Jackson Hole may be best-known as an alpine skiing destination, but the Jackson Hole Nordic Alliance wants to ensure that residents are informed and supported for bevy of alternative winter activities. The organization’s website, JHNordic.com, is a community-oriented resource designed to identify, map, describe, and share all the trail information on the extensive Nordic skiing, fat biking, and snowshoeing in the Jackson Hole, Teton Valley and Greater Teton region of Wyoming and Idaho.
In advance of its free Nordic, fat biking, and snowshoeing event at Turpin Meadow Ranch on Sunday, Jan. 8, JH Nordic’s founder and executive director Nancy Leon joined us in the KHOL studios.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation was recorded on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: How did the Jackson Hole Nordic Alliance start and how has it evolved over the years?
NANCY LEON: So I injured my knee, as often happens, skiing, some steep side country out of the resort with some friends and tore my ACL and couldn’t really downhill for a while. So my doctor said, “Hey, you can rehab on your Nordic skis.” So I started going everywhere I could on my Nordic skis and started GPS-ing where I went. Before I knew it, I had about 40 trails and I looked around for maps and books and there really wasn’t anything that was in print.
And I started then talking to the folks at Skinny Skis and the Friends of Pathways and Community Pathways and a bunch of people, Sean O’Malley writing the Nordic News. And I asked them if I built a website, if that would be interesting, to put all these trails up, to share with other people, all these fun places to go. And they all said, “Yes, yes, yes.” So I started getting them together as I built this website. And I have a son who is a software developer in Sydney and I showed him the business plan and showed him my WordPress website and he said, “Let me build you a serious website and we’ll have a search engine so you can find all the trails by various criteria, you know, dogs and distance.” I built this website but really relied again on the community. And so as I built it, I would get people together from time to time and show them what I was doing. And I said, “You know, I want to make sure this is our local voice, this is authentic. This is something you serious Nordic people would use.”
And by the way, we don’t care whether it’s Nordic skiers or fat bikers or snowshoers or dog walkers. Anyone using our incredible network of winter trails should be able to use this resource. And again, thanks to this community collaboration, one of the team members said, “Well, let’s call it The Nordic Alliance” and so from that it just grew and we just kept connecting and getting together and talking to people and being a resource for each other and realizing that, altogether, we had a pretty amazing story.
KHOL: Nancy, I want to know what your favorite tour routes are and can you give us one Nordic adventure you’ve had that you can share with us?
LEON: It’s really interesting. It’s all about the snow, as we all know. And when the snow is possibly soft and fluffy, it can be fun but arduous to break tail and go somewhere. So grooming can also be a good thing. Sometimes if it gets icy, also groomed trails can be a good thing. But I do love a backcountry adventure and I think one of my favorite ones is what we call a Jackson Lake island-hopping, where you drive to Colter Bay and you have to wait a little bit further in the season when the lake is fully solidly frozen. If you see a snowmobile on the lake, then, you know, it’s probably okay. But to put your classic skis on and to head out onto the frozen lake on a beautiful sunny day, and you go around some of those islands and you have a picnic and you have the full view of the Tetons, and you can go about as far as you want. You could cross the whole lake if you wanted, but you can also stay pretty close to the east shore. It’s pretty spectacular.
KHOL: Where do you see the future of JH Nordic Alliance going and, zooming out, the future of the snow sports industry as a whole?
LEON: The Nordic Alliance, again, I feel like it’s such an important part of our community to continue this stewardship. We work with Friends of Bridger-Teton and actually all of the public lands helping to educate and inform people about recreating responsibly. And as we’re all very much interested and concerned about making Jackson Hole a sustainable place to live and also a sustainable place to visit, I feel that we have a real role to, again, being part of the human powered, fun, responsible recreation in the winter. So continuing to get all of us together and to reach out to both our community and our visitors to know how to enjoy the winter in a different way, I think is a really important role. And so that is what really keeps me going and keeps motivating me and also making sure that we all work together as a community to enjoy these places and ensure that people all feel that it’s their space to go out on our public trails and private trails to enjoy.
The future? I find that I am still a huge downhill powder fan. If there’s powder, I love to have lift-assisted powder and I love to also ski in the backcountry. But Nordic plays a great complementary role as far as my fitness being out with friends, discovering new valleys, new places. So I find that if you enjoy the winter and if you enjoy sliding or riding or walking, that our winter trails are just one of the really amazing assets that we have in our community.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with JH Nordic’s Nancy Leon.