Southerner learns how to keep warm, drive in snow, wax snowboard.
Kate Hull, who moved in June from Texas to Teton Valley, Idaho, wears a puffy jacket while working Saturday at Habitat in Driggs. The art of staying warm is one of the skills she’s had to master in her new locale. “Three different people have come in and asked me if I’m cold,” she said. “I’m freezing.” BRADLY J. BONER / NEWS&GUIDEView our entire photo gallery >>
By Kate Hull, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
December 12, 2012
The front tires desperately spun as snow sprayed out from the side of my car.
Lodged in snowpack atop Teton Pass, my front-wheel drive Honda CRV didn’t budge.
While headed for the Jackson Albertsons from my house in Driggs, Idaho, I started to get nervous about the road conditions. I tried to make a U-turn up top to retreat and got stuck in WYDOT’s plow slush.
As I stood in the snow wondering what in the world to do now, my mind raced with flashbacks of the day I purchased my car two years ago.
“Do you want to upgrade to four-wheel drive?” the salesperson asked.
I scoffed, feeling smug that I knew better than to fall for that unnecessary expense. I lived in Austin, Texas. Why would I possibly need four-wheel drive?
But there I was, stuck on the pass, trying to figure out how to make it as a Texan in the Tetons.
My southern cohort Bailey Watson, who hails from Tennessee and is much more snow-savvy (she assumed I knew that rain in the valley meant snow on the mountain), had the idea to flag down some helpful backcountry skiers. With their shovels, we dug ourselves out. In telling the tale, we got a few deserved lectures from friends who knew better.
“There’s a chain law, Kate.” Well, now I know.
I had moved to Teton Valley, Idaho, in June, searching for a place where fly-fishing and an outdoor lifestyle were right at my fingertips — sans the traffic and high-rises I left back in Austin. And I sure found it. But as summer slipped away and fall set in, I realized how unprepared I was for what was around the corner.
Might I be in over my head?
Out here, people talk about snow like Texans obsess over the next rain. “I hear there is a big storm coming!” “How much are we talking here?”
I, on the other hand, had never seen snow past a few inches, let alone driven in it, just Texas’ notorious black ice.
Skiing and snowboarding were as foreign to me as another language, another language I had to learn or at least translate.
Apparently, “watch out for sharks” means “look out for rocks” in the snow.
But I am doing it.
Step one: Make sure my car is snow-ready, or winterized.
Buying a new car is out of the question for now, so my best bet was to get a new set of snow tires, check the engine coolant and make sure I had the right viscosity of oil.
Watson also recommended I create an “emergency kit” that now stays in my trunk at all times, just in case the pass and I have another incident that doesn’t turn out as well. I put together some essentials, including blankets, snow boots, shovel and flashlight.
Ever seen those anti-slip ice cleats that attach to your boots? The ones that probably make you think, “Who in the world would buy those?” Well I have two pairs. And I still fall, often.
Until I can adjust to front-wheel driving in the snow, though, I will be hitching a lot of rides — a special thanks to those of you who deal with it.
Step two: Get warm.
Back in Texas, winter wear was a jacket I wore once or twice a year, and boots purchased for fashion’s sake, never function. When I am not writing or trying to drive my car in snow, I can be found at Habitat, the purveyors of high-altitude provisions in inner-city Driggs.
There, thanks to the patience and expert knowledge of manager Mitch Prissel, who founded the shop in Victor almost 10 years ago, and the rest of the Habitat crew, I learned how important good gear can be.
In October, during the first snow of the year, I was working at the shop with the rest of the group getting all the skis and winter gear ready to go.
“Oh man, it is really coming down out there!” I said with enthusiasm.
In unison, the guys shot me a glance that was the equivalent of the Southerner’s “bless your heart” head nod — which translates to “You have no idea what is coming, do you?”
I sure didn’t.
“There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear,” they say.
My wardrobe now consists of wool base layers, puffy down jackets and waterproof boots. And if you truly want to know if the new Patagonia ultralight down jacket will keep you warm, look no farther than this Texan. I live in it. I am an expert at what will keep you warm and dry, my new mantra.
Step three: Get out and play.
“Do you ski or snowboard?” folks would ask me daily.
“Well, neither. But I want to learn!”
For months, customers at the gear shop hearing that answer looked at me with astonishment. What in tarnation was this Texan, who had never skied, doing here in the powder capital of the world? I wasn’t too sure, either.
I quickly came to grips with the fact that there is more to the valley than fly-fishing, and dove in to learning all I could as quickly as possible.
To acclimate myself, I asked Prissel and my other co-workers all my embarrassing questions: What is the difference between rocker and camber? What is this “pow” I keep hearing about?
Although I had never even set a boot in a ski resort until opening day a few weeks ago, my shop buddies steered me toward a beginners’ snowboarding lesson with the Grand Targhee Ski and Snowboard School.
“The hardest thing is to get out and commit to doing it,” said Mark Hanson, the director of the ski and snowboard school. “After that, the real fun begins.”
Turns out Hanson is right. And now I am hooked. The snow is soft, beginner terrain is readily available and I continue to be met with nothing but welcoming, helpful people willing to give me a tip or two along the way — or at least help me out of the powder I managed to fall and get stuck in. Not to mention a top-notch instructor, Trecia Mills-Heine, who had her hands more than full that first day.
You will fall a lot, she said, but sooner than later, the pieces will come together.
Thankfully, they are starting to. I even bought myself a brand new Arbor Cadence snowboard complete with all the best gear, including the brightest neon blue and orange goggles probably ever made. Trust me, you want to see me coming.
I may not be able to connect my turns, but toe side is starting to make more sense, and the lift is no longer the most intimidating thing I have ever come across. Sure, I still fall off it nearly every other time, but pain takes a backseat to embarrassment, and I quickly get up and hurl myself down the mountain, a little more gracefully each time. I have not committed to the more advanced terrain just yet, but I am getting close.
I knew from Day One that I wanted to call this place my home. But the night it truly set in was at the Teton Gravity Research premiere of “The Dream Factory” and Jeremy Jones’ “Further” at the Spud Drive-In Theater.
“Want to go to the drive-in for the TGR premiere?” asked Chris Hildman, a search and rescue volunteer who has become my go-to Teton Valley snow resource. He has also been the recipient of many “What do I do now?” phone calls and educated me on the chain law as I sat stuck on the pass.
“Oh, and grab a jacket and gloves,” he added.
I’ve learned not to question him.
That night, instead of sitting in my car like one normally would at the drive-in, we stood in the cold as the snow swirled down, trying to drink a beer before it froze, and watched skiers and snowboarders go down terrain I couldn’t even begin to imagine attempting. It was the most incredible thing I have seen.
I realized what it is about this place that makes you stay: There isn’t anything better than the feeling of shredding down the mountain slopes on fresh powder.
But I hear winter hasn’t even started yet.