February 29, 2015

Christmas with the Johnson’s

Feb 20, 2015 | guide stories |


Ah the holidays! Christmas in the ski industry is the equivalent of a major league baseball team going to the World Series the week after spring training ends. Thankfully the weather here in the Tetons provided an excellent playing field. Abundant snow in November helped sell Jackson Hole as the place to be this Christmas. The marketing department has done a great job of getting people to Wyoming but the ski resort and the town of Jackson’s infrastructure hasn’t kept up with this demand. Crowded lift lines, jammed packed hotels, airport madness, restaurants, are you kidding me? Just for good measure lets throw in -20 degrees and a jack-knifed trailer on the only road into or out of the ski resort, which shut down traffic for several hours.


Going in to this hell week I was all set to deal with it and then write a scathing blog post about how corporate ski guiding is neither and much more negative nonsense, but that all was changed by a young lady with pink hair: Tessa Johnson.


15 years ago I was a snowboard instructor and I was assigned to teach Emma Johnson how to snowboard. I showed Emma and her mother, Rosemarie, the basics. We one-footed around for a little while then headed up on the chair lift. Emma’s first run ended with a broken wrist and a trip to the clinic. I met Steve, her father, in the clinic and being the ever-resourceful man he realized he had an instructor booked for the whole day; he wasn’t going to let that go to waste. So we headed out to go snowboard and we have been riding together every Christmas week for the past 15 years. Over the years the Johnson’s have become like family to me. I have taken them on whitewater rafting trips, fishing trips, visited them in Boston, they even dragged me kicking and screaming into the enemy territory of Fenway park. The best part of my experience with the Johnson’s has been watching their children grow into the adults they are today. And watching the adults act like children, even if it is only one week a year.


As I changed career paths from instructor to guide the Johnson’s came along with me. I naturally gravitated towards riding with Steve and his son Ruben. I watched the two of them become excellent snowboarders and I dragged them all over the backcountry with me. I’d like to claim responsibility for their snowboard skills but I’m not much of an instructor, trying to keep up with me in the deep snow developed most of their skills. I will claim some responsibility for Ruben’s music taste in classic metal. I taught him the importance of singing “Crazy Train” while ripping down the Hobacks.


The women of the Johnson family never really took to snowboarding. Perhaps it was Emma’s ill-fated attempt and Rosemarie’s broken wrist a few years later that kept their youngest daughter, Tessa, from ever trying. But they did ski and I shared a lot of mountain time with them all. Emma spent a month in Jackson during a college break and we had a blast. I would always try to make some turns with Rosemarie but seldom succeeded, she was pretty busy organizing the family’s off snow activities.


The youngest member of the Johnson family is Tessa. When I first met Tessa she was a four-year-old tie-dyed pajama wearing little girl who would forget her skis or boots and then head back to the house to watch movies all day. Pretty tough duty for the instructor assigned to ski with her, I have to admit I was pretty jealous on the -20F days. Over the years Tessa began to get more interested in skiing. Steve, Ruben and I would always save some time in the day to make a run with Tessa. This turned into an afternoon with Tessa, and then finally she would join us for the full day, including some hikes into the backcountry. This year over the Christmas holidays, due to various reasons Steve and Tessa were the only Johnson’s to make the trip to Jackson. With great coverage and good stability I felt it was time for Tessa to make a trip up Cody Peak. Cody is the jewel of the Jackson backcountry. Tram access and relatively close to the ski resort.ski bone climb


A fourth class scramble through a rocky ridge and you end up on top of a truly fantastic mountain. There are many options on Cody, we chose No Shadows, a East facing slope with a steep committing entrance that measures about 40 degrees. Tessa’s rock climbing experience helped her up the ridge and she fearlessly dropped into No Shadows. She arced perfect turns down to the bottom and she was ecstatic. I couldn’t be more proud. It’s moments like this that make me realize what a great job I have. To share in experiences like this is a feeling not many other occupations can’t provide.


So I want to say thank you to a young lady with Pink hair. She reminded this old, grumpy, jaded, snowboard guide how much I love my job.




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Jamie Weeks


Wilson, Wyoming