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Pass Pioneers

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Rob Garrett was there at the beginning of snowboarding in Jackson Hole

Rob Garrett almost didn’t want to talk to me for this story at all. “The old days are just that—old,” he said via text message. “I just don’t think people give a shit anymore.” But as our readers know, here at Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine we love reminiscing about the halcyon origins of snowboarding in Jackson Hole. So I texted back, and he relented and shared some stories with me. But I had to promised not to call him the first person to snowboard on Teton Pass. We may never know who actually trudged out in the snow at the top for the first time with a rudimentary board in hand. What I can say is that when Rob and his crew of buddies first started riding up there, they had the place to themselves.

RG (as he’s known to his friends) first arrived in the valley in 1980. He had been living in Santa Cruz, CA, and working for eponymous Santa Cruz Skateboards. He grew up loving skiing, surfing, and skating, and when he started seeing snowboarding images at trade shows,  he knew he had to try it. “It looked like all the things I loved to do rolled into one,” he said. A former colleague named John Krisik urged him to apply for a position at an up-and-coming outdoor gear brand called Lifelink. Rob got the job, and in September of 1980 he packed up his life and headed for Jackson Hole to start a new chapter. He brought his orange fiberglass Gar Ski snowboard along with him.

The winter of ‘80-81 proved to be a bleak year for snow. Rob wanted to ski, and the skiing sucked. So he and a small nucleus of friends started heading up Teton Pass and riding in Telemark Bowl on his Gar Ski and a collection of Winterstick swallowtails that the nascent snowboard manufacturer had shipped out to Lifelink. The Wintersticks had nylon straps for bindings and keels on the bottom that made them impossible to ride in anything except fresh powder. So RG and his buddies were always searching for the softest snow they could find.

They also spent that first low-tide winter learning the unspoken rules of life in Jackson Hole. They figured out how not to get beat up by the cowboys at the bar, and the way to tell if someone in town was a telemark or downhill skier just based on their hat. They learned how to stay warm and dry when hiking through deep snow by wearing a good set of waterproof leather hiking boots with knee-high gaiters over the top. And they explored by poking around in the trees and low-angle terrain, doing side-hits, setting bootpacks, and finding new runs.

The following winter was as good as the previous one had been terrible. Rob figured out a routine to get runs in during the week: he would clock out of work as soon as the UPS guy picked up the last packages of the day from Lifelink at 4pm, and then head up to take a lap on Scotty’s Ridge or one of the other runs off of Snow King. The Spring Creek Resort was under construction on the butte above Jackson, and the steep switch-backs of the access road also made for great afternoon turns. 

Rob and his crew of fellow snowboarders were all spending their weekends up on Teton Pass opening up more new terrain. Each day, there would maybe be one or two other cars in the parking lot at the top belonging to crusty alpine skiers touring along the ridges to the south. The north side was rarely skied at all mid-season; it was taboo to ride Glory Bowl or Twin Slides outside of the spring months when the corn-snow cycle rendered their naked avalanche paths benign. But the glades on that side of the highway called to RG and his friends, so they started working their way westward down the ridge over the course of the winter. Step one was setting a boot-pack up First Turn. From there they could cycle down via First or Second Turn, or fan out and explore the myriad small gullies and faces of that zone, naming runs things like Pipeline and Creamy Slope as they went. The north side of Teton Pass became their snowboard playground, a place to learn and perfect the art of sliding sideways on snow.

A few years later RG ran into a lone figure standing beside his car in the top parking lot, shivering. It was December 1986 and the snow that day had been awesome. The stranger introduced himself as Chris Pappas, and he said he had just moved to the valley from Colorado to start a snowboard school at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR).The new sport was growing and progressing quickly, and some mountains in Colorado had already begun opening up to riders. RG had seen a couple of snowboard tracks under the Apres Vous Chairlift the previous spring, so the news wasn’t a complete shock.

“Oh, I never ride hardpack,” RG informed the newcomer. “It’s just too good up here.” Chris Pappas replied, “If you don’t ride hardpack then you ain’t shit.”

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The encounter with Pappas left a bad taste in his mouth, but RG was there shredding the resort the following winter in 1987 anyway—the first official season of snowboarding at JHMR. A friend from California named Gary Cross brought one of the new SIMS boards out during a visit. Gary insisted on switching gear with RG so he could ski. That was RG’s first day at the resort on a board, and he slammed immediately getting off the Crystal Springs chair. He took several more big falls getting down to Casper, and by the time he got back down to the bottom of Eagle’s Rest he had been humbled.

Weeks later he ran back into Chris Pappas, this time on the slopes at Jackson Hole. Chris glanced at the SIMS board. “So,” he asked with a wry smile, “how’s that going?” 

He ended up offering RG a judging spot at the first half-pipe competition ever held in Jackson Hole. By the end of the season Chris had also offered him a job as a snowboard instructor. A few years after that RG was the director of the entire snowboard school. He hired a young instructor named Mikey Franco, who would eventually take his place running the program, and he watched the meteoric rise of kids like Rob Kingwill and Julie Zell.

Things have changed in Jackson Hole since then. The open boundary policy at JHMR and the explosion of backcountry tools & equipment (along with the somewhat more modest expansion of backcountry skills & knowledge) have turned the top of Teton Pass into a morass of people. Most of the guys in RG’s old crew are gone anyway, drifted away on the tides of life. He makes his living now driving the START bus, which gives him an up-close look at each fresh generation of newcomers experiencing their first winter in the Tetons. He can’t fault them for their enthusiasm. For his part, he’s back to where he started: poking around in the woods with his snowboard, looking for some soft snow.


– OL

Olaus Linn was born in February of 1986, during one of the deepest snowstorms in Jackson Hole history. Coincidence or fate?


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