The Headwall


Circa 1999, I was first introduced to real skiing, aka out West. I was able to visit family in Jackson (Hole), WY and got to meet real snow, powder, elevation and steepness. Never did I go back to the East Coast.

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The next year I visited Sun Valley, darn. The following year I went back to Jackson Hole…it’s all about who you know with the free lodging. I had learned a bit more about how to ski out there, so one of my hosts figured I needed to explore some more…the Headwall. This is something I’ll never forget. And now I go to current times and to the past.

The Headwall is a run at Jackson Hole that you must climb to. You take a lift — Sublette, to be exact. That’s after you make your way over there from the base. Then you take a run to above Cirque (bowl). You work to keep as much speed as possible so you can keep your skis on as…long…as…possible. Then, unclip and get ready.

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Going to the past. The first time I did the Headwall my host was far too kind. He carried my skis for me. All I had to worry about were his poles and mine. After that, I could take care of everything on my own.

The path to the top is usually pretty well packed (snow-wise), but it’s also pretty steep. As I write this post I am recounting my most recent trip on the Headwall, which was January 2020. I finally turned on my Garmin to track how long of a ‘hike’ this is; 0.3 miles. And, actually, I don’t think I had a Garmin the previous times I had gone, except maybe once and it likely just didn’t occur to me to track it.

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January 2020 might have been my 6th or so time taking this grand adventure. Each time, you think you’re going to be cold. Each time, I had stopped to de-layer, several times, multiple layers. You can also stop to take in the beautiful scenery and/or use it as an excuse to take a break.

This past time I’d had to ask as quick reference while skiing an hour prior how long it took to hike the Headwall because of a lunch meeting and somebody told me 45 minutes. Each person is different. It took me 14:10 (thanks Garmin and Strava).

Got to the top and don’t think I’d ever truly appreciated what all you see at the top. I just did a slow 360 several times. With the sun shining down on you, mountains around you, the town at a distance, what more could you ask for? The only thing would be checking out that snow that had been falling for the 5 days prior and really absorbing the run you’re about to take. After I decided to stop admiring nature standing still, I put on my skis. Note, putting on skis in deep powder, so not fun even on a flat surface, but you know what’s to come is good.

Got myself over to the Headwall (slope), picked a line on which to start skiing and off I went. With the snow that had fallen the past few days, it was crazy. This slope is steep. It’s (just) a black (diamond). As in not a double black. But you needed to really work that day. The snow was knee deep; knee deep powder. It was amazing perfection. It was tough to ski in, but in a really good way. It’s not something I want to ski on every run; I like groomers. I had to think about turns, and if you fall you fall into POOF. I happened to stop and talk to a guy who lives right here in Fort Collins. It was his first time skiing the Headwall, and at Jackson Hole. He has no idea why he has summited this thing!

I think it probably took me 3-5 minutes to get down this run. I thought about each turn, worried about my legs (aka injury) sometimes, loved the snow each and every second, and valued what Jackson Hole offers me as a skiing venue. Then you stop, you’re at mid-mountain. You’re done. Ok, what’s next. All I could think about is going having to go to lunch…or do I have time to ski it again? Until next time, Headwall.

 

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