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A Snowboard With Soul
Words: Don Watkins

lay in photos and video

By the age of three I was sliding on snow. By sliding on snow I mean aimlessly pointing my skis straight while my parents kept me from being a leg-sweeping, 2′ missile on the bunny hill. Soon thereafter I perfected the wedge Christy and the weekend family trip to the mountain was born. Year after year I skied the same 500 vertical foot runs with family and friends, and it never got old. Truth be told, the more I was on snow, the more I missed it when I wasn’t. Eventually snowboarding made its way to the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, and my father and I decided to take a trip to the dark side. After a few days standing sideways and many bumps, bruises and laughs later, I soon realized the mountains would be a large influence and source of inspiration throughout my life.

Snowboarding became – and remains – my passion. The feeling of freedom, adventure, and soul satisfying sensation experienced while on a snowboard encouraged me to explore the Green Mountains of Vermont while at college as much as possible. Like a stack of dominos, or strategic chess move as I like to see it, it also brought me to Jackson Hole. It wasn’t just the riding; it was the people, culture and the way the community connected and thrived in and around the mountains. It was this commonality and bond that brought me to the factory door of local board builder Mikey Franco of Franco Snowshapes to construct my dream ride (link).

Mikey and I hit it off pretty quick. It was easy; we both love snowboarding. Mikey, however, takes it to the next level. He gets as much, if not more enjoyment, watching riders experience highs they never thought possible on snowboards he custom tailored to their style of riding. I speak from firsthand experience. What puts Mikey’s boards in a league of their own though is not just his ability to build what you (the rider) want. It’s a combination of his extensive 30+ year snowboarding resume and methodologies and trade secrets shaped and molded by his close friends Mike Paris and Mot Gatehouse of Igneous Skis (link). Mikey started out as one of the first snowboard instructors at Jackson Hole in the winter of 1989-90. He continued on the snowboard instruction career path, soon joining the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) developing standards and techniques for teaching snowboarding all over the globe. He trained Burton Snowboard Learn To Ride and Experience Program instructors, and today, when he’s not in the Franco Snowshapes factory with his sidekick Max Ranall, you’ll probably find him guiding riders for JHMR around the backcountry. Needless to say, the guy knows how to and what make a snowboard.

This was great for me because I had no clue how to make a snowboard. I didn’t even know what I wanted to build. All I knew was I wanted more of that soulful feeling of freedom and adventure I experience when riding, and this was the ticket to it. So after a few conversations with Mikey about what types of boards I currently have and my favorite type of riding, it was settled. It was time to add a swallowtail to the quiver.

As one of the more timeless board shapes of snowboarding, the swallowtail is designed to float and turn effortlessly in powder. Influenced largely by surfing, the general shape is often a wider nose than tail and a stance offset to favor the “V” cutout on the back of the board. Simply put, its lack of uniformity means it’s trickier to build. However, I knew I had a good coach, so I was up for the task. So it began- we glued 1″ wide maple and ash stringers together to make the core; measured and set our running length and center points; drilled inserts; planned and profiled the core; cut and epoxied base, edge, fiberglass, core and top sheet material; cut out the overall shape on the band saw and fine tuned the swallowtail and nose by hand; sanded and glassed the top sheet; tuned, waxed and finally mounted up the bindings. Roughly 30 hours later spread over a couple weeks we had a snowboard!

Besides having the opportunity to personally build my snowboard and learn way more about design, shape and construction than I ever imagined, what makes this board special is it’s built for me and my style of riding. From stance to taper and overall flex, it’s what a snowboard for me should be. So, you might ask, was that first turn and day on the snow everything I imagined it’d be? As cliche as it is to say, yes, words cannot describe. The funny thing is it keeps getting better! With that said, do yourself a favor and drop on by the Franco Snowshapes and Igneous Skis Factory. Whether you’re in the market for new boards or not, the passion these guys have for their sport and the mountains is contagious. You’ll realize if you haven’t felt it already that sliding on snow is more than just something to do to pass the time, it’s a way of life.

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Teton County is no stranger to extremes. Not just the weather and terrain are extreme; the people who dare to adventure in them are just as radical. Jackson Hole’s beautiful landscape attracts skiers, rock-climbers, snowboarders, bikers, kayakers, snowmobilers, paragliders, hikers, hunters—the list goes on and on. All of these activities can be thrilling, inspiring, and life-changing, but they come with a high risk. In a place where temperature can drop to 40 degrees below  or an avalanche can start in a matter of seconds, safety is absolutely imperative.
Jackson Hole adventurers are typically prepared. It’s no secret that our valley can spring meteorological surprises our way at any moment, but there are advanced technologies that provide extra safety and peace of mind. However, sometimes Mother Nature’s fury is out of our control.


