Jax N’ Lance here to tell a tale of the legendary Captain Benny Wilson. A skier with so much grace, sense of humor, talent, and positivity that you will want to hang out with him every day!
Upon meeting Benny, he will be the charming one in the top hat, scarf with skulls, epic tribal necklace, and smile from ear to ear. There is something familiar the legends that we have featured thus far (check Wild Bill here) and that is the never ending stoke to ski and live within the mountain culture day in and day out.
One of the first times I saw Benny was in 2013. He was sending it over some trees off of thunder bumps in a hot green outfit. The jump purposely placed in the path of the trees because as Benny claims “it is gaper day, and folks should get some major air.” And if not… end up in the trees.
As many know, Benny was the key part in founding the legendary Jackson Hole Air Force with the late Howie Henderson. The JH Air force is a group of avid skiers who embody the free skiing movement. Known as the “rope ducking, patrol-provoking alpine outlaws” they helped to revolutionize open boundaries at JHMR officially in 1998. Some may even call it skiing’s biggest underground ski/rebel fraternity. The group built their reputation on stealth and secrecy, often poaching info from patrol radios to live life to an epic extreme. Then chalking up the daily tales over beers at the Bear Claw after. They always ensured a level of safety with their pack and avalanche gear and made safe choices… all looking out for one another within snow conditions and abilities.
It all started one day when they decided to make a movie that would feature Jackson Hole at it’s finest. That being steep, deep and full of big air. Benny came up with Jackson Hole Air Force. Spending 3 years in the marines, he quickly took his own spin on a marine slogan of swift, silent, deadly, and created the tagline Swift, Silent, Deep.
Today there have been roughly 300 patches given to those talented enough to be invited to join the Air Force. A high honor for any skier when the invitation comes their way. Benny has many fond memories as they skied around the resort from the thunder bumps, wall of voodoo, croakie point, to building massive airs and having bbq’s in caves. If you are lucky, you may see them hanging out at their latest hangout on the “bench” in the Hobacks.
It is a fond memory for the early members of the JH Air force to think back to the Bear-Claw Café. And one for us to even enjoy today as the Gelande Quaffing competition has grown to a whole new level. One fine day when the crew was waiting for the mountain to open, the bar tender would send fresh beers sliding down to the customer that ordered it. One glass took an extra hyped glide and was on track to take air and create an epic catastrophe when out of nowhere it was caught and then pounded by the patron. Gelande Quaffing was born. From there it became a game of après ski competitions and served as epic entertainment for spectators. It subsided for some years but low and behold on Feb 24th, 2008 it returned bigger than ever when the Village Café hosted the Annual Gelande Quaffing World Championships. It is now known as one of the most awesome events of the season. There are training camps, training videos online and teams take it very seriously. Working year round on their skills throwing back flips, twists or jumps before they catch and pound the steins of PBR.
It is quite a fond memory for Benny to think back to his days in high school when instead of paying attention to his studies he was busy designing the JH Air Force patch we see around today and dreaming of his next freestyle ski comp with his friends.
Back then in competitions their passion was not so much focused on getting the win as they traveled to competitions, but more so to get some major airtime. They loved traveling to other resorts and seeing their friends master their own slopes and jumps while others hucked and had wicked crashes and couldn’t wait to try again. Not to say that they didn’t ever have podium results. Benny was 2nd in Alta and won junior comps one year and many more.
Benny grew up in The Hostel where he lived for 12 years before heading off to college. Benny’s folks built this gem that was and still remains the most ski bum friendly option among Jackson Hole Mountain Resort accommodations. Ski ski out baby!
Benny’s favorite lines in the World bring up a fun discussion of his days in the early 90’s in Alaska with his buddies including the late Doug Coombs. They would tag peak after peak with first descents and had the time of their lives for a few years aching to go back the second they arrived back home from a visit. Back then, it was line after line of fresh, steep tracks that lay all over AK. His favorite being what he would call a “sheer crazy omg run” also known as Meteorite located outside of Valdez, AK. In the Tetons he enjoys Albright peak and on a powder day landing fresh tracks in the south Hoback.
Beyond favorite lines is his favorite lady Joanne. Landing eyes when Benny was told by Anna in a cocktail hour with employees to introduce himself to someone he didn’t know. He landed eyes on a beautiful ski instructor and before he knew it Doug and all of his buddies where trying to say hi too. It took some swooning and winking over days but one night at Vista Grande his dream came true. Joanne, who was also a server there, asked if Benny needed anything else at the end of dinner. He simply replied, a phone number, and a date with you Friday night. She scurried off and Benny’s friend Cooper claimed to prove to Benny it wasn’t that easy to get a date. Moments later she arrived with her number, address and what time to pick her up.
If that wasn’t easy enough the wedding sheds a fun tale on a skiers thrill to ski. Joanne was at risk of loosing a “spouse” pass when she retired from her ski school job at the resort. Spouse meant spouse and a wedding certificate would serve as proof. So, as die hard lovers and skiers would do, they jumped in their buddies VW and eloped to Vegas. They performed their nuptials at Treasure Island and took the road trip home slowly to honeymoon through Zion and other canyon adventures. Today they are still happily married and enjoy a fun adventurous life with their 9-year-old son Mattias.
Benny now continues as a ski instructor going on 24 years for the resort. He enjoys building skis with his company Wilson Powder Tools. We saw two models during our visit with him that included custom graphics of the Tetons and Cody Peak. Three skis are in the line up and include the Ledge Air, Big Mountain and Punk Rocker. The next concept rolling out will be a mobile custom ski factory to complete a custom ski slope side within 24 hours. Design, Build, Ski. Perhaps even margarita or two while the skis are made.
Lance ended with a question of trying to find out how Benny keeps his body together after skiing ever since opening day in 1965, day after day and year after year. His answer was many knee surgeries, a broken neck, fused vertebra, screws placed, a dropped shoulder and beyond. Gliding along the slopes today, you would never know it but he has war wounds ever since a little baby to show it. Playing definitely takes a toll but body maintenance is the key to keeping strong and fast.
From a competition stand point, Benny never dipped into the Dick’s Ditch ski comp, but he was always known to lend out his skis to make those that did compete kill it. He loved competing in the Margarita Cup at Snow King Resort and the Powder 8’s with Dave The Wave and others. In fact, Dave and Benny are stoked to compete again this weekend together. It was amazing to catch them take a training run to get ready for the big comp this weekend.
In a nut shell, Benny shows true to his claim that skiing is supposed to be fun, and ignite your spirit with bliss. And, of course, swift, silent and deep.
Jax N’ Lance