Go West, Young Man

The Chris Figenshau Profile

Go West, Young Man

The Chris Figenshau Profile

Chris Figenshau moved to Jackson in 1994 to spend one season in the Tetons.
24 years later, he’s one of the top high-alpine photographers in the world, and just can’t leave town.


“I moved here after college just planning to spend one season, and like so many other people, I just never left,” says photographer Chris Figenshau about Jackson, Wyoming, and how he came to be–as the locals say–stuck in the Hole. “I just came here to ski–that’s the only reason. The first time I skied Jackson Hole, it was far and away the coolest place I had ever skied. It was on another level as far as terrain and the possibilities and snow quality.”

In the quarter-century since “Figs” came to Jackson, he’s become one of the most respected high-alpine photographers in the world, shooting multiple Teton Gravity Research (TGR) films and snapping photos of skiers in some of Earth’s most awe-inspiring mountains. Naturally, he became Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s (JHMR) photographer of choice, in charge of its “Photo of The Day” featured prominently on its website. But the path from there to here was far more humble.

“My first job here, I was a dark room technician,” says Figs. “The guys who take your photo on the hill, develop it and sell it to you during après? I was the dark room guy. I would process film around noon, have it ready for clients and then print at night. It was the perfect ski bum job.”

And for a guy from the vertically-challenged state of Michigan, that was a dream come true.

“The terrain and the way Jackson was back then, it was geared toward someone who was an expert-plus level skier,” says Figenshau. “It was a whole new world to explore. The first time I was here on a big powder day, I was watching people ski off these giant cliffs. I had never been in terrain like that.”

Figs quickly got into a groove in Jackson, finding his footing in the early days of digital media.

SKIER: Jess McMillan | PHOTO: Chris Figenshau | LOCATION: Jackson Hole, WY

“I started working with JHMR the very first year they developed their first website. They had the first Photo of The Day concept and I was super lucky to be in the right place at the right time to get that job,” Figenshau says. “Websites were a new thing back then; I didn’t own a computer, I didn’t own a cell phone. The first digital camera I had I didn’t even own: It was the resort’s 1.5 megapixel camera with a delayed shutter.”

But quickly, his career took off and, as it blossomed, there was never any question for Figenshau: Jackson was where he wanted to stay.

“In college, I skied [Mount] Bachelor a lot, and it’s a single mountain you’re skiing. You aren’t linking ridgelines together and hitting different aspects like Jackson. Skiing is much more multi-dimensional out here,” said Figs. “As a backcountry enthusiast, Jackson Hole is the perfect resort for getting conditioned for the backcountry. You’re getting a ton of vertical at the resort, and you’re able to link multiple medium-to-large objectives together in one day, and they’re all accessible by foot within an hour or less of the resort.”

For the 46-year-old photographer who is now the father of a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, the fact he’s been able to call the town home for so long is nothing short of a blessing.

“Having the ability to take my kids to JHMR on the weekends, and being able to watch them enjoy themselves learning to ski, that’s everything to me,” Figenshau continues. “It’s a whole new chapter for me in skiing. And Jackson is an incredible mountain to learn on–it takes a lifetime to learn it. There’s always something new to learn about it, and if you’re able to ski it, you’ll be able to ski most anywhere-that’s pretty cool.”

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort by the Numbers

Average Annual Snowfall: 459 inches
Total Skiable Acreage: 2,500 acres
Number of lifts: 14 lifts
Vertical Drop: 4,139 feet
Total Trails: 133
Regional Airport: Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)

Trail Breakdown

Beginner: 10%
Intermediate: 40%
Advanced: 50%

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