Jeremy Jones, Travis Rice, and Byran Iguchi on a foot-powered mission deep into the Wyoming wild.
If you had told me ten years ago that I would go on a ten-day splitboard mission through one of the most remote regions of the continental United States with Bryan Iguchi, Jeremy Jones, and Travis Rice, I would have laughed and called it fiction. But on a dark morning last winter I was on the precipice of doing exactly that: a great adventure into the wilderness with some of the biggest heroes in snowboarding.
Growing up, I spent more time playing hockey than anything else. It was my religion, and the rundown, sweat-smelling rinks of New England were my church, a bastion where I could lose myself in the game. I had dreams of grandeur, and I thought the Boston Bruins, NHL, and Stanley Cup were my future.
Not surprisingly, in hindsight, the scouts never came calling and my hockey career was eventually relegated to late night beer leagues with fellow washed-up skaters. I attended college in Vermont and became close with a group of friends who followed a religion I was unfamiliar with. They baptized me in the cult of winter and I was given a crash course on how to travel safely in the mountains, ski and snowboard film history, and the art of chasing a deep storm. I fell in love with everything about it.
Solitude in the wilderness is a great teacher, the land is powerfully humbling.
This passion for snow led me to Jackson Hole and an unpaid internship with Teton Gravity Research. A serendipitous five years later and there I was prepping for the trip of a lifetime outside of TGR’s office in Wilson. My late start in the snow world had led to a deep insecurity about my ski touring (confession: I am a skier) and career. Because I wasn’t raised in the shadow of some great mountain range, I have always felt less deserving of these experiences.
The Dream Team
Bryan arrived at the TGR headquarters first that morning and he had a wide shining grin exploding from his gray speckled beard. This trip was his vision, his brainchild. He had spent over twenty years dancing with the wilderness border on Togwotee Pass. This land has been an integral part of his journey as a snowboarder. One of the first things he told me was “Togwotee means from here you can go anywhere.” This idea felt truer than ever that morning.
It was Bryan and a handful of other Jackson Hole snowboarders that first explored the area around Togwotee Pass on snowboards in the late nineties, building jumps and riding lines that would help define a new era of the sport. “I moved from California to Jackson, Wyoming in 1995,” Byran revealed about his Jackson beginnings. “Towards the end of my first winter, I rented a snowmobile on Togwotee and rode up to the wilderness boundary. I’ll never forget the view… it seemed infinite, inaccessible, raw and wild. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of discovery as I left the snowmobile behind and began to explore the area with my splitboard and found a deeper connection to the land.”
Jeremy Jones arrived next, having driven twelve hours through the night from Lake Tahoe to meet us at 4 am. We had originally planned on doing the trip later in April, but a surprise week-long high pressure system had moved in and the group had to reassess their play. Jones has ridden countless first descents around the world, pioneering the foot-powered splitboard movement. Rumor has it that Jeremy would walk forever if need be in order to ride a line that inspires him. We were going to put this theory to the test.
Travis Rice pulled into parking lot next and the trio was complete. Not surprisingly, Travis of Art of Flight and The Fourth Phase fame, was fresh off a heli trip in Alaska.
The three old friends embraced and then Bryan produced a map and reviewed the plan for the day. We would drive to Togwotee Pass, get bumped out to the wilderness boundary line via snowmobile, then set off with what we hoped was enough food, camera batteries, and supplies for some type of adventure. Truthfully, we didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, but the unknown has an allure.
Where Are We Going?
The Teton Wilderness is an area that covers about 585,238 acres of wild land. First established in 1934, the land was designated as protected natural wilderness with the passage of the landmark Wilderness Act of 1964. It lies just south of Yellowstone National Park and just east of Grand Teton National Park. This wilderness is bisected by the Continental Divide, the hydrological split of the U.S. that determines which rivers flow into the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. From our departure point, you could just make out the tip of the iconic Grand Teton in the distance, the inspiration for so many adventurers in Jackson and beyond.
This area is considered to be one of the most remote places in the lower 48 contiguous states, as it is at least twenty-five miles from any developed road. Our plan was this: to venture through the Teton Wilderness on foot along the Continental Divide and capture the journey between three old friends.
What started as an early day soon turned late, and it was afternoon by the time we actually got everything loaded into our sleds and started the journey. We were nine in total: three athletes, three cinematographers, one photographer, the film’s director, and a camp cook. Later in the trip a guide hiked in for the second half.
My job as content cinematographer pinned me as responsible for capturing the interactions between the three subjects. It’s a job where you hope to blend into the background, allowing Bryan, Jeremy, and Travis to interact as if no one was watching.
On our first day, we walked through into the night and set up camp in the dark, with only light from our headlamps. Travis and Bryan brought a small pyramid tent to share between them. “Is this the first time we’ve shared a tent?” Travis asked his longtime mentor, surprised that in all their years of shared adventures that had never happened before.
The vastness of the land swallowed us whole. It became quickly apparent that our original goals would have to change because of the size of the area.
The following day, we continued along the Continental Divide. The vastness of the land swallowed us whole. It became quickly apparent that our original goals would have to change because of the size of the area. It was my first time pulling a sled with all my belongings through the snow, and sometimes it felt like it was trying to pull me back to the trailhead… especially trying to keep pace with this trio as they reminisced amicably about old friends and past trips as they flew over the snow.
