Parishioners made their way to the Bridger Gondola in the dark, snow pants swishing as they hoofed it up the steps.
A bell rang, signaling the first gondi turns of the day. On the mountain only a few lights shined through the fog — groomers preparing the ski hill for Gaper Day. A few avalanche cannons boomed up high.
The line of people waited to load the gondola, which would carry them to the interdenominational sunrise service, an annual tradition at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, assuming Easter falls on a date when the mountain is still open. The Rev. Ben Pascal, resort chaplain and senior pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, has been leading the service for five years.
“Usually I try to time it so the sunrise is toward the end of the service,” he said.
The morning got off to a slow start, as 10 inches of fresh powder complicated morning operations.
“There’s fresh coffee waiting for you at the top,” a resort employee reassured those at the base of the mountain.
At around 6:30 a.m. the loading started.
“This is the first time I’ve experienced a delay,” said Jeremiah Feicht, who is the pastor of RidgeLife Church in Jackson.
This year was Feicht’s third sunrise service at the resort. Easter weather in the mountains tends to vary. Some years attendees are wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts; others they’re bundled up in puffy coats and hats.
This year’s snow was a bonus to most at the top of the mountain.
“It’s cool because of all the fresh snow,” Feicht said.
“I love nature,” he said. “But I love seeing so many people from different backgrounds, churches worshiping God together in such a beautiful background.”
The service, which attracted a few hundred people, brought in locals and visitors, like Elaine and Anthony Isaacs, who landed in Jackson on Saturday evening. The couple traveled from Dallas for a short ski vacation.
“We don’t really spend holidays away from home,” Elaine Isaacs said, which is how they found their way to the sunrise service.
Snowflakes floated down upon the programs as the four-person choir kicked off the service, encouraging those huddled around the wooden cross to join in. As kids played in the snow at their parents’ feet, Pascal welcomed attendees with a nod to the chilly weather and slow start.
“Typically we gather in the dark before the sun rises, but today the Lord had other plans,” he said.
Around 7:20 a.m. the sun started to poke its way through the clouds, shining down on the fresh powder below. A few songs, a prayer and short message later, Pascal closed with the following message, alluding to this year’s intersection of Easter and April Fool’s Day.
“When you show up to God, amazing things will happen in your life,” he said. “On this Easter Sunday be a fool for Christ. It may be the wisest thing you do.”
“It was a lovely message,” said Nan Burton, who was visiting from San Francisco, “and a lovely way to spend a morning with lovely people.”
Burton nodded to Leslie Appleby, a traveler she had met while riding up the mountain. Appleby was visiting from the opposite coast, from Boston.
“It’s just a beautiful way to celebrate Easter, especially today when it’s snowing,” Appleby said.
Bagpiper David Clark played a few pieces for folks as they stood to load the gondola for the descent. While a few locals lamented missing making turns down the fresh powder (the service ended before the mountain opened), Burton said the music was a great ending to the morning.
“And now we have a bagpipe player,” Burton said as she stood in line to head down the mountain. “How great is that?”
Kathy Smith, a parishioner at St. John’s Episcopal Church, said she’s attended half a dozen of the resort’s sunrise services. She remembers a time when they were held at the top of the Aerial Tram — an even chillier Easter experience most years.
But the views from above Teton Village are hard to beat.
“I think it’s very spiritual because the wilderness speaks to us,” she said. “It’s hard not to believe in a higher power when you look out at the mountains.”
And, she admitted, the casual mountain atmosphere is also a selling point of the service.
“We don’t have to dress up,” she said.