Wade McKoy – The Ski Bum, Grown Up

Dec 28, 2017 by


The Ski Bum, Grown Up

Wade McKoy

Jackson Hole Magazine, Winter 2018


When Wade McKoy arrived in Jackson in the fall of 1974, freshly graduated from Mississippi State, he and a former frat buddy “crashed on the floor of a trailer of these two girls I knew from high school,” he says. McKoy had only ever skied once (his frat friend was a lifelong skier and was the one to suggest spend­ing a winter in Jackson), and he had made it his goal to learn how. He thought this would take one year. Skiing mastered, McKoy would then return to Mississippi, where his family lived, and get on with his life.

McKoy got a job at the ski area as a chairlift operator, work­ing one day a week on Thunder, one day on Casper, and one day on Aprés Vous. While he had plenty of time to ski, still, “I was blown away by how hard it was,” he says. “The first three weeks that winter were on hardpack, and I was doing great—sliding through turns and having a ball. Then it started snowing, and I had the struggle of my life trying to ski powder. Halfway through the winter I wrote my parents a letter and told them that for me to learn how to do this, it wasn’t going to happen in one winter. I thought it would take one more winter.”

And then McKoy experienced his first summer in Jackson. “One month into my first summer here, I took a hike and the wildflowers were so huge,” he says. “It was summer that married me to this place. [Jackson] fits me like a glove. It’s been a struggle sometimes, but it did all work out.”

After one season of being a liftie, McKoy went on to work on the resort’s winter trail crew. He did this for ten years. “It was a great job for a ski bum,” he says. “We got to do a lot of freeskiing.” It was during his time on trail crew that McKoy began to turn skiing into a bigger career—as a ski photographer and writer. First, he shot images of his trail crew buddies and later of the Jackson Hole Air Force, an informal group of hard-charging local skiers. Powder and Skiing magazines published his images and articles. Soon, McKoy was traveling the world to shoot and write about expeditions. “For about twenty years I was writing and shooting adventure stories in big mountains around the world—China, India, Africa, Europe, Antarctica, Alaska.” Back in Jackson Hole he, along with Bob Woodall, founded Focus Productions, Inc., which annually publishes Jackson Hole Skier, Jackson Hole Dining Guide, and Adventure Guide magazines. (This winter is the thirty-fifth edition of Jackson Hole Skier.) McKoy and his wife, Holly McKoy (nee Riedman), currently the office manager for the Jackson Hole Land Trust, celebrate their thirty-first anniversary in 2018.

McKoy has had two skiing accidents in which he almost died. Most recently, two winters ago he ruptured his vena cava. McKoy says, “My mind is still hungry like a twenty- or maybe a thirty-year-old, but the body is sixty-six. Although I think it feels even older.” He has two artificial knees, back problems, and a “shoulder that’s about to explode.” “I can’t ski every day anymore,” McKoy says. “It’s probably four days a week. Maybe five. And on the days I do ski, I can only do three trams rather than seven or ten.” Still, “I’ve never thought of leaving,” he says. “The tram, the vertical drop, the steepness, the variety, the wildness—from the weather to actual wildlife—and also the community. I got tied in with a great group of people that I know to this day. It’s a special place. I just need to learn not to run too hot, but it’s hard. Living here is running hot. There are so many people here that run hot all the time.

– Dina Mishev, Jackson Hole Magazine



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