by Dina Mishev
Photo by Bradly J. Boner
Even though she grew up skiing with her family, the idea of moving to the West never occurred to Leslie Mattson. “I grew up in New England thinking I wasn’t ever going to move anywhere else,” she says. But, when Mattson was 31 and on a ski vacation in Jackson with her boyfriend, he announced he was moving here. At that time, she was working in the development office at Tufts University, where she had earlier earned a Bachelor of Science degree. “I had a nice life back East,” she says. “And as an Eastern skier I had no idea what you were supposed to do in powder!” Mattson, now 60, eventually changed her mind about the move. “I decided I could try it for a year,” she says. That was 1990. She is still here today, and Jackson Hole is a better place for it. Mattson first waitressed at The Wort Hotel, but quickly found her way back to development. From 1992 to 2004, she was with the Jackson Hole Land Trust, where she oversaw the “Campaign for Our Valley,” which raised $26.5 million for private land protection. Since 2004, she has been the president of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation (GTNPF) and has raised more than $75 million in private donations that have improved visitor experiences in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), including a $14 million remodel/revival of Jenny Lake that, after five years of construction, is finished this summer.
Q: Did you ever think of leaving the valley?
LM: Yes, but not after one year. It was when we were trying to buy our first place in the late 1990s. I know it’s so much worse now, but even back then, for us to get a mortgage and find a condo, it was difficult. I remember my parents visiting and my mom saw the real estate ads. She said, “For this kind of money you could live on the ocean.” My response was that I didn’t want to live on the ocean. I wanted to live in Jackson.
Q: So you never regretted the move?
LM: Moving here was the one of the best things I ever did in my entire life.
Q: That’s high praise. Why?
LM: I’m in an amazing place doing work that makes a difference with incredible people. I can meet with donors and not have a dress on. I can even meet donors skiing or hiking. I’m really lucky.
Q: Do you have a favorite part of the Jenny Lake revamp?
LM: The new Chasm Bridge is awesome!
Q: What project that you’ve worked on do you feel has had the biggest impact on the valley?
LM: It’s hard to choose. At GTNPF, I think raising the money so that the National Park Service (NPS) could purchase 640 acres of state land called Antelope Flats that was at risk of auction and development was important. The development of eighteen 35-acre home sites in the middle of GTNP near Mormon Row would have been terrible.
Q: How much did 640 acres in the middle of GTNP cost the NPS?
LM: $46 million. We raised $23 million, and these funds were matched by $23 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Q: How long did that take to raise?
LM: It was a nontraditional campaign. We did it in nine months.
Q: That’s super fast. During that time did you have time to do anything but fundraise?
LM: It was hectic, but—and this wasn’t planned, of course—it didn’t impact ski season at all. We kicked it off in the spring, and it ended in November. Right when it was ending, it started dumping. I thought that worked out nicely.
Q: How many days a year do you ski?
LM: About fifty, which is pretty good for someone with a job. It’s the right amount for me. I couldn’t ski every day (not that I’ve ever had the opportunity). I love my job too much.
Q: What was more difficult—learning to ski powder or raising $23 million in nine months?
LM: Ha! Definitely raising $23 million in nine months!