By Ryan Dunfee
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Waiting outside the Hostel X at the base of Jackson Hole for my airport shuttle, it was only fitting that it would be snowing the hardest of the entire trip. Fourteen inches of fresh were called in from the top of the tram, and the crowds had responded in kind, with the lines from the gondola and tram forming an indistinguishable snake of jackets, pants, fat skis, and avi gear. But after eight days in Jackson, getting out-skied by every man and woman young and old, it was time to leave before I decided I needed to quit skiing forever. Again.
The decision to bring me in as an official ski tester at the 2011 Powder Week was a giant hoax—sure, I'd been doing well for the magazine since I started writing from the position of the angst-ridden cripple manning the SASS office in Argentina on crutches while everyone else skied, but the gig played to my weaknesses while giving little room to exploit my strengths. My typical go-to style of mile-long run-on sentences riddled with hash marks and consonance would have to be chopped down to a series of ugly 100-word synopses about skis I barely knew anything about let alone how to ski, and it was all riding on my ability to endure repeated 4,000-foot vert laps in the Jackson backcountry with torturous mandatory traverses, side-steps, and hikes in and out every time, all the while sweating to keep up with girls and men fifteen years my senior who chatted about town gossip while I hyperventilated in the background.
Despite my dedication to skiing and skinning as many laps as possible in the East this winter to train for the enlarged scope, altitude, and scale of the terrain, and the amount of drinking we'd be fitting in between ski sessions, Powder Week amounted to an all-out slaughterfest where, as one of only two East Coast testers, I was somehow chosen for daily crossfit missions into and out of Granite Canyon. As we'd switch brands for the afternoon session, my second set of ski partners for the day would look on with disappointment as I stumbled into the ski tent a half-hour after everyone had already left, needing another twenty minutes to lie on a picnic table in complete exhaustion while all my gear lay steaming in sweat. As I couldn't stand the thought of another lap out of Jackson's generous bounds, the afternoon crews were forced to watch me suffer down groomers, barely able to connect four turns in a row without stopping or collapsing on the side of the trail, riding the entire trail on my right left as brand managers cringed at the thought of any possible review of their ski I would give with my complete lack of form, composure, or ability to edge their ski.
And still, I made it—eight days in a row, egged on by guides, athletes, and marketing dudes who swore I wasn't blowing it, a generous supply of après draughts that melted away the memories of my on-hill performances, and a steady supply of bananas, Aleve, Sport Legs, stretching, hot tubs, and occasional sleep that would barely return me to a skiable state by the next morning. I even skied well a few times, thanks to the Dynafit crew who skinned me out to untracked zones of creamy pow while everyone else fought for more skied-out chutes, and to the 6-inches of snow that blew into something much deeper in Mile-Long Couloir, where I cruised effortlessly on a pair of Megawatts through knee-deep blower, pulling up to the bottom having scored a run I'd been waiting for for the better part of a year. And finding out that despite my efforts to separate myself from the ski industry enough to make fun of it on BroBomb, its actually got some good people in it who deserve to have a drink bought for them. I even met the "Jaded Local," Hans Ludwig, one of skiing's precious few outright dicks.
Mike Rogge assured me at the end of the festivities that despite the fact that I wasn't athletic enough to be able to put any sort of ski product to any test, I'd earned a spot in next year's Powder Week crew. If that's the case, and I'm dumb enough to stay on the East Coast for another winter, then I will train for Powder Week in the only way that mimics its unique challenges: by depriving myself of sleep for days and then standing on my right leg for hours on end while repeatedly stabbing myself in the quads with a butter knife in between shot-gunning tall boys of Rainier and attempting to network with the guy at the barstool next to me. Next fall is going to be tough.