On June 1, at five in the morning, Brown pushes her bike onto Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s famous red Tram. A 10-minute ride will transport her to the top of the ski area, where, just after sunrise, she plans to jump off Corbet’s Couloir. Joining Brown are Schaffer, a TGR film crew of about 20, and Cam McCaul, who’s flown from his home in Bend, Oregon, to attempt the stunt also.
Over the years, Corbet’s Couloir has developed a reputation as one of the gnarliest inbounds lines in the world, mainly because it’s hard to enter. A 20-foot-high cornice wraps around the top of the 10-foot-wide corridor with granite walls on either side. After the first few turns, the couloir opens up into a wider, 40-degree pitch that’s about 500 feet long. It holds snow deep into the summer. Since it was first skied in 1967, plenty of skiers and snowboarders have leapt in—and many have been carted away with blown-out knees and broken bones. In 1999, a snowmobiler named Shad Free even jumped off the couloir. But nobody has ever ridden off it on a bike.
The tram docks and the crew makes its way down to the couloir, where Brown, McCaul, and Schaffer immediately begin shoveling a section of the cornice, flattening it out to form a launchpad. Brown seems nervous. She’s been relatively quiet all morning and now is beginning to voice her doubts. “I’m just trying to figure out how I can make this work,” she says as she tosses snow over her shoulder. “I’ve watched videos of skiers do it. But on a mountain bike? We’ll see.”
McCaul steps back and surveys the work the trio has done. “That looks pretty good,” he says. “Better,” Brown responds. “But it’s still intimidating.”
Just after 7:30, McCaul is the first to jump. He lands smoothly, then rockets through the couloir before augering his front tire into the snow and wiping out. Still, he’s unscathed and Brown seems buoyed by his success.
“Do you still want to do this?” asks Schaffer. “Oh, yeah,” says Brown.
Ten minutes later, the radio crackles. “Thirty seconds,” the voice says. Brown adjusts her blue and red full-face helmet, wraps her hands around her handlebars, and lowers her head.
Brown pushes off and heads toward the lip of the couloir. As she takes flight, the group falls completely silent. Brown is in the air for two intense seconds, and then… “She stuck it!” shouts somebody from the TGR crew.
As soon as Brown hits the snow, she begins picking up a tremendous amount of speed. Unable to use her brakes on the slick surface, she begins careering down at over 60 miles per hour, hitting undulations that cause her to hover above the surface. Finally, about 300 feet down, her bike rotates and Brown goes flying over the handlebars, landing headfirst, then tomahawking 50 feet down the mountain. When she stops sliding, she raises her hands in the air.
When I finally make it down to Brown, about 20 minutes after her crash, she’s stretching her back and wiping crusted blood from the end of her nose. “I was going so fast!” she says. She giggles a little and tilts her head to one side to work out a kink. “But I made it,” she says. “I’m still alive.”