MIDDLE-AGED FAT GUY FINALLY CONQUERS CORBETT’S
by Todd Hartley
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and I think my son might be confusing leprechauns with the Easter Bunny. I heard him and his friend discussing something about how leprechauns now offer a choice of a pot of gold or – for people unfamiliar with the concept of purchasing power – lots of candy. He’s going to be very disappointed when he not only doesn’t get candy, but the only pot of gold he sees comes as a result of once again failing to flush.
But that’s not what I came to talk about today. I came to talk about a subject very near and dear to my heart, by which, of course, I mean me. For I have finally checked off the most important item on my childhood bucket list a mere 28 years after the fact. I have finally skied Corbett’s Couloir, sort of.
For those of you unfamiliar with one of the most famous runs in American skiing, I’ll explain. Near the town of Jackson, Wyo., lies the ski resort of Jackson Hole, which has a well deserved reputation for being rather steep. One of the steepest runs is Corbett’s, a long, wide chute cutting through the cliffs that rise hundreds of feet on both sides. It’s famous because it makes for great pictures and sits in full view of people passing by on the tram, people at the top looking over the edge and people at the bottom who’ve gathered to watch the idiots.
To get into the couloir itself, one has to negotiate a vertical, icy cornice that can range in size from just a few feet to considerably more than 20. When conditions are ideal, and a fresh blanket of snow cushions the landing, this is best accomplished by simply jumping off the cornice. Unfortunately, I have never been to Jackson Hole when conditions made this feasible for a person of my weight.
I first looked over the edge and chickened out in 1984, but I was only 13 then and had mostly skied in Vermont as a kid. Chickening out was definitely the proper course of action that year and the next year, when I backed away again. The next two years, I blame chickening out on the poor conditions, which were also to blame when I chickened out in 1991, 1992, 2000 and 2005.
This year, a couple of days before I got there, conditions at Jackson Hole were so good that a film shoot was held at Corbett’s. My wife knows people, so we got to see footage the next day, and skiers were hucking themselves into the couloir with disregard. Kids were throwing back flips, skiing off the cornice backwards, dropping 60-foot cliffs. It was insane.
By the time I got there, naturally, the landing zone was rock hard, and the cornice was a 20-foot wall of ice. There was, however, a series of small ledges leading down the face of the wall that were just big enough for skis to fit on. After a few minutes’ deliberation, I decided I had to go for it or risk never having the chance again.
I skidded my skis over the edge and gingerly eased them down the topmost ledges to arrive safely at the final ledge. With most of the peril out of the way, I tried to inject a semblance of style into my descent by arcing a turn off a steep snow bank and out into the couloir proper.
The snow was harder than I’d anticipated, causing me to take a tumble over the front of my skis. I entered the couloir on my back and started sliding down the steep pitch before I was able to flip my skis below me and come to a stop. I picked myself up and skied the rest of the run to the sarcastic cheers of the two dozen people at the bottom who’d seen my gaffe.
It wasn’t pretty, but as one spectator said, “At least now he can say he did it.” And so I will: at the age of 41, married, with a child, I skied Corbett’s.
On the way back to Colorado, we stopped at a Burger King in Rock Springs, Wyo., for lunch. Parked in front of the restaurant was a minivan with a tiny black poodle inside and the word “SLAYER” in giant, demonic letters across the back window. I’m not sure why, but something about it just seemed apropos.
Some day, Todd Hartley vows to clean his son’s “pot of gold” without chickening out again.