The first thing that comes to my mind when someone mentions Jackson Hole –is backcountry skiing. Upon arrival in the sleek new Jackson Hole airport in the midst of the Teton Range (part of the Rocky Mountains between Wyoming and Idaho), I quickly learned that there was much more to Jackson Hole than just the winter activities. What I did find was an incredibly welcoming group of unassuming world class athletes and sport enthusiasts, who were just waiting to share their hometown hospitality with me.
A quick history lesson, Via Ferrata translating from Italian to English is the ‘iron path’. Around WWI (1914 – 1918), climbing routes throughout the Alps and the Dolomites were constructed and used for soldiers. The routes used a series of steel ladders and anchors. Fast-forward to over 100 years later and these routes are now used for recreation and can be found all over the world. Instrumental to bringing Via Ferrata to North America, is co-owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR), Connie Kemmerer. No stranger to high altitudes, Connie summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011. I was honored to help her to christen two new Via Ferrata routes on our visit: Levitate (Intermediate level) along the Ranger Ridge Area and Evolution (Difficult level) by the Casper Buttress Area.
Since 1992, Connie and her siblings Jay and Betty have jointly owned JHMR. Their namesake town, Kemmerer, Wyoming was the company town for the Kemmerer Coal Company founded by their great grandfather in the late 19th century. With a family history well-rooted in the state, it seemed very natural to continue their investment and dedication to the area they love.
The Via Ferrata itself is climbing adjacent. It’s guided, and by use of carabiners, lanyards, harnesses and a trusty helmet even the most inexperienced climber (me!) could climb up the vertical, steadily and safely. The trick is attaching the two carabiners along the hefty solid steel wire and never unclipping more than one at a time. Other sound advice – don’t look down and trust your feet!
Our group started with Levitate – getting our bearings and crossed over a 120-foot suspension bridge to get to the next new route. Believing in the powerful energy of crystals, Connie had crystals embedded in the rock to share the positive energy along the Evolution Route. I spotted a large Rose Quartz crystal enroute, symbolizing love, compassion and forgiveness.
After a busy day climbing and biking, tandem paragliding seemed like the least strenuous way to take in the sights of the Teton Valley. With the help of founder/owner Scott Harris of Jackson Hole Paragliding , I went from admiring the paragliders one day, to flying the friendly skies the next. The weather was on our side – clear skies and the sun was out to warm up the wind to launch the canopy.
Taking the Bridger Gondola up the mountain, I listened to Scott’s wealth of knowledge and expertise of being a mountain pilot flying around the world from New Zealand to Europe. Starting over 20 years ago, Scott taught himself to fly, then he taught his friends. Inspired by the optimal paragliding conditions of a flat valley and steep mountains, he chose Jackson Hole as the perfect location to launch this company, introducing the art of flying to eager tourists and paragliding enthusiasts alike.
As a beginner paraglider, I was glad to have Scott’s expertise guiding me. After he laid out the wing and organized the lines, he harnessed me in. We talked about how it was a “watch and wait” scenario until the wind was strong enough. After around 5-10 minutes, the time had arrived! Scott instructed me to aggressively walk and then run. Pulling the weight of the canopy is much like running with battle ropes holding you back. There is some heavy tension. I ran approximately 2 meters before being carried up in the air. Then, I sat back and enjoyed soaring across the valley.
Up in the air, Scott and I talked about the Teton Valley, some of the aerodynamics of the flight (I even got to take control of the command lines for a bit!), and adaptive flying. In partnership with Teton Adaptive and Project Airtime , Scott and his team offer adaptive instructional tandem flights, making flying accessible for all.
About 20 minutes later, we reached the ground with ease at a neighboring field, 10 minutes away from the Teton Village. I’m thankful for the inflight Go-Pro photos and video to capture my flight. Even though I felt safe and secure, there was no way I was going to reach into my pocket and take out my phone!
If you are into cheering on extreme athletes from the sidelines (regardless of the season) or enjoy the thrill of exhilarating sports, look no further than Teton Gravity Research (TGR).
With the Teton Range as an accessible playground, the famed outdoor media and lifestyle brand’s film studio is located in the neighboring town of Wilson . Over the past 25 years, the sports enthusiast brothers, Todd & Steve Jones, have worked steadily to build a portfolio containing over 50 award-winning action sports films and TV series.
I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Jones at his studio where he talked about TGR’s growth and some accomplishments of his company over the years, including their work with HBO. What started as a dream, using funds from commercial fishing and heli-skiing guiding to buy camera equipment, has turned into a profitable action sports film empire.
In June, TGR debuted Esperanto, a film capturing the universal language of two-wheels no matter what native tongue you speak. Shot worldwide with 21 different mountain bikers in Spain, Japan, Africa, Ecuador, Canada and the US.
In August, the Jones brothers launched a streaming service – Teton Gravity Research TV. Viewers can watch the collection of select clips covering more than 25 years of TGR’s history for free. The paid subscription tier gives viewers access to the exclusive TGR vault including popular films such as The Continuum and Harvest. Paid subscribers will also get discounts on merchandise and insider perks at live events.
The company’s latest film, Magic Hour will have its world premiere on Sept 17, 2022. Magic Hour captures the natural beauty of the most picturesque places on the planet. See Kai Jones, son of Todd Jones and nephew of snowboarder, Jeremy Jones show his athleticism in the film.
True to form, TGR are committed to minimizing impacts to the environment and are proud supporters of the Surfrider Foundation, 1% For The Planet and Protect Our Winters, among other initiatives.
Sharing a weekend away with such passionate people as Connie, Scott and Steve, it became apparent – yes, Jackson Hole is more than a winter destination. It is a year-round destination filled with passionate individuals who are waiting to share their experience and love of the outdoors with you. More importantly, it is a place where the Grand Tetons inspire visitors and inhabitants to reach further and expand their horizons
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