Local: My Jackson Hole Life

Travis Rice

// By Lila Edythe
Photo by Chris Wellhausen 

Travis Rice learned to ski about the time he learned to walk. His dad was on the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. “I remember late afternoons at the ski patrol shacks up on the mountain and going down at the end of the day with the patrol doing their sweep,” says Rice, who is now 39. But he eventually traded skis for a snowboard, and he has spent the decades since transforming that sport. Rice burst onto the professional scene as an unknown 18-year-old. That year at Snowboarder magazine’s Superpark contest at California’s Mammoth Mountain, he hit a backside rodeo (one full flip combined with a back 180) across a 117-foot gap jump—and pretty much broke the snowboarding world. No one had seen anything like it before. In the years since, Rice has won gold medals at several US Opens, X Games, and Icer Air events; been voted the Transworld rider of the year; and starred in more movies than you could watch in a lifetime of winters, including 2011’s The Art of Flight, which he also co-executive produced and which showcased bringing acrobatic park and pipe tricks to big mountain terrain—something Rice did before any other rider.

Today, freestyle progressive freeriding is a niche within snowboarding, and Rice continues to both grow it and push the idea of what’s possible. Last winter was the inaugural year of the Natural Selection Tour, a three-stop event (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort; Baldface Valhalla, British Columbia; and Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Lodge) Rice dreamed up to challenge athletes to go big and get creative on natural terrain. “Our fundamental value is that Mother Nature is the main character,” Rice says. 

Here he shares some highlights from his Jackson Hole Life.

Growing Up
My dad built a house in the Aspens—on like a one-acre lot—and that’s where I grew up. It was a sweet spot, and about 90 percent of the houses were local families. All of the kids would explore the neighborhood’s nooks and crannies. In the summer, we’d hit the speedbump jumps on our bikes and set up a lemonade stand next to the West Side Store. Back then the Aspens had an indoor dome hockey rink, and I was on a team that practiced and played there. This was before the Snow King Center. Our hockey team was crazy; we’d win city division select team leagues. When I was 14 or 15 though, I gave up hockey to snowboard more. I love hockey and it’s super fun, but at the end of the day, with how much freeform there was within snowboarding and the cultural components of it—the music, the clothing, the equipment, the larger-than-life characters, all of which I was really attracted to—snowboarding was better for me.

Skiing and Riding
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is so big and rugged it makes you a really strong rider. It’s funny—some people shy away from Jackson Hole unless they’re advanced level, but, honestly, it is the fastest track to becoming a good rider. If you go boarding mellow groomers on a mountain in Colorado, it doesn’t make you a better rider very fast, but if you get thrown into the mix and challenging terrain at Jackson Hole, that makes you a better rider. Fast. The kids that grow up here are such savages on their equipment. And we also have Snow King. Frankly, I think it was Snow King that made me the rider that I am. JHMR was, of course, the fun place we all wanted to ski in high school, but night riding at Snow King—I’m forever grateful that they had night riding. I could go every day after school and, Snow King conditions can be good, but for the most part it is hard, challenging snow, kind of like the East Coast, and, honestly, that makes you a great rider.

Buying a House
I was able to buy a condo in Rafter J when I was 23 or something. I definitely had some help on the financial side from my parents and recommendations and advice from friends. Two years later, I was able to get a real funky home down toward Hoback. It was previously called the “Funky Ranch.” It was owned by Lester Funk, who went by Les Funk. It was funky, but two remodels and 14 years later, it is now far from funky.

Natural Selection Course at JHMR
Right when the Teton Lift was being built [2015], I was looking at that face below it and that part of the mountain. It was so savage—chock full of hazards like thick brush, broken, downed trees, and sharp rocks that, even in a good winter, didn’t go away. It was probably the most rugged part of the ski area, but I could see how we could transform and improve this rough and hazardous piece of the mountain into one of the best runs. It has a high level of consistency—any higher in elevation and we risked wind effect—and is high enough that it is above the inversion. It’s got the perfect tilt and aspect—it’s got beautiful northeast morning light. Over three summers, our badass build crew put thousands of hours of work into the face. It’s still rough—
we want that for the event—but now I think it’s the best run on the mountain.

Courtesy Photo

Becoming a Dad
Having a kid has given me a whole new perspective and gratitude for both my parents and parents the world over. The attention and love it takes. But Jupiter Rune Rice is really psyched to be here, and he’s doing what we’re doing—enjoying the People’s Market and live music; getting comfortable with cold water; going for walks around the community. He was born at St. John’s, just like I was. It is a beautiful facility and some lovely individuals work there. Brook and I were really grateful I could be there. The [Covid-19] rules had just changed, but still there could only be one other person there. We had to have my mom come to the window to meet him. JH