Local: Hello Profile

Nancy Leon

When a downhill skiing injury sends you in a different direction.

// By lila Edythe
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

After tearing her ACL five turns from the bottom of the ABC Chutes in Granite Canyon just outside the boundary of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Nancy Leon got even deeper into skiing. Fifty-eight at the time, Leon was a lifelong downhill skier who had dabbled in Nordic skiing. Post-ACL tear, Nordic skiing was a cruical part of her recovery. “My ACL was hanging on by a thread, and the doctor said I didn’t have to get it repaired. He recommended physical therapy instead,” Leon says. “And the physical therapist I worked with recommended Nordic skiing. It made my knee stronger, and it opened up a whole new world for me.” (Leon got in six more downhill ski seasons before her ACL “went for good” and she did need a surgical repair.) 

“I had always seen Nordic skiing as a great way to get fit, but it was only a thing I’d do when I wasn’t distracted by downhill [skiing],” Leon says. “After my ACL tear, downhill wasn’t distracting me and I found Nordic skiing wasn’t just about rehab and fitness, but curiosity and discovery. I didn’t want to ski the same old and was inspired to keep finding new places to go, which wasn’t difficult if I was okay with it possibly not being great, which I was. Some friends did get nervous going to a place we didn’t have any information on, though.” To collect information, every time Leon stepped into her skinny skis, she made a GPS track. By the end of the season, she had several dozen GPS tracks, along with photos. The following fall, at the annual Avalanche Awareness Night sponsored by the outdoor gear shop Skinny Skis, Leon approached the owners at the time, Phil Leeds and Jeff Crabtree. “I told them I had all of these tracks and photos and descriptions and asked if they’d find a website of winter trails interesting,” Leon says. “They were staunch supporters immediately.” The site, JHNordic.com launched in 2013 with a database of about 40 tracks and trail descriptions written in Leon’s authortitatively authentic voice. 

We’re always looking for feedback on the website. It is designed for community use. We love to hear from users and are always looking for new trails, GPS tracks, and trail reports.”

—Nancy Leon, Email trailconditions@jhnordic.com

Today, JHNordic.com has information on more than 100 trails that add up to more than 600 miles of possible adventure—all of which Leon has explored herself. “We’ve got other people than myself submitting tracks and descriptions now, but I still make sure to get out and do every new trail that’s added,” Leon says. And, despite its name, JHNordic.com isn’t a resource only for Nordic skiers. “It’s about all winter trails,” Leon says. “I don’t have a preference if you go out on classic or skate skis, or a fat bike, or snowshoes—for me it’s all about inspiring people to discover new places.” And Leon is still adding trails. “That is the amazing thing,” she says. “There is just so much to find out there. This winter, the Darwin Ranch is going to groom trails for the first time.”

The website, whose back-end was originally built by Leon’s son, a computer programmer, has a robust search function. “You can search by name, region—there are seven regions—the length of the trail, whether it’s groomed or dog friendly, and even steepness,” Leon says. “You can do multiple searches at once, too, like look for a 10-mile, dog-friendly, fat biking trail in Teton Valley. I want to make it as fun and easy as possible for people to broaden their horizons.”

Having created JHNordic.com, Leon is an undisputed authority on Nordic ski trails and areas in and around Jackson Hole. Here are three of her favorites, and why she loves them.

I only discovered Rosie’s Ridge on Togwotee Pass a few years ago. It has incredible views of the Tetons, and you can make it as short as you like, or go out all seven miles until you reach the Federal Aviation Administration tower that serves the Jackson Hole Airport. The trail isn’t groomed; you’re basically following a Forest Service road. 

Trail Creek Ranch is a really special, historic place at the base of Teton Pass. The Ranch, founded in 1942 by Betty Woolsey, captain of the first women’s U.S. Olympic ski team, offers trails that range from beginner-friendly to challenging.  

Park at the Granite Canyon trailhead in GTNP and ski down the Moose-Wilson Road, to the old JY Ranch road. Ski down the moraine and you’ll be at Phelps Lake. This is a lovely ski because you won’t see that many people, and once you reach Phelps Lake, you can get out and ski on the lake, and the views of Death Canyon and Albright are very beautiful.

JH Nordic Alliance
Simultaneously with the launch of JHNordic.com, Leon worked to bring together a group of more than 40 organizations, businesses, and interested individuals as an advisory group, JH Nordic Alliance. Alliance members were not only sources of information for Leon, but interested in achieving something concrete for the community beyond the JHNordic.com website. “When you get people to work together, you can be so much more,” Leon says. “You can tell a bigger story, meet people, and create a whole new circle of friends with shared interests. I’m a real believer that it takes a village.”

The winter prior to the Alliance’s formation, Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) had only groomed the Inner Park Loop Road about three times. “We thought it would be great if we could have consistent grooming in the park,” Leon says. Alliance members connected with GTNP officials and with the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, which raised enough money to hire Teton County Parks & Recreation to groom the 12-mile stretch of road twice a week for the 2013/14 winter. In 2018, there was enough money to groom three times a week. This winter, the Inner Park Loop Road will again be groomed three times a week (Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday) for classic and skate skiing. 

This winter also marks the first that the recreational masters Nordic clinics founded by the JH Nordic Alliance in partnership with the Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club will be run entirely by the ski club. “They’ll run 10 masters clinics—five skate and five classic—and mix it up between Teton Pines and Trail Creek,” Leon says. “I’m happy to start things and hand them off to people.” JH

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