Local Life | Hello Q&A

Larry Hartenstein

Snow King’s director of operations lives to ski, but he’s even more passionate about helping others.

// By brigid mander
Photo by Andrew Schrum

Despite having non-skiing parents, Larry Hartenstein grew up (in Woodbridge, New Jersey) skiing. “I was about five the first time I went skiing. It was near our family cabin in the Poconos,” Hartenstein, now 48-years-old, says. “I didn’t take a lesson, and my dad waited at the bottom of the beginner area to catch me. I came down fast and knocked him over. I was in a lesson the next day.” By the time Hartenstein was eight, he was taking weekly ski trips with his dad’s best friend, Andy Mindel. “He was a super special guy who truly instilled a passion for skiing into me. We skied probably 30 days a year together,” he says.

By high school, Hartenstein was up to about 40 or 50 ski days a year. “I skied all of the ski areas that matter in the East, other than Smugglers’ Notch and Jay Peak,” he says. “We’d do day trips from New Jersey on buses, and Jay Peak was far away for a day trip.” Hartenstein put himself through college—Trenton State College, now the College of New Jersey—by working at the Ski Barn in Princeton, New Jersey. “I was a manager working 40-plus hours a week within a year of starting there,” he says. When it came time for him to do a year-long study abroad program, “Everyone else was looking at Europe, but I went to the University of Calgary,” he says. “There was a tiny ski area 10 minutes from the campus, and Sunshine and Lake Louise were nearby. That year I skied everything in Alberta and central British Columbia.”

Hartenstein started college planning on becoming a pediatric oncologist but says he eventually realized that as a doctor, he’d have very little time to ski. “At least until much later in life,” he says. After graduation, he did have a job that wasn’t at Ski Barn—he worked nine months for a software company—but says, “It just wasn’t me.” In June 2000, Hartenstein flew out to Jackson and interviewed at every ski shop in the valley. Then he went hiking in Yellowstone for several days. He got job offers from every shop and, that Labor Day, moved to Jackson Hole and started working as a manager at Jackson Hole Sports.

“My family is pretty much all doctors, lawyers, and educators. When I told Grandma—the matriarch of the family—that I decided not to go to medical school, she said she was very disappointed in me,” Hartenstein says. “Within a year-and-a-half of being out here, she was like, ‘You figured it out. I’m not disappointed in you anymore.’” Hartenstein stayed at JHMR, growing Jackson Hole Sports and eventually becoming its general manager, until 2021. He’s been the director of operations at Snow King Mountain since Novemeber 2022.

Q: What kept you at JHMR for 22 years?
LH: Besides skiing JHMR every day? It was an inspiring experience. I was given so many amazing opportunities, from designing a ski sock line with Farm to Feet to helping bring JH Sports from the smallest ski shop in terms of volume to the largest. But most important were staff relationships and subsequent friendships. I also had an incredibly supportive boss my entire time there, developed leadership skills, and loved being an ambassador for guests, locals, and staff alike.

Q: How has it been adjusting from skiing JHMR, a destination resort, to skiing Snow King, our Town Hill?
LH: Last year was a really good snow year, and I did a bunch of exploration off the backside of the new Sunnyside lift. You can get fresh snow a week after a storm. For someone like me who likes to do a little hike every day, Sunnyside really changed skiing at Snow King.

Q: How did you end up in Jackson Hole? 
LH: I briefly considered Colorado and California, but it was really only ever Jackson. For me, skiing is first, but backpacking and hiking are a close second. I skied in Jackson for the first time in 1994 but backpacked in Yellowstone for the first time in 1989 when I was 14. It was on that trip that I fell in love with the area. The two weeks I ended up spending as a patient in St. John’s [hospital] when I came out on a ski trip in 1998 made Jackson more appealing, too. I got to feel what the community was about.

