The Pope on the Slope: Words of Wisdom from Jackson's Legendary Ski Bum, Jeff Leger

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A happy Jeff, rocking a very happy Jackson-stash. Photo courtesy of Wade McKoy.

If you’re in Jackson Hole and want to know the best way to wake up in the morning: call 1 (888) 333-7766 and press 1. If you’re lucky, it’s a powder day and you’ll be tuning into the “Lege-cast,” the snow report delivered to you by the truly one-and-only Jeff Leger.

This is how I was first introduced to Jeff when I moved to Jackson this winter. You might recognize this mountain character from his signature front flip into Corbet's during TGR's 2012 film The Dream Factory, but he isn't a TGR athlete or even a professional skier. Jeff Leger, age 42, is nothing less than the ultimate professional ski bum of Jackson Hole, and a legendary one at that.

“I can't promise I'm going to pull the curtain too far back for ya,” Jeff told me at Nick Wilson’s one morning. There’s something about Jeff, though, that tipped me off early on that his warning may not be true.

It’s not that Jeff seeks out interviews or even small-town ski bum fame. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He directed most of our conversation away from my questions about him, his life, his huge airs, and toward the crazy things that other people can do on skis (Jeff claims what the stuff he does isn’t that crazy) and mostly the art of skiing in general.

But Jeff has an inescapably infectious attitude, a playful light in his eye, and a warmth in his voice that lends toward deep conversation. Jackson-based ski photographer Wade McKoy summed it up perfectly: “Jeff is just full of love for people, really.”

Not before long we were spitballing about ski ballet, discussing how to reach enlightenment and philosophizing about “the magic of the pow.”

Chapter 1: WHEN THE JACKSON HOLE AIR FORCE TAKES YOU UNDER THEIR WING...

It took one fateful trip his senior year of high school to lure Jeff from a northern suburb of Boston to Jackson Hole. Shortly after graduating, he headed west to pursue what has become way more than a lifestyle.

“It’s just all I've ever done,” he said, talking about skiing, of course. “Honestly, that's all I’ve ever really been interested in doing.”

Over the past 25 years, Jeff has made living and skiing in Jackson Hole an artform. From working at the hostel to night janitorial work, Jeff embodied and perfected the skid lifestyle during his early years. In the summertime, Jeff attended college up at Bozeman where he met his wife, but the winters were exclusively for skiing—specifically skiing Jackson. In over two decades, Jeff has barely skied anywhere else. “I am the classic village rat that won’t go away.”

Jackson was a very different town when the spirited, young New Englander moved in 1992. For one, it was smaller. In the past 25 years, Jackson’s population has almost doubled, and that doesn’t account for the increase in travel to the renowned ski resort or its neighboring national parks.

Jackson was a little more wild back then, too. There were no back and sidecountry country gates, and the storied skiers of the Jackson Hole Air Force (JHAF) were still busy playing cops and robbers with ski patrol on the other side of the ropes.

I am the classic village rat that won’t go away.

As chance would have it – or just by natural virtue of living in a small town – some of the first people Jeff met were JHAF legends like Benny Wilson and Dave the Wave Muccino, who took the 18-year-old daredevil under their wing.

Dave, who gave Jeff his first Air Force patch, remembers the first time he took the quiet, but eager “Jeffy” into the backcountry: “I just turned around and put my finger on my mouth and said be quiet,” he said. “Then I took him straight out of bounds and we skied untracked runs from top to bottom, and I don’t think he breathed once. He was so blown away. So, so blown away by what we did.”

According to Jeff, the JHAF “took the little spark of inspiration that I had in coming out here and turned it into a blaze.”

If you know anything about the lines Jeff has taken in his day, “blaze” is most definitely an understatement. “When you ski around Jackson and you see an insane bomb hole, you know it’s Jeff’s,” said local pro skier, Hadley Hammer.

McKoy describes Jeff as a “flying squirrel.” Taking after a similarly spritely Dave The Wave Muccino, he is light on his feet. “Their skiing is almost like dancing,” said McKoy, who has shot with Jackson legends and locals for decades.

