It is one of the most iconic ski runs in North America.
Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort requires a vertical drop of five to 10 feet — that is when conditions allow a skier to “ease in.” From there it’s a tight turn on a pitch of about 50 degrees to avoid a rock wall. The slope eventually mellows out to about 40 degrees.
When the famous run is open, dozens of people crowd the entrance, some trying to garner enough courage to make the drop-in, others watching in awe as seasoned skiers enter with a backflip. And some wait simply to watch the carnage.
Next week, even those who think they’ve seen it all in Corbet’s Couloir might witness something new. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is hosting its first King and Queen of Corbet’s competition. The freeride contest is bringing some of the best big mountain skiers and snowboarders in the world to the venue on the Bridger-Teton National Forest Jan. 31 through Feb. 4. The event will take place whichever day conditions seem best during the five-day window. The resort will announce which day the competition will take place on its website and through its social media channels.
Each of the 25 competitors will get up to three runs. Unlike most ski competitions, the athletes will watch footage of the runs and decide the winner, said Jess McMillan, event and partnerships manager at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. It’s a chance to see what they find most impressive.
McMillan competed on the Freeride World Tour for 10 years and wanted to create an invitational in Jackson Hole that was a little different, but still attracted professional athletes. The King and Queen of Corbet’s also will showcase the resort’s most famous run.
“Everyone knows it and everyone wants to ski,” McMillan said. “When you look at it, it kind of stares right back at you. It’s really steep, it’s right there in your face as your ride the tram, but it’s also attainable, even if you aren’t a pro skier.”
Corbet’s Couloir was named after Barry Corbet, a Jackson climber and skier. He was a member of the American expedition to Mount Everest in 1963 before a helicopter crash paralyzed him. Corbet famously looked at the seam of snow surrounded by rock walls and prophesied “some day, somebody will ski that.”
That somebody was Lonnie Ball who claimed the first descent in 1967. Since then people have ridden it on snowboards, telemark skis, a mono ski and most recently on a mountain bike. It’s not uncommon for people to flip or jump spread-eagle into the run today.
It’s up to the athletes how they want to descend Corbet’s during the competition, McMillan said. On the north wall there are some incredible lines and people can get 60-feet of air, she said.
But the couloir is also full of features, from natural ones like rocks, to recently sculpted kickers designed by the resort’s park and pipe engineer. The line is historically known as a ski run, but the modifications of the terrain are meant to give snowboarders more opportunities to show off their skills, McMillan said.
“We might see some stuff we’ve never see in Corbet’s,” she said.
A run down Corbet’s can take 20 seconds if someone takes a big jump and flies straight down. Or a run can last a minute or more depending on how someone works the features in the couloir, McMillan said.
Spectators can watch the event live from the bottom of the run, but there is only advanced-intermediate ski and snowboard access. The resort will use nine cameras to film the spectacle from different angles and the athletes will wear Go-Pro cameras. The resort will release footage throughout the rest of the season for those unable to watch live.
The lineup includes athletes from as far away as Europe, but also several Jackson natives and current residents, like Griffin Post.
Post, who now lives in Jackson, first saw Corbet’s when he was 8 years old on a ski trip from Sun Valley, Idaho. He looked in and decided “no way,” but later lied to his friends and said he’d skied it. The next day they all went up together and his friends, assuming it was no big deal since he’d skied it once, assumed he’d go again.
It’s been about 20 years and Post has skied Corbet’s hundreds of times now.
“Whether you are dropping in for the first, or for the hundredth time, there is always something new to it,” he said.
Post’s seen everything from front flips over the edge, to falls where skiers slide the entire line. He’s excited to see what the other competitors do, especially those who are known for their tricks. Corbet’s isn’t a traditional venue to see those athletes, he said.
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Post is already thinking about how he’ll ski it, but it depends on the conditions. The more snow, the more possibilities, he said.
Athletes will compete for $20,000 in prize money. “And I think bragging rights about winning Corbet’s is kind of a big deal,” McMillan said.
There will be one King, or men’s winner, and one Queen, representing the women. McMillan hopes the competition becomes an annual event with the King and Queen returning to defend their titles.