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Bill Briggs: The man who skied down the Grand

Jun 17, 2014 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

He's called the father of extreme skiing and America's most influential ski mountaineer.

Forty-three years ago this past Sunday, Jackson's Bill Briggs hiked to the top of the Grand Teton, readied his boots, clicked into his skis, and accomplished perhaps the greatest athletic feat in the history of the Cowboy state.

Briggs was the first to make a ski descent off the top of the Grand Teton. And he did it with a permanently fused hip,

To listen to Briggs tell the story, he knew it was a nearly impossible feat. Nobody could do it.

Nobody, that is, unless he did it. He pioneered the whole thing.

He meticulously planned his thrilling descent while climbing the Grand. He turned his ski poles upside down on the steepest part of the mountain, leaning back to bring his working knee up, to get footholds. It was physically challenging for Briggs, and he was exhausted when he reached the summit.

Then there was the matter of getting his frozen crampons off his boots, which were caked with ice. He realized that he had to melt the ice off the straps. The first ski was easy to put on at 12,805 feet, with the beautiful Gros Ventre range to the east, and Idaho to the west. The first attempt to mount the second ski required him to bend down -- but he nearly fell off the Grand's north face.

Finally, with the second ski ready, Briggs said it was time for the easy part, as he saw it -- to ski down the face of the Grand.

Skiing off the summit on the hard crust, in and around the rocks, was one of the finest experiences on skis Briggs ever had. The snow, Briggs said, was just right, and his skis performed perfectly.

He knew where the risks of avalanches were on the east face, navigated the narrow slots-- some just a ski length wide he says -- and popped out with a "swoopy of a turn" with his fused hip on the downhill side.

Down the mountain, he passed some friends, and then came upon a couple hiking on a trail who noticed Briggs with his skis.

"You've been skiing," they said. "Where?"

"The Grand," Briggs said.

"How far up?" the couple asked.

"From the top," Briggs replied.

"How many times?"' was the next question.

Briggs went down into the valley, and nobody believed his miraculous adventure. But he could see his tracks.

Thanks to Ginny Huidekoper of the Jackson Hole News, there is a wonderful photo taken from the air the next day that memorializes Briggs's unbelievable feat. You can still see the photo in the Snow King Resort in Jackson today. It's part of the display of the Jackson Ski and Snowboard Club's Hall of Fame.

Briggs recounted his historic descent on Wyoming PBS's "Main Street, Wyoming -- 75 Years of Teton Skiing Heritage."

"Big challenge. Great fun," Briggs said.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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