One of the Most Beautiful Mountains in the U.S. Is Hosting 4-day Intensive Ski Camps — Here's What They're Like

Follow one writer's journey pushing her snowboarding skills to all new limits.

Person skiing on mountain with snow covered pine trees in the background

Stephen Shelesky

There is an undeniable intimidation factor each time you ride the cherry-colored tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Nicknamed "Big Red," it whisks skiers 4,139 feet to the top of Rendezvous Mountain in around 10 minutes, cruising over the resort's infamous run, Corbet's Couloir. And there's a very good chance, if conditions are right, someone riding with you has ambitions of dropping into the gravity-defying chute. I never thought that person would be me until I completed Jackson Hole's Lady Shred Camp.

I've been snowboarding since I was a teen, but never took lessons. I learned by chasing my brother and his friends around the icy mountains of the East Coast. As an adult, I can get down nearly anything safely, but not with any style or technical expertise. When a magazine asked to send me on assignment to Valdez, Alaska, the birthplace of extreme skiing, to go heli-skiing, I knew I needed to build my confidence on technical, vertigo-inducing runs. And that's when I knew that camp at Jackson Hole was for me. 

Home to some of North America's gnarliest in-bounds runs, with half its terrain deemed experts-only, Jackson was the perfect place to improve my riding skills. Fittingly, the resort's four-day Steep & Deep Camps were started in the 1990s by the late extreme ski pioneer, Doug Coombs. They've evolved over the years, but the founding premise remains: to provide awesome skiing and coaching in a big mountain environment. Lady Shred Camp, a newer program modeled after Steep & Deep, is aimed at intermediate and advanced skiers and riders and, as the name implies, is ladies only. The dates just happened to fall over my birthday in March 2022, and I decided it would be the perfect gift to myself.

I'm used to snowboarding with guys, but I liked the idea of a testosterone-free setting where I wouldn't have to worry about show-offs hucking themselves off cliffs or mansplaining me.

"Most guys show up wanting to drop into Corbet's on day one," my coach, Cecilia Roy, confided on our first morning. "Men always overestimate their skills, and women always underestimate."

Roy was one of four coaches assigned to our group of five women snowboarders. We ranged in age from early 30s to late 50s and hail from New York City, Colorado, Jackson, and Vermont. As we introduced ourselves, we shared our goals for the week. None of us mentioned Corbet's. I shared with Cecilia I have a bad habit of leaning back on super steep terrain as if I can somehow outsmart gravity, and she promised we'll have that fixed by camp's end.

A bonus of camp is that you get to skip the endless line at the Tram, so we were atop the mountain before everyone else. We started each day with warm-up exercises and made a plan based on snow conditions. It hadn't snowed in a few weeks, so sadly, there weren't any deep pow lessons, but steep is something Jackson can always guarantee. After watching each of us ride, our group split between guides. Cecilia took me and the New Yorker, Amy, to the Cirque, a wide-open bowl with some serious pitch.

Cecilia instructed us to focus on the shape and size of our turns and taught me one of her favorite maneuvers, the slash turn, which essentially works as a speed check to use when I start to feel out of control.

 "I'm going to send you home with a whole bunch of techniques to have in your toolbox to help you tackle different terrain and situations," she said.

Wide-open runs, like the Cirque, are fun for me, but I told Cecilia I freeze up when I must make a tight turn on super steep terrain. The next day she takes us to Tower Three Chute to share some skills that will help overcome my hesitancy. Located below the Thunder Lift, this chute gave me butterflies when I peered over the edge. 

"The key is choosing your path," Cecilia said. "Look where you want to go instead of at the obstacle." 

She dropped in first and whipped out her phone to video me. I start to gain too much speed and aborted the mission by digging into my back edge to stop and plop down on my butt. I slowly slid down alongside her.

"There's your bad habit," she said, referring to how I started to lean back when I started to pick up speed. "Riding scared makes you go faster. If you lean back, the front of your board comes up, and you gain speed. Trust yourself and complete your turns to give you speed control." 

I stand back up on my board, and before she rode down ahead of me, she yelled out, "don't forget to breathe." I hadn't even realized I'd been holding my breath since I dropped in.

I tried again, allowing my gaze to lead my turns and putting pressure on my front foot rather than trying to pump the brakes on my back foot. And I took calm breaths the entire way down. Back at the base, she again took out her phone to share some videos. The second half of my run is noticeably smoother.

Each day I felt myself break bad habits and embrace new techniques that improve my riding. Cecilia sprinkles movement-based drills into camp to help us build muscle memory. We also run through safety strategies for when things go wrong. On day three, she had Amy and I fling ourselves down a semi-steep run on our bellies over and over to practice how to self-arrest in case we lose control and start to slide down a run. She showed us how to use one arm to spin the board so that it faces downhill, then jab our elbows into the snow to stop the slide. It seemed silly, but a few months later, I found myself calmly self-arresting during a bad slide down the Big Couloir at Big Sky Resort.

On our final day, Lacey greeted us with Hawaiian lei, and we rode as a group. As I've gotten older, it's become tougher to find girlfriends who want to chase "type 2 fun" in the mountains. The connections I made with these adventurous women were a bonus of camp and a reason many campers return year after year. 

Cecilia led us to one of her all-time runs, Dick's Ditch, a ravine that forms a natural half-pipe of huge, banked walls with steep pitches. I found myself attempting (and landing) airs and riding switch side (with my opposite foot in front). For me, the week wasn't about getting GoPro footage of me snowboarding into a 20-foot drop. My goal was to gain the skills to help me ride any run with control and a smile on my face. Mission accomplished. And who knows, maybe I'll go back for Corbet's one day.

See more about Lady Shred, and all the camps available at Jackson Hole, here.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles