[Q&A] Jim Ryan Sets New Record on Jackson Hole’s Legendary Central Couloir

[Q&A] Jim Ryan Sets New Record on Jackson Hole’s Legendary Central Couloir

Featured Image – Jasper Gibson | Words – Jordan Grant-Krenz & Christian Johansen

Jim Ryan has been a staple of the Jackson Hole ski community for nearly a decade. His contagious energy has become well-known around town and across the mountain. He strives to be on skis with friends, no matter the conditions, no matter the day. Frankly put, Jim Ryan is a skier’s skier. The Vermont native found himself excelling at a young age, ripping the ice coast in a manner that would inspire any rational skier. He credits his incredible control and stability on skis to this upbringing, but when it comes to his ability to tackle massive mountains, there’s more to his story. The Tetons spurred a love for large peaks and aggressive skiing. Lines that most folks understandably shy away from are exactly the kind of lines that Ryan hunts for. It’s this combination of incredible enthusiasm, determination and talent that brings us to his latest feat; a record decent of 20 seconds down the iconic Jackson Hole line, Central Couloir.

Central is a storied couloir that lies south of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Look towards Cody Peak from the top of the Jackson Hole tram, and you’ll see the line in question cutting through the middle of the peak. While not an uncommon descent, it’s usually skied in two parts; before and after the mandatory choke point and air. While many pause before that daunting section, catching their breath while letting the sluff run by, Ryan made the plan to point it right through. From his love for the line to his legendary and unorthodox training routines, it was a pleasure to pick the brain of one of Jackson Hole’s most renowned individuals.

Thanks for talking, Jim [Ryan]. Of all the lines around Jackson, what’s appealing about setting the record down Central Couloir? By the sound of the video, you were pretty fired up coming out of it.

Central is a well-known line, so setting the time record for it means a lot to me. I skied it that fast because that was the minimum speed required to beat my sluff. It’s never been flashed [skied faster than ones sluff] before, and that’s obviously the proudest way to ski any couloir or face. So yeah, the plan was to flash it and the resulting speed was just necessary. Oh, and that yell at the end of the clip [laughs]… maybe in my pre-drop visualization, I saw myself playing it cool on the runout, but that didn’t happen. I didn’t mean to yell like that, but the excitement just exploded out.

You’re one of few people who could be classified as a freeride and big mountain skier, as well as a ski mountaineer. Living in Jackson Hole for almost a decade, how have the Tetons shaped your diverse skiing?

Everyone is a product of their environment. I’m a combination of Vermont and Jackson. The East Coast upbringing is maybe the most unique part of my style. There are a lot of really good skiers that come from Vermont, but not a ton of professional big mountain skiers and even fewer ski mountaineers. But honestly, it’s a pretty straightforward progression. Vermont will teach you how to be exact and precise with your edges, and when I moved west, the big mountains introduced me to a new level of consequence. As for how Jackson Hole shaped me? Honestly… the bumps. JHMR is a bump skier’s paradise, and if you can ski moguls at top speed in a couloir, you can ski anything. People should spend more time skiing moguls, that’s my take away!

In a world where talented individuals can seem standoffish, it’s impressive that you’re known as one of the most enthusiastic, encouraging folks to ski with. Where do you think your love for skiing and spreading its joy stems from?

I’ve always loved skiing. Some of my earliest memories are centered around skiing with friends. It’s where I felt my first sense of independence. I still find those feelings every time I go out skiing, and I love to share them with people. When it comes to others being standoffish, I really think it just comes down to the powder thing, at least in the world of skiing. Some skiers can gate-keep stashes or lines.

I understand it, especially for marketing content. A clip in a film or on the gram with fresh tracks has an appeal. But when you’re just going skiing for the soul, that’s what’s really important. You can have just as much fun anywhere on the mountain. I dunno, sometimes it feels like the obsession with first tracks is consumerism poisoning ski culture. I get the feeling that because people ski it first that means they own it, or something like that. I’m telling y’all, bumps are where it’s at. There’s always some for everyone. I think what I’m trying to say is that if you focus on what makes skiing great: the fun of it, the incredible community, the playfulness and time outside, then it’s impossible not to radiate joy. It’s just such an awesome way to spend your time. 

We’ve seen you carry the Euro spirit of skiing at gaper day more than once. Talk about your beret, straight skis, speaking French and smashing bumps with pals. 

Ah yeah, the French thing. Maybe my obsession with berets and “speaking” French is a result of trying and completely failing to learn the language for years. French is like the lover I’ll never have. But all that is just another way to have fun on skis and not take yourself too seriously when you’re out there.

Jim Ryan [right] is one of the finest skiers at JHMR and a big proponent of neon green-clad, straight ski mogul bashing. | PHOTO: Eric Seymour

I heard a story that you got a lot of attention in Jackson early on by skiing fast under the lift lines. How much truth is there to that story? 

I’m afraid to even tell that one. I’m afraid some kid will think it’s a feasible career move. The short answer is I got super lucky that I got noticed at all in the early years. It all boiled down to a couple of really amazing women believing me when I said I was going to work really hard and figure out how to live this life and make a living skiing. I’m still thankful for their trust every day. 

You’ve got a wildly diverse training plan. How do you think blading, lifting, dancing and biking all help you stay on the right physical and mental path?

I love training. Something I love about it is the creativity involved. Thinking of fun new ways to get better at skiing or just improve my athleticism is half the fun. I think everything can be strengthened. Run at night with no headlamp for the eyes. Do it barefoot for the feet. Go for a backpacking trip with no food for the mind. Go rollerblading in public for the ego. Swim in a cold lake. Put a spin bike in a sauna. Learn to swing dance. I look at it like this: if it’s hard, it’s probably helping. That thought process sounds tough, but it can be really enjoyable. I think it’s helped me in skiing and in life, and I hope to spread that message for the benefit of anyone who’s interested.

He might be known for his big mountain skiing, but Jim Ryan can tame a groomer like few others. | PHOTO: Pally Learmond

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