September 26, 2011 Words by Sam PetriPhotos courtesy Bob Woodall and Wade McKoy of Focus Productions Jackson, Wyoming — Howard “Howie” Henderson, co-founder of the Jackson Hole Air Force renegade ski posse, died from a heart attack Saturday night in his home in Jackson. He was 53 years old. Henderson moved to Jackson Hole from Michigan in 1980 to be a ski bum. Soon after, he linked up with Jackson native Benny Wilson in 1981 and the two founded the Jackson Hole Air Force, a crew of skiers known for skiing powder and hitting cliffs out of bounds when leaving the resort boundary was illegal. Henderson eventually owned a restaurant at the base of the mountain called the "Bear Claw,” which is now the location of The Village Cafe. He also helped start Teton Video, a ski-film production company that captured the early years of the freeride movement. Later on in life, Henderson ran his own construction firm. On the slopes of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, he was known for skiing Granite Canyon religiously. On Sunday, the JHAF banded together to remember Henderson at a barbecue at the base of Snow King Mountain. “Two tram loads of people showed up,” Wilson said. “Howie would have liked that.” A formal memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2 in the commons area at Teton Village, at the base of JHMR. Henderson’s heart attack comes as a surprise to many, as the man was known for hiking JHMR on a daily basis. Friends estimate he hiked the mountain about 70 times this summer, often hiking in the morning and taking the first tram down. “They used to have a competition to see who could hike the mountain the most,” Wilson said. “He had 133 hikes, the next person had 60. He kept doing it, even afterward, sometimes two or three times a day. How someone in that shape could have a heart attack, I don’t know.” Below, some of Henderson’s close friends remember the skier in their own words. If you have any memories, feel free to share them in the comments below. Benny Wilson: I think we met in the winter of 1981. I had just got out of the Marine Corps. Then I came back to Jackson and ran into Howie, probably over drinks at the Moose or up at the Alpenhof bar. He was my skiing and drinking buddy — probably in that order. He hired my friends to work for him at the Bear Claw. He hired me, too. He was more of a work mate instead of a boss. In this town, people come and go. If people live here for longer than 5 years, it’s a miracle. Then they’re usually here for life. I thought to myself, “Oh, he’s going to be around for a while.” He was one of my good friends. He fulfilled a couple of his dreams: owning a restaurant and a bar, and being able to ski for free. It was a ski bum’s dream come true: a free pass. We came up with the name Jackson Hole Air Force. That was ’84 or ’85. Then we made the black air force patch in ’86, sitting at the bar, doodling. He loved Granite. He was so energetic and enthusiastic about the ski season. It was just infectious. He’d call me up and say, What do you think? What kind of skis are we going to get for this winter? He was all fired up about this winter. We were going over skis and bindings — I think that was Friday. We were trying to figure out what to get. The greatest joy was this last winter, we got to ski for Powder Week and be ski testers for Powder Magazine. He always wanted to do that. He asked me, “Why don’t they ever call us to do that?” I said, “Howie, maybe we should call them.” So we called them up and Matt Hansen answered and he said, “I’ve been waiting for this call for 15 years!” Wade McKoy: Howard would always reach out and try to include me on skiing a granite lap or invite me over for poker night or to his Halloween party, and that meant a lot to me. After all those years of working together and going into our own zones and not hanging out together much anymore, he would still try to include me on things. And that means a lot to me, especially now. He was just the most excited guy around to go out and shoot. One time we were hitting this one little rock, he had hit it and he was hiking back up to hit it again, and he was almost there —he was about a minute out. And I saw these three fighter jets coming through the sky, they were way up in the air, you could mostly see their contrails. They were coming right into our frame and I went, “Oh my God! The Jackson Hole Air Force, Howard, this is it! This is the all time shot, right here!” But he’s still not there yet. He just busted himself. I mean he just completely wasted himself running in the snow to get there and throw his skis and hit the jump just in time for those jets to be in the frame. He’s missed. Dave Miller: He’s one of the first people I met in the valley. I was a dishwasher, he was a waiter at the Alpenhof in 1981. We skied all over the place together. I was on Teton Video — one of the first video crews. We were into biking together back in the day. A lot of skiing, I mean, we’d ski Granite so much it was insane. Probably one of the more memorable runs I had with him, we were going down Air Force Couloir. It was just waist deep. We get to the bottom and he gets a call that his wife was in labor with his first kid. I think Granite was his church. He loved it back there. He was actually was the godfather of my daughter Brittany. There’s so much. We used to hang out on the lake together a little bit. We just skied massive amounts, you know? Early Air Force days. He was just a good guy a good father. Always had incredible enthusiasm in anything he did. If he was so stoked, then he was SUPER stoked. That was just his style. He had so much fun out there. Troy Beauchamp, producer of JHAF documentarySwift.Silent.Deep: Howie was great. He was somebody that was becoming a better friend all the time. He was just a really great guy. I can literally say that some of the best skiing I’ve ever had was with Howie, going into Granite Canyon, following Howie. He was an awesome skier and an awesome guy. He was a caring person. He made the film Swift.Silent.Deep. Some of the things that he had to say, the admiration he expressed about his friends, his fellow Air Forcers — those were the things that made Swift.Silent.Deep what it was. He was just a great guy for sure. Paul Huser: He called me the day before, then I called him back the day he died. He was hiking up the village with Chris Leveronie. I think that night he was home and had a heart attack after dinner. He was a good buddy of mine, a good friend. We were friends for the last 20 years. I dropped out of college and worked at Skinny Skis and Wilderness Sports. Howie used to have Teton Video. Which was located right by where TGR is now. They used to shoot ski school videos and commercial videos. Howard was always up there. He was good friends with Jonny Hunt, I got to know Howard that way. I got to poach Granite with him back in the day. We used to get off the Casper chair. And there was a boot pack behind the trees there and we’d hike up to the Air Force hut. If we were going on a big, long mission, we’d hike up past Gun Site and all that. And go to Mile Long and Endless Couloirs. If you were doing that, that was a pretty big tour because it was a pretty big hike from Casper chair. Up until last winter he was out there every weekend religiously. Nasty weather or blue weather, he’d always be out there, doing Granite laps, you know? On weekdays, he’d ski the King, on weekends, he’d ski the village. And he’d religiously ski Granite. I think he’d done some 75 laps up the village this summer. He’d hike the village once a day. He was in pretty good shape. Rick Hunt: I went up Mount Moran, Sept 24-25 on Doug Coombs' birthday to spread the ashes of our friend Jimmy Zell. It was a picture-perfect day, but I could feel tension in the air. I should've been at peace but I wasn't quite there. On the descent, I gave in to my anxiousness and checked my phone; there were multiple missed calls and messages from my wife and Air Force buddies so I knew something was up. It was then that I found out about Howie's heart attack — 12,000 feet up, in the company of kings and ravens. Long live his spirit.