Guest Author - Carol Viau
A new ski documentary is coming out on DVD this fall and it is a must see. Swift, Silent, Deep is the motto of the Jackson Hole Air Force, and this film documents the life of the infamous ski fraternity.
Benny Wilson was the founding father of the Jackson Hole Air Force (JHAF). He grew up at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and began skiing around with adults when he was still quite young, taking gelande lessons from Olympic medalist Pepi Stigler (who had moved to Jackson to become the Ski School Director in 1966). Soon Benny and his friends began ski jumping off every snow covered rock they could find, goading each other into bigger leaps. Thus, the Jackson Hole Air Force began to take shape.
The rebellious group were dedicated skiers, sometimes hiking up before the mountain opened, skiing all day, and then hiking up the mountain after it closed. On warm spring days, they would grill hotdogs, drink beer, and build jumps at their favorite hang out spot on the mountain.
As two local photographers started catching these skiers on film, their pictures began to appear in posters and ski magazines. “Kodak courage”, a term used to describe the feats of courage when a camera is documenting the event, helped prod these skiers to take bolder lines down the slopes, jumping off cliffs for the ultimate line.
After two ski patrollers died in avalanches the winter of 1985/86, the ski area management impressed upon ski patrol the need to enforce the ski area boundary more closely. Skiers had begun to duck the boundary ropes in search of untracked powder. The ski area was concerned that these actions would cause another fatality, and the ski area did not have the resources to give an out of bounds incident their personnel.
Tension began to mount between the JHAF and the ski patrol, as this stricter management policy placed the two on opposite sides of the issue. With “Swift, Silent, Deep” as their motto, the JHAF continued to “poach” the boundary lines, attempting to ski out, get the deep powder and get back in again without being caught. Their rebellious spirit nurtured their ski obsession.
The most famous JHAF member was Doug Coombs, who won the first (and third) World Extreme Skiing Championships in Valdez, Alaska. He also went on to pioneer the heli skiing movement in Valdez, hiring many of his Jackson friends and co-air force members as guides. Doug became one of the most photographed and filmed skiers known to date.
Swift, Silent, Deep gives an excellent peak into the life, love and spirit of the ski bum culture.