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This one goes out to all of the women out there.  The women who don their helmets, jackets and ski boots, those who love the unending wintery blizzards, the ones who hear the call of the mountains in winter.  There’s no age to the skier girl, she could be 85, she could be 3, but when her wild woman sings the mountain song, she must go.  Skiing is her dance, it makes her feel free and unchained to pressures of the outside world, it is where she can run wild.  (Below: Jess McMillan)
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I’ll start this post by being completely honest—I had a long day on Wednesday and was feeling exceptionally tired when it was time to attend my first SHIFT JH event at the Center for the Arts. Upon walking in, I found a seat in the back of the auditorium and quietly waited for Auden Schendler’s Climate Change presentation to commence. I had no idea what to expect and definitely did not anticipate the dynamic trio that took the stage.
Christian Beckwith of the Venture Collective started off the night with a poetic description of his love for the Jackson Hole landscape. An avid skier and family man, Christian shared his memories of hiking amongst snow-laden trees and feeling so peaceful in the cathedral-like stillness of the winter forests. He also expressed concern that his 4 year old daughter won’t get to experience the same version of this natural bliss. Immediately, I realized that Climate Change may be scientific at its core, but it’s loaded with emotional significance. Despite the long day, I started to sit up straighter in my chair.
Ski 7
After Christian’s opening remarks, Jerry Blann, CEO of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort shared his perspective before introducing Auden Schendler, VP of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. Blann recognizes that enacting sustainable practices as a revenue-driven business is a difficult, but crucial component of long-term success. Being a Jackson based company can make sustainability decisions even more logistically difficult due to geographical location. Much to my amazement, he said that Jackson feeds over 3 million people over the course of a year, and 96% of that food is imported. 96 percent!? That fact had my undivided attention.
Then, Auden Schendler took the stage. The SHIFT program called his presentation a “talk”; I would call it an awe-inspiring performance. His use of history, philosophy, personal anecdotes and science had the entire audience absolutely captivated and, at times, rolling with laughter.


According to Schendler, climate change is not a policy problem or a technology problem, it’s a people problem. To tackle the issue of global warming at large-scale, individual businesses need to take sustainable steps and act as mentors to other organizations. Instead of feeling paralyzed by the greater issue of global warming, they can turn inward and look for small ways to adjust company policy, and like anything, small steps will eventually lead to big progress.

Unfortunately, this blog post can’t capture the electricity that was in the air last night. Over the course of 90 minutes, I went from exhausted to exhilarated, and I am confident that every day of the SHIFT will have a similar effect. How refreshing to sit in a room and learn while surrounded by other smart, passionate, global-minded citizens.
Many thanks to Christian Beckwith, Jerry Blann, and Auden Schendler for a mind-enriching evening. Noteworthy upcoming events at SHIFT include the Mix’ed Media Masquerade Ball with Asher Jay and the foodie favorite, People’s Banquet. For more information on all upcoming shift events, please visit

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With the leaves changing and a dusting of snow on the upper reaches of the Tetons, fall is here, and with it a sense of seasonality that remind us of our connectedness to this beautiful and bountiful valley. This fall Chef Wes Hamilton, from Couloir Restaurant, along with our community is celebrating that connection through food.

This week Chef Wes with Chef Rodger Freedman from Fine Dining Restaurant Group head to the acclaimed James Beard House in New York City to present a meal entitled From the Range, which showcases the amazing tastes of our valley. A menu highlighted by locally grown beef, steelhead trout, elk, huckleberries, and various produce from Leaping Lizard, Wyomato and Full Circle farms thoughtfully represents the Jackson Hole culinary scene to the New York media and public.

Pictured above, Chef Wes Hamilton’s House-Smoked Idaho Bison Tenderloin

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Come on out to the town square on Thursday evening and join St. John’s Medical Center’s oncology team, hospital and foundation staff, volunteers, survivors, and members of our community as they turn on pink lights around the square and help spread Breast Cancer awareness.

On Thursday, October 2, at 5:30 at the antler arch on the southwest corner of the town square, St. John’s Medical Center will recognize Breast Cancer Awareness month with a ceremony on the Jackson town square to “Light the Town Pink”. “We hope that the pink lights on the elk antler arch will serve to remind people throughout October that early detection saves lives,” said event emcee and hospital trustee Elizabeth Masek.
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There’s snow on the mountains and Teton Village Sports is making room for all of the latest winter gear–but first, they need to clear out some of their summer inventory. Come out this Friday through Sunday for 40% off on all summer merchandise, with an additional 10% off for passholders. But wait, the deal get’s sweeter–All last season skis are 50% off and passholders get 10% off 2015 new winter gear. Wine and cheese will be served on Saturday from 2 until close, so come out to the village, check out the snow on the mountain, and take advantage of this awesome deal.

Snowing at Jackson Hole Resort

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White doesn’t have to go out of style after Labor Day… Throw on your best winter white and join us for an action-packed evening of film and fashion to raise money for Teton County Search & Rescue.  Evening festivities include Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s 3rd annual Fashion Show followed by the premiere of Warren Miller’s newest film, “No Turning Back,” which features JHMR athletes Jess McMillan and Rob Kingwill.

Sip a cocktail, enjoy food from local vendors, and get involved in the stocked silent and live auction, which features an array of 2015 winter gear valued at over $10,000. From backpacks and custom boot-fits to a live auction of full ski kits modeled by local skiers, this night is sure to be blast.  Tickets are only $16 and available at the Center for the Arts—all proceeds go to Teton County Search & Rescue.  See you on the 25th–Considerate it an important part of your ski season preparation!

Event: The White Party

Date: October 25th, 2014

Venue: The Center for the Arts

Time: Matinee Film at 2 pm and Evening Event at 6 pm

Tickets: $5 for matinee and $16 for The White Party

For tickets click here or call the Center for the Arts Box Office at 307-733-4900




Posted by & filed under Featured, General.

This isn’t the first snow of the year in Jackson Hole, but with opening day just 59 days away we are really starting to get the winter itch. These photos were all shot from near the top of the aerial tram, with an inch or two (it’s still snowing though!) gracing the upper mountain this morning:
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