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Winding through the Winds

Diverging from the common path in the wilds of the Wind River Range

Late last spring, an ambitious crew of riders embarked on a mission to camp and snowboard deep in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. ‘The Winds’ as they are commonly referred to, are a remote and brutally rugged mountain range that boasts two of the three tallest peaks in Wyoming. It’s no small task accessing this area chock full of massive mountains. The varied group of Forrest Shearer, Nathaniel Murphy, Ryan Cruze, Nick Kalisz, Clark Henarie, Andy Spilecki, and Aharon Bram made multiple trips in search of spring lines. Below is an excerpt from Forrest Shearer on the journey.

Misconceptions about a snowboarding trip: how much riding you’re going to get in, the shots you’re going to come back with, how much fun you’re going to have… It’s interesting how my point of view has been skewed over the years. I might be addicted to suffering. Diverging from the trail, the common path, and instead choosing to walk chossy ridgelines, bushwhack through devil’s club, or push my luck across frozen lakes.

Fast forward to an evening slog under a full moon sky. Headlamps off, Murph [Nathaniel Murphy] and I grew accustomed to the darkness and making quick travel with only the joined company of our shadows. We had aborted our plans and were heading back–a mutiny of sorts–which split our crew apart. The weather went to shit and we were the last men standing. Our route had us skirting around semi-frozen lakes and our estimated time of arrival wasn’t until early the next morning. We were pulling an all-nighter.

Ryan Cruze clings to a steep face deep in the Wind River Range. Photo: Fred Marmsater

If you throw caution to the wind, you behave in a way that is not considered sensible or careful. Around 2 a.m. the entire bottom half of my body was soaking wet. I had just fallen in a frozen lake. Less than five feet from the edge, I tried to leap for higher ground from breaking ice, but I was sluggish in ski-mode and tethered to a pack sled with all my belongings. Sinking fast into the cold water, I did my best to get out of a serious quicksand situation and to safety. It could have been much worse, shit, there was no one around for miles. Resting now on the snow bank, I changed my socks into the extra dirty pair and just laughed. You can’t win ‘em all.

The cost of entry is probably the biggest setback getting into the Wind River Range. What price are you willing to pay to get to your destination? I always ask myself this question when deciding to go somewhere. That’s likely why it has taken me so long to make it to the Winds. It’s just far enough away that I’ve always made the decision to go elsewhere. With splitboarding comes exploration and an ever-growing hit list of mountains. A good problem to have.

Lakes offer easy access (when frozen). Photo: Fred Marmsater

Traveling on foot is usually the biggest reward, but at the same time this mode of transportation can also be a big setback due to fatigue and carrying a heavy load. Bringing enough food and having enough reserve physical energy can make or break a trip. And going into The Winds during the winter can be borderline crazy, a decision that most aren’t willing to risk.

The Winds are the perfect test piece for those willing to go the extra mile. They are home to the original NOLS wilderness course. This land has been held sacred by Indiginous tribes (Shoshone and Crow), and long-traveled by sheepherders, cattlemen, and pioneering climbers. They are seriously huge: over a 100 miles of wild and remote ridge lines cresting some of the highest peaks of the Continental Divide. This means it’s a day’s length or more from many of the desolate trailheads, with equally long approaches to reach routes.

The sufferfest at least afforded some nice sunsets. Photo: Fred Marmsater

Taking a slower approach is what makes this place so unique— you pass numerous lakes formed by glaciers and trace the steps of many animal migration routes inhabited by wolves, grizzlies, and wolverines. Getting anywhere in this part of Wyoming is a serious feat in itself. It’s taxing not only on the body, but also on the mind: a serious beatdown. Would I do it again? Maybe? But then again, what is suffering without coming out the other side a changed human—with a new-found respect for wilderness, and for yourself? In the Winds you are put in your place.
The natural environment is king and we are all just small dots on a very big playing field. It’s humbling to say the least. Our trip began on the edge. One foot still in the pandemic the other in the unknown. Sleds in tow, a week or more worth of rations, and a solid crew eager to not cross another track. We unplugged from the outside world and started off into no man’s land. Destination: anywhere but the new normal we left behind. It turned out snowboarding was not the first priority on this trip.

Route finding in the Winds is a definite challenge. It is hard to judge the scale, as the terrain is so vast. It was as if we were crossing a big glacier or walking from the outskirts of Vegas to the strip. So close, yet so far away. Another challenge was timing—due to fluctuating weather conditions, the timing was really tricky. Conditions warmed up substantially, making the window for actual snowboarding short-lived. A bigger red flag, rapid warming of the snow, caused avalanches to be a serious concern. Finally, there was the issue of getting wet… It’s probably best to bring an extra set of socks. Hell, you might want to carry a pair of rubber boots. But after all is said and done, it was the sunsets that I’m still thinking about. Redolent of the sweeping high peaks of the Central Rockies, sky-stretched sunsets etched into the craggy cliffs.

Forrest Shearer slices a turn above a duo of frozen lakes. Photo: Fred Marmsater

Forrest Shearer is a snowboarder, storyteller, and an environmental activist.
@forrestshearer