“If you ever wanted to ski Corbet’s, today is your day” spouted my friend Nick…. And with those words my heartbeat quickened and a warm rush of anxiety came over me……….
Maybe like you, I have an ever-changing bucket list. Goals and desires move on and off the list as I age and become aware of new thrilling essentially more appealing options. My list includes mostly adventures that I intend to complete like climbing the Grand Teton and running the entire Superior Trail both of which are achievable with time and budget. Yet, I have another category that is more…like desires… I want to experience but unsure the stars will align to the point of actual execution. Skiing Corbet’s Couloir was one on that list. A few weeks ago, opportunity presented itself and the Corbet’s box got checked!
For those unfamiliar Corbet’s Couloir is an iconic ski run within the ropes of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and is often referred to as the most challenging ski run in North America. There is most-likely no ski run that has received as much media attention, hype and notoriety as Corbett’s. Legendary.
As a young aspiring ski racer in the 70’s skiing mostly the Midwest bumps and Eastern green mountains prior to most anyone desiring to ski anything but a groomed run. Was there anything but hard ice to ski on? I had viewed photos of this run and simply asked “why would anyone….ever want to?”. It wasn’t until after my 20 years + hiatus from alpine skiing that I actually got my first up-close and personal look at it.
Over my absence from skiing much had changed. Equipment and technique had evolved to embrace big mountain, off-piste skiing and truthfully those changes helped me embrace my return. I was a good skier in my youth and was improving every year I returned as an adult. Old dog, new tricks…but I was quickly becoming more and more confident, especially away from groomed finished runs that the younger me embraced. I watched video, read articles and viewed photos in magazines, I dreamed of skiing some remote areas of the world and noted these iconic places, including Corbet’s that I “someday” would encounter. Corbet’s is one of those places I said to myself, yep, when I get there, I’m going to jump into Corbet’s, after all, how tough can it be? When I finally arrived at Jackson Hole I rode the tram past this run to get my first glimpse….I skied down to the entrance to get my first snow-level look. I slowly eased up to the edge stopped and ever-so-gently leaned forward, peered over the edge into the Couloir HOLY SHIT. It was not until then did I fully accept the magnitude, the height, the drop, the angle, that rock wall….OH MY…..no f-n way. . Uh..yep that’s when I looked at my wife Ineke and proclaimed…well, maybe not today, let’s look again tomorrow. Corbet’s moved to my “Tomorrow” list for a lot of years.
Truth is, I spend a decent amount of time in Jackson, WY summer and winter it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I ski Jackson Hole Mountain Resort quite a bit, I have had a season pass of some sort or another for many years, needless to say have stood atop Corbet’s too many times to count since that first look always asking myself, would my Corbets dream ever become reality.
It was just another day of skiing with friends when we met up that morning. Typical confusion of where is so-n-so and ever questioning what’s the plan? Mtn had no new snow but temps remained low so the mountain was skiing pretty good. We decide to start on top from there we can assess which way to go. Off the tram we ski down to Corbet’s to take a view of which the typical group banter ensued with discussion of who has and has not skied “it”. Within our group: Nick yes- too many times to count, Kell- Yes, in my teens, many years ago, 2 Lincoln & myself- never.
We ski up to the edge chatted for a second, Nick glances over and says, She looks nice today, anyone?…. Long pause………no replies…so he states “I’m dropping…lets meet the other side” Just like that his tips drop ski tails up, bases exposed and down he goes….. from the top vantage point you loose sight of him for a few seconds, then he pops back into view and down the Couloir he goes. We back-up and ski around.
As we re-group waiting for the next Tram ride back to the top Nick says something to the group I thought I was prepared to hear. “If you ever wanted to ski Corbet’s, today is your day” And with those words my heartbeat quickened and a warm rush of anxiety came over me….. Understand I promised myself for years…that I would ski Corbet’s if conditions permitted and especially if a Corbets veteran was telling me so. Nick, the man who no-joke skis the resort every day it’s open 130+ days a year…just told me today was the day. YES…. Wait…NO…… I mean yes…or maybe….or OK…lets talk. Short Q&A later, I’m in, were all in..…let’s do this…
The three disciples listen intensely to Nicks tips and play by play of what to expect. The words roll out of his mouth as if in slow motion and to his mentor cred, he provides no more information than needed. I hear four things 1) step into Corbet’s as far as comfortable to control speed 2) keep weight forward the first transition will set you back 3) two turns and your good to go 4) It’s just another ski run, you’re a good skier.
We arrive at the top of Corbet’s and Nick asks if anyone has questions. Short discussion and well wishes later, he tips his skis straight in and down he goes……. SHIT…It’s time. Kell volunteers to go next, he skied this in his youth…. Drops his tips in and down he goes, as he enters the transition point which is also a hard left leg turn you can see the force of the turn push back some yet he fly’s around the corner- SUCCESS!
I step into Corbet’s thinking this will slow my speed into the that first turn….after all if I could shorten that first decent a couple feet, I’ll be going much slower into that turn… As I step in I realize this wall made of snow/ice is only making contact with my tip and tail… I’m hanging in the balance on a few centimeters of contact on 1 ski… should that give way, I will tumble sideways down an ice wall to a flat surface and stop abruptly, that’s bad. In the couple mille-seconds it takes me to summarize risk I know It’s not worth it…just GO!
I take weight off the lower ski, drop my head downhill projecting body weight forward, my skis lift off the snow of which I turn them and point straight downhill. I’m now falling until the snow-wall catches up with my descending feet and when it does I’ll have a split second to fully weight the outside ski and make that turn which is closing fast……. I touch the snow, weight the outside ski and rocket around the corner like a bobsled curve, only to look up and see nothing but rock….damn….that’s a big hard surface….Instinct takes over and I turn downhill…..of which I then become engulfed by the enormous rock walls on either side of the couloir. Such beauty and tranquility on the other side of anxiety. The snow is soft quiet and the turns flow as a feeling of exuberance takes over….. I hoot and holler out loud as I see Nick and Kell off to skiers right…. Where I pull over and throw hands in the air.
Lincoln follows and we all regroup at the bottom Corbet’s for a glance back up at what we had accomplished. Wow, how amazing, what a feeling, excitement and relief…..we did it. Fist bumps, high-fives around. We ski quickly the bottom, hop the Tram and ski it again, because we could.
It’s been said; “Success comes when preparation and opportunity meet” This was so true this day. I have been skiing and preparing for a long time, pushing my personal limits and learning along the way. Opportunity as conditions were right and a rock-solid group of friends all provided guidance and reassurance when needed. I’m so happy to have done this and most happy I got to share the experience with these friends. Special shout out to Nick for all the personal insight and mentorship. Kell for his jump-in attitude and Lincoln for unwavering we-can-do-this attitude!
The lesson I take away from this day is embrace opportunity, whenever that maybe. Life does not happen on my schedule, it happens when I am ready. I’ve learned that no matter what it is or how long we feel we are forced to wait…success requires patience. I most certainly could have tried to ski this run 10+ years ago, I might have been successful, maybe, or I may have hurt myself badly…. By waiting and continuing to prepare I completed the goal w/o injury and in a way, I could not have imagined. I accomplished my goal alongside others, a group of friends I’d never met when I first edged up to this iconic couloir year previous. Today….this was my time, this was my day to Conquer Corbet’s.
Corbet’s Couoir History Piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Cnqeuw8PhA
This Fun Corbet’s Couloir Video will give you an idea of the hype behind this ski run: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QRvBARVAzw
Kings and Queens- annual competition on the run…