WORDS: Greg Fitzsimmons
(This is the second installment of a five-part series that highlights a handful of the most iconic lines in the world. These are the classics that skiers claim for decades and talk about over beers during the doldrums of summer. Check out Portillo's Super C, this summer's first Classic Line.)
Since the early 1960s, Jackson Hole has been a proving ground for skiers. From the Jackson Hole Air Force and Doug Coombs to today's full-tilt locals, some of the best big-mountain skiers in the world have planted roots in Jackson because of the testing terrain that's on-tap. And rippers from all generations will agree: Central Couloir, the line that bisects Cody Peak, is the one worth talking about.
"As far as Jackson Hole goes, Central is the most iconic line. It just stares you in the face," says TGR skier Todd Ligare. "Right when you get off the tram it's there," adds filmmaker Darrell Miller, who has been releasing Jackson-centric films under the Storm Show Studios label for years. "You can't get off the tram without seeing it." Slicing through the middle of Cody Peak, Central Couloir is a visually arresting chute that plays with skiers' imaginations.
For those that hike fast, getting to Central's entrance takes 30 to 40 minutes after you go through the sidecountry gate at the top of Rendezvous Bowl. Atop the line there's a wind-roll that offers a unique vantage point into the line. Steep, technical, and imposing, Central's traits are undeniably when you're peering down into its teeth.
There are two crux sections. The first is "the choke," a peppery zone that greets skiers right after they enter the line. It's rocky, steep, and can be icy. You're going to have to be OK with the sound of P-Tex hitting rock. If you don't want to give your skis an au naturel base grind—which is mandatory during low-snow years when coverage is poor in the north-facing aspect—you can air over the exposure.
After linking a few turns on the couloir's little face and banging a hard left, skiers come to Central's second crux: a mandatory exit air that can range from ski-through on heavy snow years to huge and daunting on lean years. "Every time you ski Central it's going to be different," says Ligare.
"It can be moderately technical or it can be extremely technical," says Amstrong. "If it's a low-snow year and icy, Central takes on the pucker factor, but you can also catch it with powder, arch GS turns, and air off the bottom into the beautiful landing on the apron. Either way, Central is still pretty rowdy. It's a no-fall line. If you fall at the top you're going to pinball all the way down and launch off the huge cliff at the bottom, so you don't want to fall."
One name sure to come up when talk in the Mangy Moose turns to Central is Mike Tierney’s. In 2009, Tierney aired into Central Couloir from the looker's left face of neighboring Talk is Cheap. Dubbed Talk to Central, the linkup has only been done via rappel both before and after Tierney's air. "I think that is one of the sickest lines that has ever been done," says Armstrong. "There's no messing up on that one. You mess up there, you're bumming." (Just watch the footage that Darrell Miller captured in his film "Magic Moments"—around 1:15 in the trailer below—and you'll agree….)
While best known for pioneering Talk to Central, Tierney has played a major role in Central Couloir's history in another way, too. "Tierney's been the first person to go in to Central for most years out of the last decade or so," explains Darrell Miller. "The first person always kicks down a ton of snow that starts to fill in the bottom apron and makes it more skiable for other people to go in there over the next weeks or months. Of course the exit air is always bigger for the first person that skis it, and Tierney has been that first guy eight or nine times in the last decade."
"The sluff fills in the exit apron," says Ligare, "I don't think it's a great early season line because you need that sluffing action to make the exit nice.
With Tierney leading the way, TGR skiers like Griffin Post and Ligare have spent some time in the tight confines of Central Couloir recently and found a few variations on the traditional Central line. Check out the footage of Ligare's massive front-flip exit air to see an unorthodox way to take the mandatory. "That footage is pretty authentic as far as the surprise we had when we got to the exit air," says Ligare. "You always have the option of hiking back out, but that never occurred to me."
Central's ties with Teton Gravity Research run deep. In fact, this classic line played a major role in the formation of TGR.
"I spent three or four winters in Jackson hot-shotting around and my first experience in Central was during a Warren Miller film shoot in 1995," says TGR founder and former pro skier Todd Jones. "All I wanted to do was ski Central for the cameras, and I hit it three times in one day for the filmers. The Warren Miller team was pissed because we wouldn't make slash turns in front of scenic views for them. We were only interested in filming 'the shit' and skiing top to bottom lines, and so they blackballed us. That's when we started TGR. I'm personally connected to Central Couloir and so is TGR."
Flanked by Talk is Cheap, Igneous Rocks, and other serious lines, Central Couloir sits in an historic zone on Cody Peak. If you ski it, the peanut gallery will be watching through binoculars from Corbet's Cabin while tourists hack through Corbet's on the front-side of Jackson Hole Mountain. And a line as aesthetic and storied as Central demands respect and deserves to be skied properly.
"If you're going to ski Central, ski it in style," says Jones. "Take a few breaths at the top of the mandatory and send it. We all learned from Doug Coombs, and need to try to ski it as close to the way Coombs did as possible. If you ski Central the way it's meant to be skied you'll own it, you'll earn your stripes."