As the day continued, a small feeling of panic started to creep in as everyone scanned for some type of ridable terrain. We were traveling across the top of a broad plateau and all three riders saw lines in the distance that they might like to ride, but the scale of the zone made it difficult to judge how long and dangerous they could be. Regardless of this initial nervous energy, the excitement and stoke stayed high, and there was still over a week in front of us filled with the promise of discovery.
Within the first couple days of a trip like this, people start to lose touch with the routines of a “normal” life and become committed to a unified goal. You have no choice but to rely on those around you and embrace the solitude of the environment. Bryan remarked one morning, “Solitude in the wilderness is a great teacher, the land is powerfully humbling, yet fair, generous, and kind.” Jeremy added, “Life is stripped down to food, shelter, and all things snow.”
As we continued deeper into the wilderness, my mental barriers and insecurities started to weaken. Walking through the vast landscape for ten hours a day with people who love the mountains with the same passion, makes everyone seem more alike than different. When you break it down, Jeremy’s journey isn’t different than what I have experienced. While hiking we talked about both growing up on the east coast and playing hockey with our brothers. He grew up surfing the waves of Cape Cod, then snowboarding the hills of Vermont and the mountains of Wyoming, and, finally, some of the most remote mountain ranges in the world. It could be argued that no one’s life has been more affected by the art of the turn than Jeremy. His adventures to the ends of the Earth have been well-documented, but now he wants to explore more of his hometown ranges. This trip was an extension of that goal.
This vast area inspires a sense of freedom that’s rare to find in this day and age.
On the morning of the third day, we decided to drop into the drainage that we camped in the night before in search of ridable terrain. There was an instant sense of relief throughout the group as we were now looking up at large natural halfpipes all stacked next to each other, almost as if nature built one for all three of them. The trio hiked and rode these lines. The smile on Bryan’s face, his dream now realized, was worth the effort and long days up to that point. “This vast area inspires a sense of freedom that’s rare to find in this day and age,’’ he remarked.
After that line, Jeremy headed up-valley with a cinematographer to scope a potential new zone. I hung back with Travis and Bryan. It was midday, with the sun completely overhead. Travis took off his base layers to let them dry and the two shared a small snack and some water.
Bryan recounted a story from one of their first days in the mountains together. They had built a kicker on Togwotee Pass with another group of snowboarders. Still in high school, Travis was already sending it bigger than any other rider. That night was also his prom and he was coordinating the limo ride at the trailhead. “This kid has the life!” Bryan remembered thinking at the time, as they both laughed over the memory.
Laughing along with them, I never imagined Travis as a kid who went to prom, doing things everyone does at that age. The son of a ski patroller, Travis was born in Jackson Hole with love for the mountains sequenced into his DNA. Throughout his career, Travis has shown an appetite for continually redefining the edge of what can be done on a snowboard. Yet despite everything he has accomplished, Travis is a incredibly humble guy who still looks up to and seeks guidance from Bryan and Jeremy.
Bryan Iguchi was born in Moorpark, a sprawling suburb northwest of Los Angeles. He was raised in the surf and skate scene of LA. As a teenager, he was introduced to the nascent sport of snowboarding when his mom signed him up for a ski trip to Bear Mountain. Bryan took to the fledgling sport immediately and quickly turned pro. He became famous for using his skate and surf inspiration from Southern California. His creative butters, shifties, and spins lit up the first-ever terrain parks at Bear Mountain and inspired a generation of boarders. Eventually Bryan felt unsatisfied with the California lifestyle and longed for larger mountains and a new adventure. This ultimately brought him to the wild, unexplored ranges of Jackson Hole.
As we scouted lines that afternoon, Bryan talked about his early days surfing in Los Angeles. He still gravitates towards riding terrain inspired by the ocean. We eventually found an ideal location flanked by frozen waves on either side of a valley.
After a day of riding our first real lines of the trip, the mood was euphoric. Bryan built a fire and the group started drying out liners and gloves for the next day. Jeremy, Bryan, and Travis talked about how unlikely it was that the three of them were together on this journey and how serendipitous the relationship was between them. After the trip Jeremy shared a journal entry with me.
Guch, the most unlikely, born in the suburbs of LA, first touched snow at 15. Superstar by 21. An ascent I had a front seat for. 26 spit out of the fire, landing in Jackson. The 1st JH Pro. Sponsors didn’t see it. Injuries led to cooking by 30 but always riding. The spotlight finding him again when he was 35 but now it’s all about his turns.
Rice is more obvious. Born on the best mountain in the world. Exploded on the scene at 16. I really had a front seat seeing as we had the same sponsor. A fired-up kid ready to break barriers every day.
Myself Cape Cod born. I showed up to my first race with no expectations and won. Won for two years straight until I turned pro at 16. Just good enough to feed myself and see the world. A passport to the world’s greatest ranges, but my true love has always been freeriding. Hit my stride by 25 and haven’t stopped.
We All Deserve Mountains
I climbed into my sleeping bag that night, the vapor of my breath hanging above like the thoughts running through my head. I felt a mixture of shame and relief for somehow thinking that I didn’t deserve to be on this trip because of my childhood. My assumptions were that these guys had easy paths to the mountains, that their journey was laid out for them like a smooth highway. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
The common connection between all of us is our love for the mountains and respect for these wild places. It is this passion that makes us—all of us—deserving of these experiences. We have all taken different paths, some more traditional than others, but each of us has made our own sacrifices along the way. I turned over in my sleeping bag, exhausted after three days of walking and hiking, but eager for more.
Jonathan Desabris may be a skier, but we’re okay with that. @JonDesabris