By Meredith Edwards
I first heard of Jackson when I was 14. I read an article about this town in a ski mag and immediately asked Dad if we could go. “You’re not ready for that,” he scolded.
When I was a Junior at the University of Louisville, Dad took us to Jackson for a family ski trip. One week and I was hooked.
I returned that summer and worked as an office puke at a local whitewater rafting company …. the typical 90-day wonder.
That summer in Wyoming was amazing.
Back at college I never connected. In Jackson I found my tribe – many people who were doing things I wished I could do. I loved the mountains and I wanted to be a mountain athlete.
My senior year at college I drove back and forth from Kentucky and Wyoming for the love of the high life. That Spring Break, skiing at the resort, I hit a kicker in the park and broke my femur. I was showing off and that ended my track career at Louisville. My steeplechase coach was pissed.
I graduated from Louisville December 10th, 2007. December 12th I was in Jackson, crashing at the Igneous ski factory.
Most still considered me a 90-day wonder and from the south. Being a 90-day wonder is bad enough. People thinking I was from the south made it worse. I actually grew up in Pennsylvania, and went to Louisville on an athletic scholarship, but no one would listen.
I made a lot of mistakes that first winter. Looking back now, it was a disaster.
First was taking a job cocktail waitressing at Nick Wilson’s – a tourist bar at the resort. Young, blonde, and naive, I wanted to be taken serious and instead found myself hawking PBR’s to big city tourists and bro brahs.
I was desperate to meet ski partners. I can’t tell you how many times guys laughed at me when I talked about things I wanted to ski.
I told the guys at the factory I was going to ski Central Couloir my first winter. They laughed, dismissively. I’m super competitive, and took it personal, like a little kid.
Instead of keeping my mouth shut and letting my skiing do my talking, I turned myself into a clown. I’d skied in ridiculous outfits. I spent more than one day at the resort skiing in a bikini.
Who was I kidding? Nobody cared that I could ski. All they saw was a dumb blonde chick in a pink and white bikini.
I got attention, all right.
Women hated me. Men saw only my chest and butt.
I deserved the scorn. I was the stereotype.
For whatever reason, finding female mountain partners is nearly impossible. And sifting through male partners was walking a minefield.
There were two extremes. Guys who wanted more than a ski partner. And then super nice guys, who treated me like a princess and did everything for me.
I needed knowledge. I wanted to learn how to be in the mountains.
I was lucky when I met Dave. Dave and I met one night out at the a restaurant. I was eating dinner by myself and so was he. He started up a conversation with me and he was actually the first one to mention Mountain Athlete to me.
I told him that I was an athlete in collage and grew up ski racing. We started talking about the mountains in Jackson and he offered to show me around.
I’ll never forget my first skin with him. We crossed the range via Teton Canyon to Cascade Canyon.
Half way we got smashed by a late Spring storm. Super windy, white-out conditions, full-on nuking. We were stuck up on a pass. I was seriously scared. Dave was calm.
We hunkered down off slope, in a grove of trees, and waited for the storm to pass by. No big deal.
It was a 15-hour day. Skiing, walking, route finding, gear management (skins were glopping up), Spring storm. That trip was my first day of “Mountain School.”
Dave became my first mountain mentor. He taught me the mountain way.
We took several Teton ski traverses together that first winter. In the summer, he took me up the Grand. This began my obsession with this mountain.
I was comfortable asking anything – the dumbest questions.
“Dave, how do these crampons work? I can’t adjust them!”
“Dave, teach me how to self arrest.”
“Dave, why did you pick that route and not this one.”
Dave never judged me. He was always patient. I wasn’t some dumb blonde 90-day wonder. He respected me as his student.
I needed to get serious. My trips with Dave were just the start. I stopped hanging out with 20-somethings. I got back into racing with ultra running and when I discovered skimo racing, things took off.
In the six years since, every day has been another at Mountain School. Now I’m close to running the Grand, car to car, in under 5 hours. I’m a sponsored professional ultra runner. This winter I was the lone American woman to compete on the World Cup skimo racing tour in Europe. I’ve freeskied most the big lines in the Tetons, the Middle, South, Nez Perce, and numerous lesser known, technical lines. I’ve tried to ski the Grand twice, but was shut down both times. I’ll make another attempt within the next couple weeks.
However, despite all this hard work and these solid mountain accomplishments, my reputation is still haunted by those immature stunts, 7 long years ago.