Q: What landed you in our hospital?
LH: I broke my leg being a dumbass. I skied off Crabtree Rock, which is named for Jeff Crabtree, the former owner of Skinny Skis, who broke both of his legs off it. It’s in lower Teewinot Gully.

Q: Two weeks in a hospital for a broken leg seems like a pretty serious break?
LH: It was a large spiral fracture of my tibia that also caused compartment syndrome and damage to my peroneal nerve. Four operations included a double fasciotomy and skin graphs and left with me an open hole in my leg for nine months as the skin graph was only an 80 percent take. I got a bone infection and came close to losing my left lower leg. That didn’t happen, but I never regained nerve function and still have drop foot today.

Q: What made the job move to Snow King appealing?
LH: The mountain is such an incredible asset for our community, and the challenge of solving issues as it grows resonates with me personally and professionally, and certainly helps develop my skill sets. Operations is very different from retail. Working with the Jackson Hole Ski Club and Coombs Foundation has been wonderful, too. Supporting our local community is important to both myself and Snow King.

Q: Was it to support the Jackson Hole community that you became trained as a peer-to-peer counselor?
LH: That started from personal experience. I’ve had six employees die from alcohol-related things or mental health issues. There was a time when, once or twice a year, I’d drive an employee to the Community Counseling Center for mental health care. After I dropped the first employee off, I sat bawling in my car. I thought I generally handled it—I got him to mental healthcare—but felt like I needed more training. I called the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center to get that. Helping people in this way is so important to me, and I think I’m OK at it; I tell people the truth but am kind.

Q: Your son, Willy, is in sixth grade; how do you spend time together?
LH: We bike, hike, run, ski, of course—and we like to race each other on go-karts whenever we get a chance. He’s very knowledgeable about the solar system; he educates me on black holes, event horizons, and a whole bunch of other stuff I have no idea about—so we’re both looking forward to the upcoming observatory here at Snow King. Last winter, he dropped Corbet’s Couloir at JHMR. That was a proud Jackson dad moment for sure. He thinks he’s going to be faster than me this year. I’m like, ‘Yeah, maybe when I’m 70.’

“Over the past 20 years, I have said that at some point in my life I will work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Hartenstein says. “There is a beauty in the simplicity of what it does—a kid meets the criteria, they get their wish. And kids being sick and parents having to watch that, it just gets me.” Last year Hartenstein joined the board of Make-A-Wish Wyoming. At the time this issue went to press, he was working on his first wishes and also fundraising in Teton County. “Make-A-Wish Wyoming only gets about $30,000 annually from donors in Teton County, and we’re the wealthiest county in the state. I want to change that,” He says. “I’ve only been on the board for a short time, but already it is one of the few things that I am proud of myself for. Everything else—whatever. Helping critically sick kids and their families is important to me.” wish.org/wyoming

Ski Shop Guru: Check out these three pieces of Larry-tested ski gear.

1. My favorite ski pants are old camo Burton AK Hover Pants. Once I’m hiking, I get warm quickly, but before that, I’m very cold. These pants are microfleece lined and have four venting zippers—the mixture of the extra fleece lining and significant air flow is perfect. Burton stopped making this particular cut and style after 2005; that year, I bought three pairs at our annual Labor Day sale at Jackson Hole Sports. I have a continuous search on eBay for this pant, and the last few pairs I purchased came from Europe. I’m sort of known for these pants, and I have 13 pairs. I think this is a funny favorite pant for a guy who could have rocked any pant for free from any manufacturer.

2. I’ve been in three major avalanches, and the Scott Alpinride Airbag now comes with me on all my backcountry adventures. I hope to not have to use it, but it’s an amazing bag. 

3. The Lange RS 130 ski boots are the best dang boots for my feet and performance needs! It is truly the only piece of gear that I can’t ski without. I’m lucky that my boots fit me better than my street shoes, and with my foot drop challenges from my accident in 1998, I can walk better in my boots than my street shoes. Ski boots are a cast after all! JH

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