"Don't get too far away from your breakfast."
When your job involves tossing explosives to dislodge avalanches and rescuing injured and in-over-their-head skiers and snowboarders all day, you have to do breakfast right. Ski patrollers at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, have breakfast dialed in. Their secret? It involves more than one breakfast. Jackson Hole often receives over 40 feet of snow each winter—sometimes several feet at a time. On heavy snow days, patrollers high-tail it to the resort by 6:30 a.m.—well before dawn—to make a plan for the day.
After discussing weather, conditions, and recent incidents, they split into teams and pick up gear, check their avalanche beacons, and ride the gondola or tram up the mountain. For the next few hours, they ski and hike the resort, setting off explosives and otherwise dislodging avalanches to keep riders safe for when the hill opens to the public at 9 a.m.
With such an early wake-up and rigorous work, coffee is part of the plan for most. “We have coffee pots at every duty station,” says veteran ski patroller David Bowers says. Patrollers grab a cup whenever they can since they could be called away any minute.
But caffeine isn’t the only way to rev up for the day. Rumor has it some patrollers take a run down a chute dubbed the scariest ski slope in America to get their morning started. Corbet’s Couloir is infamous among the extreme skiing set, requiring “mandatory air” and a free fall of 10-20 feet as well as a quick turn to avoid slamming into solid rock.
Bowers, who has worked at Jackson Hole for 16 years after a ten-year stint at a different resort, says sometimes patrollers eat what others would consider a full dinner—such as pork chops, potatoes, and carrots—as a mid-morning snack.
But Bowers’ favorite breakfast is one he can eat with one hand while driving to work—such as a toasted bagel with cream cheese, banana or pumpkin bread, and always a cup of coffee for the road. “I tend to eat breakfast on the drive out, so it’s usually something I can handle with that,” he says.
However, sometimes the commute can be as treacherous as a day on the mountain. To even get to work, rookie patroller Peter Popinchalk, who lives nearly 30 miles away, has to navigate slick roads, drifted snow, and whiteouts on his early morning sojourn to the mountain.
To be there boots on and ready to go at 6:30 a.m., he has to leave the yurt he lives in at 5:00 a.m. That means cooking breakfast at the cruel hour of 4:30 a.m.
“It’s never worth it to cop out and go to McDonald’s,” Popinchalk says. “Cooking good food is always worth the extra half an hour in the morning because it helps you throughout the day—at least for me.”
He starts up the coffee—organic beans in a drip cone—and readies the frying pan. “If I can get up on time, I usually make a couple sausages and an egg on a breakfast sandwich with avocado, lots of butter and fatty stuff,” he says. Other days, he’ll fry up leftover rice with egg, avocado, cilantro, and lots of hot sauce for his own fried-rice breakfast concoction.
For mere mortals, such a hearty meal would last well into the afternoon. But not for Popinchalk.
After driving to work, he’ll usually eat a yogurt when he gets there—Brown Cow is his favorite brand—and inhale bananas and oranges. Other times, he’ll be trying to scrounge up a breakfast burrito from the early-opening cafes when he arrives.
But breakfast doesn’t end there. After doing early morning avalanche hazard reduction work, he will typically head back to his duty station on the mountain. His first breakfast was hours ago and he’s burned hundreds of calories hiking up mountains, skiing through heavy powder, and lobbing explosives in the pre-dawn chill. The bitterly cold Jackson winter weather—temperatures regularly hit 30 below—is yet another reason to fuel up again and again.
“Second breakfast is definitely necessary,” Popinchalk says. The crew’s duty stations are well-equipped for this eating endeavor and the newest one comes complete with a full stove and oven. Eggs and sausage are often on the menu, and cardboard tubes of cinnamon rolls are in high demand. Anything’s fair game, though—even cold leftover pizza.
Also necessary is grabbing a bite when they can since patrollers could get called to an emergency at any time. Bowers always carries snacks with him like banana pudding, yogurt, nuts, muffins, granola bars, peanuts, and M&Ms.
“We have a saying: don’t get too far away from your lunch,” Bowers says. And that applies to breakfast, too.