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Travis Rice Reflects on the Magic of the Teton Wilderness

Travis Rice Dropping into a pristine line. Ming T Poon Photo.

Even though the Teton Wilderness is practically in his backyard, it’s long remained a mystery to Travis Rice. This trip with Bryan Iguchi and Jeremy Jones wasn’t even supposed to be happening in March, the original plan was to depart in April. But an unexpected high-pressure system changed plans quickly. Suddenly, they had a two-week window, and they weren’t going to waste the opportunity. Phone calls were made. Plans were canceled. Their gear was assembled in the middle of the night. Before they could catch their breath, they were putting skins on their splitboards.

RELATED: Jeremy Jones Shares His Thoughts from the Teton Wilderness

Human-powered trips have a beautiful simplicity. For someone like Travis who plans and produces a lot of his own expeditions, it was refreshing to let someone else take the reigns. This trip was the brainchild of Bryan Iguchi. Bryan, alongside a crew of OG Jackson Hole snowboarders, were some of the first to explore the wilderness boundary with snowmobiles. Starting from Togwotee pass, Bryan became enamored with land that felt infinite and untouched. Realizing that the snowmobile was ultimately holding him back, he transitioned into splitboarding to explore even further. Bryan became a champion of Jackson’s backcountry snowboarding revolution, and as he pushed deeper into the unknown he fostered the next generation of riders. One of his pupils was Travis. 

“When I was young and impressionable, Bryan and the rest of the Jackson crew were the ones who I’d look up to the most,” Travis explained. He was fortunate that Jackson was home to some of the best riders in the sport. They showed him the ropes, and it helped him become the snowboarder he is today. “Bryan has a unique ability to share his passions with people who are seeking illumination on the processes of mountain travel, I was lucky to be one of many that he’s chaperoned,” Travis said.

Despite their long friendship, Bryan, Travis, and Jeremy are rarely able to get out into the mountains together. Ming T Poon Photo.

But as Travis’ career evolved, so did his friendship with Bryan. The mentor is now one of his favorite partners in the backcountry and collaboration is common for the two riders. Bryan was an integral component for several of Travis’ most celebrated projects. The Fourth Phase was driven by a poem Bryan wrote years ago:

WATER EVAPORATES.

CLOUDS FORM.

LIFE BEGINS.

A SNOWSTORM ATOP HIGH PEAKS FALLS HEAVY.

SETTLES, MELTS.

FLOWS THROUGH TRIBUTARIES. STREAMS INTO RIVERS.

THEN FINDS THE SEA AND RETURNS TO THE AIR...

THIS PROCESS WE FOLLOW, THIS CYCLE WE RIDE.

This cycle, that captivated both Travis and Bryan, was rooted at the headwaters of the Continental Divide. Exploring this sacred space together felt like the next chapter of their friendship. “There are components of this hydrological connectivity that Bryan has postulated and sat on for many years. That Teton Wilderness really represented a story that I've been watching unfold for the last decades,” Travis said.

The following is an excerpt from the journal Travis kept on the trip:

***

Day 1

Well, that was aggressive. Rode an epic Alaskan arch and had a shot two and a half days ago in the Tordrillos. Now I'm exhausted, yet psyched to be cold, on a mountain, in a tent with Guch. Four hours of sleep last night and about eight miles behind us. Life is good! But freeze-dried meals still suck!

- oh ya, also heard that some grizz are out and I have 10 lbs of Kielbasa sausage in my bag...at my feet. We all agreed they don't want to be at seven thousand feet...so… no worries

We walked by some nuts terrain today… Felt arctic today.

***

The 11 days spent in the Teton Wilderness felt timeless. Travis found the Thoroughfare to be a space that spurred contemplation. “A place like that is so wild and so pristine gives you a direct reflection of what you bring into it. Whether it’s your state of mind, or how you operate, it’s very clean and clear,” he emphasized. Bryan had a clear vision for this trip. It’s why he tapped Jeremy and Travis to join him. Not only because they’re some of his closest friends in snowboarding, but he also needed their collective experience.

The Teton Wildernesses are home to these expansive plateaus. Ming T Poon Photo.

