Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Jackson Hole Tram

After 40 years of continuous service, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort made the decision to dismantle their aging 61 passenger tram.  For many, it was a shock.  Not just for the local citizens of western Wyoming, but also for the hundreds of thousands of guests that rode this iconic lift and skied or fantasized skiing the 4,139 vertical feet, the deep powder, Corbett's Couloir, the Hobacks after a big storm or their own secret powder stashes.

The Kemmerer family, in the interests of public safety, made the decision to dismantle the tram without knowing if there would be a replacement.

To help in the healing process the resort asked past and present guests to submit memories of the Jackson Hole Tram for their website.  

Finally, after months of uncertainty, emotional outpourings of grief by young boarders, aging ski bums, diehard skiers, the family and the board of directors of JHMR made the commitment to self finance a replacement tram.

After two years of construction, the new 101 passenger, $25,000,000 tram opens on December 20th.

Below are the words I submitted.

The Jackson Hole Tram

Dawn, Snake River overlook: I had arrived from Puget Sound 36 hours earlier after crossing Teton Pass just before it closed for plowing and avalanche control. The fog flowed and ebbed; first north then south.  Clouds tailed off of the summit of the Grand Teton.  The fog lifted as first light hit the summits of the Teton Range.  Golden yellows blended to magentas and pink, mauves faded to blue.

A moose and her yearling crossed the flats along the river.

I photographed the image, packed my view camera and headed back to Teton Village and my skis.

All day we rode the tram. Forty-three inches of fresh, light, dry powder changes you.  It etches into your memories.  Inside the tram it was quieter than usual, everyone reveling in their thoughts of snow billowing over ski tips, knees, shoulders and head.  We pondered each secret stash, and turns and our lines through favorite aspen groves. Synapses closed, wrapping around the scent of inhaled snow.

That afternoon I followed a single track down Sublette Ridge. The rope was gone from Alta Chute - open for the first time that year!

I flew off the crest and floated into an elevator shaft filled with down. Three turns, ten, forgetting to breathe!  At the bottom I paused gasping!  A quiet hum, I looked up and saw the tram on its last run.......

My knees ache most of the time now and I take longer to loosen up.  In mountain cafes I linger, my fingers basking in the warmth from steaming mugs of coffee.  And once in awhile on my local mountain, I'll find a patch of powder, make just the right turn, get just the right lift and my memories fill me.

I remember the colors of dawn light on the Teton Range, the scent of freshly fallen snow, perfect turns down Alta Chute and that bright red tram set against the deep, deep blue of the western Wyoming sky.


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