Steep & Deep

Jackson Hole Mountain ResortA confession: I live in Jackson, Wyoming and am not an awesome skier. I am far from awesome, in fact. Not really starting to ski until moving here at the ripe age of 21, then skiing in the backcountry 99% of the time — where you have to first climb up something before you can ski down — can do that. I’m fit, but there’s still only so much I can climb up in a single day.

I can get down most anything, but it won’t be pretty. And sometimes it may involve falling over a 30-foot mid-run cliff that should have been rappelled, as happened last April.

Being such a skier in a ski town such as Jackson is difficult at best, and terribly embarrassing at worst. Of course I want to be better — ski faster and more confidently — but most of my friends are much stronger skiers than me. Who wants to be the one everyone is waiting for at the bottom of the lift?

For many years now, I have started each winter with the goal of skiing a certain number of days at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. If 20 days of my ski season were at JHMR, where a day could be upwards of 50,000 vertical feet versus the 5,000-8,000 vertical of a big backcountry day, I reasoned I’d end the season much closer to being the kind of skier I want to be.

It never worked though. I’d go to the village with friends and feel so badly — not that they’d say anything but encouraging words — for being slow that I’d skulk away after a couple of hours.

Next time I’d go solo. That was even worse. There was nothing to distract from or drown out the voices in my head berating me for picking up my inside ski to initiate a turn, for uncoordinated pole plants, and for not being aggressive enough, among other things.

Skiing was supposed to be fun, but these solo days at JHMR made my college calculus classes look like a party. Again, I’d skulk home after a couple of hours.

Next time I’d head back to the backcountry, where the uphill and untracked powder were old friends.

No longer.

I consider myself far from an expert skier, but knowing how people tend to overestimate their abilities, figured I’d be fine in one of JHMR’s expert-only Steep & Deep camps. After all, I had already skied some of the resort’s gnarlier lines… albeit displaying varying levels of a lack of coordination in each instance.

I showed up at the first day of the four-day camp only slightly trepidatious rather than completely terrified.

The Steep & Deep camps are co-ed. Given their focus on challenging terrain and hard skiing, they do draw mostly men. I knew that going in.  JHMR has women’s only camps I could have done and that I had heard only good things about from the friends who did them. But I wasn’t looking to have my butt kicked, not my hand held. (Not that a women’s only camp couldn’t have done that; it just would have been the anomaly rather than the norm.)

If the truth be totally told, committing to a Steep & Deep Camp, I was actually more worried about instructors laughing at the girl who had lived in Jackson for 14 years and still wasn’t a ripper than about any terrain I’d face.

The camp started with a trip up to the tippy-top of the mountain in the resort’s 100-passenger tram. Each camper — there were about 30 of us — then made some turns down an ungroomed black diamond run as instructors watched us from below.

I didn’t make the best or the worst turns of my life and was put in a group in the middle. The five of us — myself, a 60-year-old radiologist from California, a 40-something retired firefighter from Long Island, a 23-year old recent university graduate from Mexico, and a real estate developer from Seattle — were then paired with coach Bill Truelove.

Dina Mishev

Each day started with us getting on an early tram. By 4 p.m., we had skied close to 25,000 vertical feet.

We hit black and double black diamond runs — some named on the trail map, others not — all over the place. We hiked to some runs. We talked and laughed. We practiced smearing our turns in some tightish, soft bumps in the trees beneath the gondola. We listened as Bill gave us instructions for drills. We fell. One morning, we went out of bounds (after getting a briefing in avalanche basics). We were filmed and watched ourselves — and laughed at each other — as Bill gave us feedback. We got better.

By the end of day two, I was keeping both skis on the ground as I turned more often than I was picking a ski up.

Even better? I was having fun.

Dina Mishev

Never did it cross my mind to skulk away after a few hours. In fact, never did it cross my mind to do anything but ski bell to bell… albeit with a 30- to 60-minute afternoon break for a lunch that was so much better than the GU I would have eaten in the backcountry.

At the end of day four, I wandered into Jackson Hole Sports ready to add a resort-specific setup to my quiver of backcountry skis.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has one more Steep & Deep camp this winter:  Feb. 29 – March 3. It’s $975 without lift tickets and $1175 including lift tickets. Steep & Deep camps are for advanced and expert skiers.

The Women’s Ski Camps are for intermediate through expert skiers. There is one more this season, March 5-9. It is a four-day camp, but there is a rest day built in on March 7. The prices are the same as they are for a Steep & Deep Camp.

Gondola photo courtesy of Tristan Greszko/Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

DINA MISHEV is a randonee skier, cyclist and hiker who, in February 2009, set the world record for the most vertical feet skied uphill by a woman in 24 hours. She is a category-3 road cyclist who consistently places top 5 in the longest single-day road race in the country… {more »}


  1. Kathleen Hyzy says:

    I loved your story! My sister lived in Jackson for 5 yrs and I was lucky enough to visit her a few times in the winter. JHMR is awe-inspiring and humbling. I am an average skier and still have bad skills from learning in the 80′s, but with the help of my nephews I was able to enjoy the tram once and the gondola multile times. I wish I could have afforded “Steep and Deep” but I was able to get out there anyway and have a great time! Keep skiing! You’re lucky to live where you do!

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  2. I don’t ski but I am inspired!!!!! Love the skiing pic – beautiful!

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  3. Pati says:

    I love JH. I summered there years ago. I am aYoga teacher and fitness instructor… I want to move back…. Any jobs in fitness there?
    Gina, you are fearless!

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  4. Dina says:


    Jackson is a very fitness-oriented place. There are tons of fitness jobs here. But also tons of competition for them….. Good luck.

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  5. Carlyn says:

    I grew up in Telluride, started skiing at 3, skied at least 4 times a week, had world renowned skiers as my instructors, and am still FAR from an awesome skier. Truth be told, I know a lot of people who are in the same boat as us. I finally asked my brothers for help when I was in my 30s, and it was the best thing I could’ve done. Not only have they made me ski harder than I ever would on my own, but they’ve given me tips and pointers that over the last 5 years have improved my skiing (and we have a great time skiing together). Yes, they still wait for me at the bottom of the run, but I know they’re using the time to watch how I’m skiing. When I reach them they give me constructive criticism and we move on. So in addition to the camps and clinics, ask one of your friends who’s an awesome skier to ski with you and give you pointers (make sure it’s just the two of you – more people will make you uncomfortable). Most likely your friend will be flattered you ask and enjoy helping you, plus it’s a day to hang out and have fun.

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  6. I haven’t skiied or snowboarded in maybe 13 years, despite picking both up rather quickly. But this winter, I’m making it a goal to get back to at least competent status. Thanks for the inspiration!

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