The trip was riddled with unknowns from the beginning. For one, few have ventured into the Thoroughfare with snowboards. Traditionally, it’s been explored by foot or on horseback. Even more unsettling was how foreign the land felt, despite its close proximity to Travis and Bryan’s backyard. They were walking on these expansive plateaus that seemed to stretch far into the horizon. There were signs of instability, and the snowpits they dug did little to ease their worries. So they kept walking. But as they walked, they scrutinized their surroundings and made a game plan. And thankfully their patience paid off.

RELATED: Learn more about TGR's new snowboard film 'Roadless'

Their first point of interest proved to be fruitful, rewarding them with a day of non-stop riding. "It was playful. Everything was small to medium-sized and it felt skatepark-esque. That's my favorite kind of terrain," he explained. But what made the riding memorable, was the ability to draw out the experience from the hike up to the final turns. "When you're hiking up, it's fun a process. You're visualizing the riding in your head the whole way up, which is part of the process that I love the most about snowboarding and filming," Travis said and equates this process to solving a puzzle. "Through this hike up, you're unlocking how to put together this whole line," he emphasized. It’s this kind of creative problem solving that keeps the fire alive for snowboarding, not just for him, but for the whole team.

***

Day 2

A short 45 step process and presto… geared for the day. (laughing crying emoji)

We set camp at 10,128 feet at the head of the drainage. As we look at maps and GPS, it really sets in just how vast this wilderness is. Looking at how far two full days have taken us it appears that we only just arrived inside the perimeter, now, better informed about the scale and reality of travel back here. We decided not to push on to Lost Creek, as it looks to be another two days away. We have walked past a lot of great terrain, and I am pushing to spend the rest of this stellar high pressure working our way back down this drainage! It seems like the rest agree to this plan! These next days will be fun.

On a side note, I can’t help but laugh as I lost my phone today. Extremely annoyed but at the same time I appreciate the appropriateness of it in regards to what this incredible area is and represents. An authentic present relationship between human and nature. A reminder that I am not separate from my environment, but an active participant in the co-creation of this harmonious reality. It sometimes feels like all of this was created and intended for the human experience. And while at first glance at such a statement appears overly self-indulgent and conceded, it is this idea that ultimately draws out the most amount of gratitude and desire for me to be an active member of making our home a better place.

The terrain made for playful riding, as Travis demonstrates. Ming T Poon Photo.

Humanity has always been the end game. We are the purpose, not the plague. Classroom earth was always going to be a place of human imposed trials, tribulation and triumph. There is no doubt in my mind we have crossed the boundary of apocalyptic self-imposed destruction. Look around, not on the news and I see a much higher percentage of humans all striving for a better way. It won't be easy, but it is inevitable. That is why I am here, there is no way I was going to miss it.

***

There wasn’t a need for headlamps when Travis Rice poked his head out of the tent at 4 A.M.. The Teton Wilderness was illuminated by brilliant moonlight. This serene scene did little for the bitter cold, but thankfully a sunrise tour would warm up the body quickly. Initially, their camp wasn’t alone. A fox had discovered the group and was inquisitively following them while they trotted through the untouched snow. It likely had never seen humans before, since the Teton Wilderness Thoroughfare is the most remote parcel of land in the Lower 48. Out here, free from the touch of man, the animals roam as they please. After hiking and trying to understand this mysterious land for the past few days, Travis, Jeremy Jones, and Bryan Iguchi hoped to do the same.

They skinned in silence. Coming around the bend, the moon was hovering above the trees. Seeing all this gave Travis a strange feeling of déjà vuvu. Not because he’d seen this same scene before, but because he collaborated with an artist to design something eerily similar for his snowboard graphics. When his snowboard was in touring mode, the pieces together revealed a forest with a full moon hovering above treeline. At this moment his board and the scene in front of him were mirrored. That realization stopped him in his tracks. “I felt this wave of gratitude because it was clear I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Everything in that moment was aligned. We were with the right people, we were making the right calls. We had been patient, our approach was systematic, and we’d spent five days to get to this face,” Travis reflected. It felt like their collective experience and friendship was about to culminate into something special.

After long days of walking, the team found what they were looking for. Ming T Poon Photo.

With skins ripped off and boards transitioned, they proceeded to ride the biggest lines of the day as the morning sun crept over the horizon. This moment of unadulterated bliss was years in the making.

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