One of Dave's fondest memories of Jeff revolved around music: "One night in the village we just sat up in my truck and listened to some very, very deep reggae, and I think it was then that he and I really connected on a spiritual level about what music could bring to your skiing."

You'll never see Jeff without headphones in while he's skiing. "Jeff gets spiritually uplifted through music sometimes and will have this vision," said Dave.

This was also around the same time TGR founders Todd and Steve Jones had moved to Jackson. Jeff classified them as Jackson Hole Air Force—second generation, while he was probably more like second and a half. “I was the 18-year-old kid when those guys were probably legal at the bar,” Jeff reminisced. “We’d be out partying and I was the one they’d have to sneak in.”

Chapter 2: A GREEN BANANA, TO THE FLYING SQUIRREL, TO THE POPE ON THE SLOPE

Jeff can’t remember the first time he skied, but as far as seeking the art of flight, jumping and skiing have always been two sides of the same coin. While you can watch his comically insane edits on Vimeo under Dr. Huckinstuff today, young Jeff had a lot to learn when he started chasing around the likes of the JHAF. “I had a lot of catching up to do with these guys,” he said. “I was a total green banana!”

When Jeff first moved to Jackson, Dave the Wave told me he was “ambitious but didn’t have the milage yet.” What Jeff lacked in experience, he made up for in what Dave calls a “mental positiveness” that allowed him to transcend years and years of training. “He’s reached the level of skiing he’s at through his positive energy, his desire and his love for it.”

“I can always appreciate a ginormous spread eagle as one of the best statements of, ‘Here I am’ to the world, you know?” – Jeff Leger. Photo courtesy of Wade McKoy.

Now, over two decades later, Jeff skis around 6.5 days a week and is still learning how to be a better skier. “Skiing is always a learning process for everybody,” he said. “Nobody is ever done learning how to ski, right?”

Jeff’s love of skiing – and persistent desire to learn more – is an addiction. “If you do something this much this time, you’ll want to do it that much the next time,” he said. “It’s more powerful than any other drug I’ve taken.”

“There’s something about being able to come to a situation that you probably shouldn’t do and persevere through it. It’s kind of like problem-solving. It’s…” Jeff broke off into thought, then came back through his signature, hearty cackle. This is when Jeff got serious, and where I should maybe just print the transcript of our interview and let you hear the wisdom unadulterated, straight from the guru’s mouth.

“Sorry, so many thoughts...In terms of reaching enlightenment,” he continued slowly, “it’s no more beneficial or detrimental than any other technique I’ve found, so I ran with it.”

If you do something this much this time, you’ll want to do it that much the next time,” he said. “It’s more powerful than any other drug I’ve taken.

“You can call him the pope on the slope,” said Dave. “He’s like a Buddhist monk with skis on.” Dave said there are two types of skiing with Jeff. When he’s in a big group, like with Dave and Benny, he just gets silly, pulling out classic old school style jumps like in the old ski movies they’d watch the hostel.

“Other times when you ski with Jeff one on one, he is clearly in another place,” Dave told me carefully. “His spirituality….the place where he’s at in his mind, it puts him in a place to do things that may be physically aren’t probable.”

Does Jeff Leger get scared? Of course he does. Why else would he do what he does?

He readily admitted his fear, but in his characteristically modest fashion he turned the attention to someone else. “The stuff I do isn’t that crazy,” he said before breaking off into thought again then blurted: “People are awesome! People do crazy things!”

This is 100-percent genuine Jeff, but I had to push back on it a little. The dude does 80-foot swan dives, for god’s sake!

“Alright, maybe it’s out of the norm, but that’s only because people don’t realize… it’s all about the magic of the pow!” Jeff got animated again. “If the pow is out there, it’s what’s doing it. It has nothing to do with the people. It’s the pow.”

He continued: “At some point, you have to start thinking that the only thing holding people back is their minds.” I was reminded of a snow report of a “mind-altering pow” day, where Jeff signed off quoting LSD’s godfather Timothy Leary: “People have to go out of their minds to come to their senses.”

