Can we find a way out of this billionaire wilderness?
I half-heartedly crank the wine opener. I’m only partly paying attention to my task, distracted by the snow falling like cotton balls outside. I am already day-dreaming about tomorrow’s turns on Glory. I nearly spill the bottle on a customer when the cork comes free.
It’s been a dismal shift. Each table has been a reminder of what seems to be ruining Jackson Hole: digital nomads planning their next work-life vibes-based move, “locals” from NYC that sleep here for three weeks out of the year, and a table of shiny costumed cowboys and cowgirls whose white hats would look great in LA.
I get pessimistic on nights like this. Leeching off the bourgeoisie for a living can be a constant reminder of how much you don’t have. But money tends to stain authenticity, so we hold on to the ideal of the unsullied ski bum local in our hearts and keep our heads down. I moved here to snowboard; I’ve moved five times since then, and worked 10 different jobs. I feel like I deserve to be here as much as anyone, but so does everyone else, and we fight amongst ourselves for the scraps.
I clench the steering wheel with white knuckles on the way home. Snow is zipping past in straight horizontal lines like I’m entering hyperspace. It feels like I am moving impossibly fast. In reality I’m crawling down the road in the dark at 10 miles per hour, unsure which lane I’m even in. Winter cuts both ways.
I finally lay my head down on my pillow, and it feels like only a minute later my alarm starts blaring. It’s still pitch black outside. The only reason I drag myself out of bed and into the cold open air is grudging solidarity with the friend picking me up. I know that person is waking up on the other side of town and asking themself the exact same question: who made this plan again?
I don’t achieve full consciousness until the wind nearly rips the car door off its hinges at the top of Teton Pass. It’s dark, freezing, and windy, but also somehow crowded. We get the last parking spot. I’m struck by how many truly insane people live in Jackson Hole. How many of them moved here after COVID? My localism doesn’t wear off until I’ve had my morning powder.
Colors begin to spill from the east and it gets lighter with each step I take up the boot pack. The steady trudge takes the edge off my salty thoughts. I can only think about the next forward step and my labored breath. Those moments before the sun explodes over the Gros Ventre Range are always quiet. I remember why I chose to wake up so damn early. I remember why I moved here. By the time I get to the summit everything makes perfect sense.
With a view this good it’s easy to forget the shocking income inequality below.
Everything is in its right place. All downhill from here. As Jeremy Jones says, there are “no words for the way down.” In spite of being chained by the forces of gravity in these heavy bodies, we can get pretty close to flying. The experience might be generic off-brand flying, but I’ll take what I can get.
I drive back down towards Wilson with a shit-eating grin on my face. The valley looks different heading down: it looks like home. This otherworldly experience keeps me high all day long. It keeps the crust away. I complain less about the overcrowding and the rising costs. Snowboarding affords me an escape from that reality.
But the reality is that if we do nothing, it will continue to get worse. Thinking the situation is already hopeless will end up making it hopeless. The economic forces changing this valley seem uncontrollable, but this is also not our first rodeo. It’s textbook gentrification, and there are ways to combat it.
That “Wyoming Is Full’’ bumper sticker on your Tacoma won’t change anything, nor will your rage at the car with California license plate that has clearly never been driven in snow. We can’t sink into apathy and snowboard this particular problem away. We are doomed unless we take a political stand, together, now. That includes everyone who has loved this place, for any amount of time: digital nomads, Texans, and fifth homeowners included. Working together, we can modify the social contract we have now. Go become a member of ShelterJH, then look into starting a labor union where you work. Vote in all local elections, even the boring ones, and organize your friends, roommates, and co-workers to do the same. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. We can do this—this fight has been fought before, in countless communities where the haves want to displace the have-nots.
Snowboarding brought us here. Let’s use that rebellious spirit and fight to keep our uncivilized, dirty asses here. Snowboarders are infamous for thinking differently and breaking new trail. Travis Rice continually redefines big mountain riding. Jess Kimura is a leader for women and mental health in action sports. Jeremy Jones started the influential climate-change activism organization Protect Our Winters (POW).
Why can’t we start a movement to save the working class in Jackson Hole?
Billionaire Wilderness is a reference to the book about the ultra-wealthy in Jackson Hole, “Billionaire Wilderness” by Justin Farrell.
Joey Sackett likes to ride sideways and pretend he’s surfing. Sometimes he likes to suffer in faraway places on tall peaks. He also tries to get involved in local housing issues, and he’d really love for you to join him as a member of ShelterJH.