Igneous Contributes to the 21st Century’s Only Ski-Bum-Barn-Raising words by Brigid Mander photos Lydia Dixon

 Thick, choking dust and blistering summer sunshine, replete with armies of whining mosquitoes and biting horseflies is an environment few skiers would bear on purpose, but if it brings the promise of accessing choking deep powder, well that is another story.  And so, in what could only be described as the ski bum version of a wilderness Amish barn-raising, Team Igneous joined others in Jackson’s backcountry ski community in repairing the remote Jackson Ski Cabin this past August.

Isolated, extremely difficult to find, and at best, a wearying, day-long slog on skins in the winter, the cabin has become a legend, accessing seldom skied terrain in the Gros Vente Range.  When the cabin’s permit holder, the Jackson Hole Ski Club, was notified several years ago that a new woodstove, a new roof, and a new outhouse must be built for the permit to be reissued by the US Forest Service, it was clear- if these repairs could not be effected, the era of the Ski Cabin would be over.

Justin tending the poop pile


However, things have changed since the cabin was first built. The Ski Cabin was originally erected over several summers in the early 1950’s by some of  Jackson’s passionate skiers and backcountry skiing pioneers, who cut a road and in many jeep trips, brought up enough lumber and tools to build the small structure. Since the area the cabin is in was designated a Wilderness area in the early 1980’s, complications in making repairs happen multiplied exponentially beyond the simple first obstacle of funding. Wilderness areas are free of manmade structures and roads, but the cabin itself was allowed to remain based on its historical role in early backcountry skiing in the Jackson area, and in 2001 was actually added to the register of historic places for its contribution to local ski culture.
 

A massive undertaking on a bare bones budget, the Jackson Hole Ski Club and Jackson Hole Leadership Club teamed up with Jackson native and skier Justin Watsabaugh,(Wats) who had been plotting to repair the cabin for years.   With the usual modern construction and transportation of materials methods definitively nixed by the US Forest Service due to the site’s Wilderness designation began what some would see as a logistical nightmare.  Wilderness rules applied-no helicopters dropping materials, no motors (no trucks, jeeps, or ATVs,), no skil-saws, electric drills, chainsaws, nail guns- a complete return to pre-engine, pre-power tool days.  So the faint, old access road was re-discovered, and cleared just enough to fit pack animals and pack people.
 
  Old fashioned two man saws were special ordered by Wats, strings of ponies and mules were donated by local ranchers and skiers, and supplies packed in over 41 pack trips.  Lumber was brought up the steep (but much shorter than the winter trail), summer access trail by teams of two volunteers at a time (horses won’t take the lumber), and the repairs commenced.  Over 100 people hiked up with extra supplies and to lend a hand, sawing, splitting, hammering, cleaning up, or helping out in the cook tent, expertly (and deliciously) run by JH Leadership Club’s volunteer Ellen Linn with her years of hunting camp experience.
The Igneous crew helped in the painful transport of lumber up the 4 mile ascent, and joined in the woodworking team to make the project happen correctly, and miraculously-right on schedule. This small army of dedicated free labor hammered, sawed, and expertly measured into perfection the new roof and outbuilding.  The next best use for woodworking skills besides making skis, some might say.  In less than two weeks, with all volunteers labor, a solid new roof was put on.  The original outhouse was dismantled and moved from its spot of 50-something years…ah, yeah.  Luckily, there isn’t much traffic in this area.

 

Since the USFS allows the cabin to be used solely for winter ski touring purposes, for now it has been turned back over the famed armies of mice that inhabit it, consider it their own domain, and whose bold nightly escapades compete with tales of powder in the decades of journal entries in the cabin.  But once winter rolls around again, the mice will have to share their new roof with the occasional pesky ski touring parties that show up, bent and determined to put the roof to its intended use- facilitating sweet powder skiing.