Powder extends its deepest condolences to all of Henderson’s family and friends. A celebration of his life is planned for this Sunday, Oct. 2, at 11 a.m., in Teton Village.

Add a comment

  • pinhead

    beautiful remembrance. RIP.

  • Kim Kircher

    Thanks for the profile. Sad. Sad. Sad.

  • Jeff Reynolds

    just watched SSD (for about the 15th time) this weekend. Truly an inspiration.

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  • Donna

    please send article to my email thanks

  • Neil

    I’ll never forget randomly being in lift lines with him and listening intently on whatever he was rambling about. “You know you guys killed the Powder *s because you just can’t leave that area alone! We wouldn’t ski there, to obvious.”

  • Val

    In addition to his being a ski sensation, Howie was a master craftsman. We met when we contracted with him for a Jackson Hole remodel project and were delighted with the results. Even more, we were delighted to know Howie. I learned he was a fellow transplanted Michigander, a fellow University of Michigan alum, and a true Ann Arbor liberal. And, oh, how he could talk and talk. I will so miss just having the chance to run into him around town. Condolences to all his friends and family.

  • Rob

    I had the honor of meeting Howie in the tramline last winter. I was surprised at how he let me know about a couple of secret spots on the mountain, being my second day ever in jackson. His stoke for skiing was immediately contagious. RIP

  • Brent Jossy

    I’ve never met Howie but he was truly an inspiration. Another fallen legend.From Kimberley BC, North of the 49th. RIP Howie.

  • Dave Miller

    Blue sky white death. Swift Silent Deep RIP my brother.

  • Ana Rode

    Howie, you were one in a million! Inspiring. Uplifting. Passionate. Unafraid to love! A true gentleman. You had an immeasurable impact in so many various aspects in the Jackson Hole community. You were loved and will be missed immensely by so many, especially me!
    Thank you so very much, and Matt Hansen, for writing this article

  • Christine

    I truly am inspired by reading all the press and watching all the videos of such an inspirational life. It is the Howie’s of this world that teach us to follow our dreams and live life to the fullest. The Jackson Hole Air Force comradary was something to behold. Legend’s live on and his spirit will remain on the mountain……..and in our hearts. <3

  • M. Woodhouse

    I knew Howard all his life and he always brought a smile to my face. He was the young son of my good friends, Bob and Ellen Henderson, of Port Huron, Michigan. Howard was always strong, bold, loud and energetic. We all learned to ski at Boyne Mountain in the 1950′s. When the family moved to Jackson Hole, I found every excuse to visit, winter or summer. He will always be remembered for his incredible personality and his love of family and friends. In sympathy.

  • Peter Cleary

    I knew Howie from back in grade school & high school in Michigan. He raced those little HO scale slot cars, ran track & played other sports and did most everything with the same unbridled enthusiasm so many later saw in Jackson Hole. In high school, he was an incredibly gifted student – the kind who took all the hardest classes & got straight A’s effortlessly, while having tons of fun – again, just as he skied. Howard (as he was known back then) was equally comfortable talking world politics, movies, good books and music – the smart kind with an edge, like Lou Reed, David Bowie & T. Rex. Always a gracious & generous gentleman and a heck of a skier, he enriched many lives. His death is startling and heartbreaking. Why him? Why now? Where’s the meaning in all this? Reflecting on this, the only lesson I’ve come up with is that the guy really lived, didn’t he? More so than anyone I can think of. Who else did so much of what he really truly loved with such joy & passion? That’s tremendous. And that should inspire all of us!

    Rest in peace Howie. Peace and blessings to all who are hurting, especially his family. Look forward to the day we’ll meet up again with all our family, friends & loved ones in a heavenly place (with 12 inches of fresh powder) and every tear will be wiped away.

  • jessica

    During the summers at the Bear Claw Howie would stay open grilling outside. Tim Curley would chainsaw sculpture. He taught Howie how to jump rope. Really jump rope, as Tim was a former boxer. Howie would do this all day. To hear he dies of a heart attack is stunning.
    Howie gave me his one piece of advice at a party given to me before the birth of my son. “Read to your child everyday”, Howie, I did and it is one of best actions I ever took.
    You took the pot in poker, every time.
    Howie you had some serious attitude but you always backed it up with loyalty, love and joy. When I needed a friend you and Maria were always there. ALWAYS.
    I know you are with me and all the others who love you. You will be that whisper that says go ahead, push it, you can do this.
    To the Henderson family, Peace be with you.

    • Tyler Halsey

      Tim Curley was my great uncle, its nice to hear his legacy was spread

    • Tyler Halsey

      Tim Curley was my great uncle, it’s nice to see his legacy has spread. i wonder how did you know him?

  • benny

    Thanks to Howie for showing us the way when it was dark you were the bright light that shined through the fog. There will always be that little. Voice in the background saying “nice turn, nice!” Thanks for the memories an rip it up in the UP eh.

  • William Moore

    I remember Howie from the “YMCA Ski Trip’s” from Port Huron to the Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park. As a middle school kid Howard was one of the cool high school kids and an exceptional skier. I was very envious when he moved to Jackson to follow that way of life, Carpe Diem… and no where better than the Tetons!!!

    Deepest Condolences to his family and friends, may his memories ease your pain and give you strength.

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