Chapter 3: FOR THE LOVE OF SKID LUXURY

If you had to choose one ‘thing’ that embodies Jeff it is 'Skid Luxury'. Skid Luxury is a concept—a state of mind. A place where success is measured by the size of your stoke. Jeff came up with this idea back in the day and has made movies, belt buckles, gloves, bandanas, you name it under this conceptual brand.

Skid Luxury is basically how to live the lifestyle when you have no money but you can ski all day and eat fairly well; it’s knowing how to get on that early tram, the insider knowledge to the early box, how to get into the best bar and eat the best food for free.

People have tried to license and monetize the brand since for their own creative endeavors, but according to Wade McKoy, you can only use it if you’re really into the concept. “It’s a unique thing he came up with,” said McKoy. “It’s all so soulful, because it’s not about the money.”

That’s the thing about Jeff—everything he does is a staggeringly sincere gesture of passion. “Skiing’s been called the conquest of the useless, and it totally is,” he said. “It’s for nothing other than self-enjoyment, self-expression.”

Even after the stunts he has pulled, Jeff honestly sees potential in just about anyone when it comes to skiing: “Skiing is pretty crazy in and of itself if you think about it,” he said. “As long as you’re getting yourself to the point that makes you go woah – and it might take me to do this, and somebody else might make it down a double blue and think that was killer – I applaud that. That’s awesome!”

Chapter 4: “IT’S JUST TOO EASY TO KEEP SKIING!”

I asked Jeff what’s keeping him in Jackson, and he immediately responded “it’s just too easy to keep skiing!” After over two decades in the area, Jeff still has not had his fix of Jackson and couldn’t tell you his favorite run. His response to my asking about his best season yet was also all-too-classic:

“The best one is the one you’re in right now! It has to be! Maybe it’s the next one, but I think it’s the one you’re in. It’s starting to—see right now? See?” He pointed out the window behind me. It had just started snowing hard. “See what happens when you start talking about the best season?”

Well, that’s Jackson for you. Though you can’t help but wonder if fairy dusting powder would just follow someone like Jeff Leger anyways.

The Buddhist monk with skis on. Photo courtesy of Wade McKoy.

Today, Jeff has a lot more keeping him in the area than the promise of powder days to come. His daughter was born six years ago and has grown up from skiing in her dad’s backpack to ripping down Teewinot herself. She’s hot and cold on it, but that’s more than okay with Jeff, who breaks home early to hang out with her after she gets the bus home from school each day.

Though a father and in his forties, Jeff still pushes himself to that moment of woah. He’s not a bell-to-bell guy, he gives his body a rest, but rest assured Dr. Huckinstuff is still sending it—though McKoy can attest he has always approached lines and stunts with extreme care. With Jackson’s recent record snowfalls filling in the mountain proper, he and Dave have even been out hitting the old jumps that Dave for one hasn’t hit in 20, 25 years.

I asked if he had any desire to reign it in, especially given his new life circumstances:

“I think my outlook on skiing is always changing, but I wouldn’t pin any of it on my family. It’s too much of an inner game—nobody can ever experience what people experience when they’re skiing. There’s too much going on there,” he said. “When I decided to have a kid, I wanted the kid to be raised by somebody who did that—who followed wholeheartedly what they enjoyed… You can’t put bubble wrap on life.”

So much for not pulling the curtain back too far—after about an hour in Nick Wilson’s, Jeff leaned in and exclaimed: “I’m giving away way too much! You’re like, ‘Dude, I know this guy way more than I need right now.’”

But just like there is always more you can learn about skiing, there is definitely more you can learn about Jeff. From Dr. Huckinstuff to a sensational tie-dyer, a rad dad to your powder-morning wake-up call, Jeff Leger is nothing short of a living legend.

Jeff challenged my approach to skiing. Through his invigorating snow reports and contagious passion for skiing, I am making my turns a little differently now. When I’m out on the mountain, I think of Jeff talking about his ballet moves, the need to bring imagination back into skiing, suppressing imaginary fears, and skiing while “giggling like you’re in another universe.”

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