By Deb Barracato // Photography by Kathryn Ziesig
My nerves hummed as I watched the women in my Rad Moms group disappear one by one into a short chute leading into The Cirque at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR).
What was I thinking?
I looked around for an escape, but volunteer coach Lauren Roux provided just the right words of encouragement to convince me to go for it. “You don’t have to do it, but I know you can,” she said.
I’m not sure my descent qualified as skiing. I know it wasn’t graceful. But when I finally reached the opening at the bottom and could make a smooth turn, the others hooted and hollered as if I had blazed right through.
That’s the purpose and power behind the Jackson Hole Babe Force, a group of badass women who volunteer their time and talents to empower other ladies to seek adventure in the mountains. Crystal Wright, a former Freeride World Tour competitor and lifelong Jackson Hole resident, launched the Babe Force in 2012 as a sort of feminist response to the all-male Jackson Hole Air Force, a group of avid skiers whose epic powder pursuits helped open the boundaries at JHMR in the late ’90s. Originally, the group utilized an informal call-tree to announce mountain meetups for women skiers, then the Babe Force secured 501c3 status and started raising money for scholarships to send women to avalanche safety courses and skills camps, and to support custom mountain adventures. Roux is secretary of the all-volunteer board.
When I moved to the Tetons in December of 1992, I had no skiing experience and little interest in it. I followed my college roommate here for the adventure. But, when in Rome …
I jammed my feet into a pair of rear-entry boots someone’s ex-girlfriend had left in a garage, borrowed an old pair of rental skis, rescued some poles with bright orange feet-shaped baskets out of the lost and found, and followed friends onto the Bannock lift at Grand Targhee Resort. It was a typical low-visibility, deep powder day at The Ghee, and thankfully someone suggested we get off at mid-mountain (back when there was a mid-mountain lift shack). Still, by the time I made it to the bottom, my REI raincoat was packed with snow, and I was too tired to even consider trying another run.
During the remainder of that first winter, I purchased a bona fide ski coat and learned to make turns. Then, what was supposed to be a four-month hiatus in Driggs turned into a summer stint, one more winter skiing, another summer, and then winters started stacking up until my skiing improved to the point that I could manage most runs in any conditions at Targhee.
Last winter, I realized my 12-year-old son wasn’t excited to ski with me anymore. I figured if I offered to film him and his friends as they “sessioned jumps,” they would be happy to have me along.
But could I keep up?
Serendipitously, I saw a Facebook post for a scholarship application to the Rad Moms program, a course that provides a day of ski coaching and female fellowship at The Village. Happy for the temporary diversion from work, I applied on a whim, not really expecting to be chosen. If selected, however, it would be my first formal lesson and one of only a handful of ski days at JHMR in all the 28 seasons I’ve spent in the Tetons.
I spent a sunshiny morning in January, along with four other “rad moms” and coaches Crystal and Lauren, skiing drills in the bowls and working on my form. I learned how to correct my stance for different conditions and find the power in my hips and glutes. In the afternoon, I tested my new confidence in the bumps, through the trees, and even with a couple of jumps. Though it wavered temporarily when I saw the tight line through the chute, I still felt myself deserving of the celebratory champagne at the end of the day. Accepting the scholarship given to me by the Babe Force nudged me to go outside my comfort zone. Mission accomplished.
You see, growing up, I went to many amusement parks with my family. My dad loved all the rides, including the roller coasters. My mom mostly spent the day sitting on benches with her purse in her lap, waiting on us. I decided then that I didn’t want to live my life on the sidelines. I wanted to be wholly in it—be the person who goes for it, even when it seems scary or uncertain. It sometimes takes work to maintain that attitude, but the reward has always made the effort worthwhile.
That’s why, at the top of Pair-a-Chutes, I developed the mindset of a kid.
It’s the same mindset that carried me to an elevation of 16,400 feet while trekking in the Himalayas, got me onto a surfboard in Costa Rica, and, most recently, sent me through Class III rapids on the Main Salmon in my inflatable kayak. I will never be the gnarliest skier, the fastest hiker, or better-than-a-beginner surfer, but I will always be the one willing to give it a go.
As my ski day with the Babe Force drew near, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the group. I guessed I might be the oldest, and I knew I wasn’t in tip-top shape. But I refreshed that childhood mindset and showed up at the base at the appointed time. The women ranged in age from mid-20s to me, 52, all with children from infants to teens. But age just didn’t matter. It was about sharing the thrill of adventure in the mountains and encouraging each other to go for it, without judgement.
Corbet’s Couloir did not make my bucket list, but I returned to The Village for more skiing adventure the very next weekend. Waiting on the Tram Dock for my first time ever, I thought about how happy I was that I took the chance and applied for the Rad Moms scholarship. If not for my empowering experience with the Babe Force, I might have skipped that day’s run down Rendezvous Bowl.