Jackson Hole

We stepped onto the shuttle bus from the Jackson Hole parking lot to the ski area’s base facilities. Dad nearly took out two or three windows trying to maneuver his long, straight 205 cm skis onboard. He plopped down into his chair with a big grin on his face and immediately addressed the driver in Dad’s trademark too-loud-for-the-current-setting voice: “So, this is Jackson Hole, huh?” “Yep,” the driver replied. Awkward silence. Fortunately, Dad doesn’t easily recognize hanging silences as awkward. He charged forward. “How come you guys don’t have more snow?”

The driver thought a minute, probably trying to figure out why this guy thought he was a warlock with control over the amount of snowfall the leeward side of the Tetons receives. “Uh, I dunno.”

“I guess all the snow’s going north,” Dad opined. “Anchorage has 78 inches on the ground!” Dad informed everyone we met that day that Anchorage has 78 inches of snow on the ground. He also told me personally twice. I will never forget this statistic, as useless as it is. Who knows though. Perhaps someday one of my grandkids will be finishing up a doctorate in comparative climatology and will be unable to find snowfall statistics for south-central Alaska in the winter of 2006-2007. “Well,” I’ll say smartly, “I don’t know if it will help, but Anchorage had 78 inches of snow on the ground on 30 January 2007.” My grandchild will elatedly exclaim that his/her dissertation is now complete with that single, elusive piece of information filling in the final gap. I’ll lean back in my easy chair and smile a smug little smile, sipping contentedly at my Ovaltine.

Jackson Hole is a sprawling ski area that spills from the peaks of the Grand Tetons into a wide, flat valley below. The town of Jackson sits a few miles south, home to the rich and the ski bum alike. We rode a lift with a plumber from Nantucket, Massachusetts. He stays there during the spring, summer, and fall, then he moves to Jackson for the winter to ski. He got married last year to a school teacher. Seeing as how marriage is all about sacrifice, he cut his stay in Jackson this winter down to five weeks since his wife is still on the East Coast teaching.

They say Dick Cheney has a place near Jackson. I bet he doesn’t ski. If he did though, I’d apply to be a Secret Service agent assigned to protect him. I’d have no choice but to follow him about all over the slopes to ensure his safety. And, since there’d be at least half a dozen agents assigned to stay close to him, I’m sure no one would miss me if I took a few runs down the double-black diamond chutes and faces that Cheney couldn’t handle. He’d probably adopt me when he saw my mad skiing skills. Or at least buy me a Kit-Kat.

Meanwhile, back on the slopes, Dad and I were riding the gondola with a bushy-bearded grizzly bear of a man and a sleek, boy-faced snowboarder in a trendy camouflage coat. Dad dispensed with the get-to-know-you small talk, opting instead for his bread-and-butter conversation starter: “There’s 78 inches of snow on the ground in Anchorage.” The two men glanced at one another and looked confused. “I bet the helicopter skiing is pretty good up there this year,” Dad continued, blissfully ignorant to the baffled expressions our gondola-mates wore. The snowboarder ventured a timid “Yeah, probably.” I smiled into my coat as Dad rambled on amiably.

Dad is the friendliest guy most people will ever meet. He’s so friendly it takes people a minute or two to get their bearings and realize it’s not an act, he’s genuinely THAT affable. But 95% of the people he chats up end up with a relaxed smile on their faces and a hearty expression of best wishes for Dad when the conversation ends. He could, quite possibly, be the world’s nicest – if a bit random – guy.