tragedy in the TetonAT tempest

Everyone's got an opinion about skiing.

Everyone's got an opinion about skiing.

I had been reading with great amusement the debate on TetonAT over Stephen Koch‘s snowmobile trip to Mount Moran, until the story reached its absurd conclusion last night.

I do not condone what Koch and friends did. One might surmise that karma was served when the group got the snowmobile stuck twice and, after climbing and skiing the mountain, was forced to drag it over the boggy lake surface in the dark. Lesson learned, perhaps.

Posting a video of the infraction sure was a boneheaded move. They deserved whatever ridicule was heaped upon them, and a fine from the park.

But to be fired from Exum Mountain Guides? By Jack Turner, the outlaw philosopher?

A reader sent me this logo after the last big blog debate, concerning the avalanches at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. There have been three major flare-ups on local blogs in the last two years, in all cases involving skiing.

Nothing inflames the passions of Jackson Hole residents more than a breach of the supposed “right” way to enjoy the mountains. The reader remarked to me, “After reading all the judgments being thrown around by our always opinionated community, I turned to Photoshop for therapy.”

I can’t help but feel that Stephen Koch was punished for the fuss over his infraction, more than the violation itself.

Exum has fired one of its best-known guides for what the park deems little more than a speeding ticket. Paul Petzoldt just fell off a rope in heaven.

To those throwing stones: You have never camped in the park without a backcountry permit, or put a boat on the Snake River without the required sticker? Who hasn’t relished visiting the park, by chance or by craft, without paying the entrance fee?

The outlaw mentality is so ingrained in our culture. In this wild corner of Wyoming, a little good-natured rule-bending merits admiration more than approbation, wink wink.

Worn like a badge of honor.

Worn like a badge of honor.

Witness tonight’s sold-out premiere of “Swift Silent Deep,” a documentary about the Jackson Hole Air Force, a band of skiers founded on the premise of ducking ropes at the ski area.

I know — “Swift SILENT Deep,” as one of the Hunt brothers wrote on TetonAT. If Stephen had kept his mouth shut, there would have been no fuss.

The blog debate was useful; how funny, and fascinating, that one breach of etiquette and park rules triggered an eruption over the entire motorized use policy for the parks. I found the dialogue better than most of what went on during the planning process and subsequent litigation.

Blog comments are a no-holds-barred battle royale, an intellectual wrestling match in which combatants jostle with humor and wit. But it’s sort of like pro wrestling, as the body slams, often anonymous, aren’t to be taken too seriously.

Participants usually understand this, but I’m not sure the decision makers at Exum do.

In this case a husband and father of an infant son has been left jobless in rough economic times. Quite a harsh judgment, no matter what arena you’re in.


Posted under Environment, Media, Sports

31 Comments so far

  1. Rob February 25, 2009 2:14 pm

    Exum shows unbelievable hypocrisy in their decision for fire Stephen over this. What would happen if we did a background check on the rest of the guides to make sure there are no other law breakers on the payroll? Do you think anyone would be left?

  2. gman February 25, 2009 2:52 pm

    Only in Jackson. The only outcome to this is that there should be an awful lot of people who are awfully embarassed,whether it is exum, the jackson community, Koch or his friends for posting, romeo for piling it on, or bloggers positng anonymous b.s. rants. Makes me feel happy to have escaped to another part of Wyoming where one’s enjoyment of the mountains is not threatened by others.

  3. js February 25, 2009 2:55 pm

    If it hadn’t been such a slow news week, this incident involving a “mountain snowboarder” never would have made the front page, let alone twice.

  4. David Stubbs February 25, 2009 3:30 pm

    I guess the “Silent” part of the JHAF just bit the dust with its big movie premiere, let alone a movie. I love these guys and they have inspired the hell out of me, but wait . . . wasn’t it about . . . I mean. Oh well.

    I still can’t wait to see it.

    And where’s the f#%&*ing love in this town? I hope Howie’s stoke in the film will remind all these whiners how good we are livin’ in these messed up times. Get some perspective . . . peace.

  5. jhandy February 25, 2009 3:43 pm

    The punishment did not fit the crime.

    Koch has been a long time Exum guide, and a good one at that I suspect. Guiding is his main career. For Exum to fire him over this is absurd… suspend him maybe… but fire him? Seriously. The course of his entire future is probably altered if he remains “fired” by Exum, and that’s pretty severe punishment for a momentary lapse of non-life-threatening judgment.

  6. GalaxyChicken February 25, 2009 3:48 pm

    Looks like JHUnderground is jealous of the 120+ and counting comments at TetonAT and is looking to cash in by blogging about the blogs.

    …or maybe it’s just a slow blogging week?

    So, why now? If Koch’s firing isn’t worth front page news in this valley, why, after all this fuss, is it worthy fodder for the pages of JHUnderground? Are we feeling left out a bit?

    What exactly are you adding here, anyway? My only guess is that, in the great spirit of “Judgment Hole,” JHUnderground feels left out and needs to pass some judgment of it’s own.

  7. js February 25, 2009 4:23 pm

    jealous? ha.

    it was all fun until someone loses his job over it. someone who is a big part of the community.

    buck, buck, buck. why does a savvy media critic like Galaxy Chicken need to hide behind a nom de plume?

  8. Sabra February 25, 2009 4:47 pm

    I’ve certainly camped without a permit. But I’m not a mountain guide, someone who should be setting an example of safety and respect in the mountains. I see it as if you (Jim) or I were teaching a class in journalism, and we told our students not to fabricate quotes. Then we went out and made up a quote in a story. We’d get fired. As an editor, I wouldn’t want a journalist working for me that makes up quotes (ok, I’ll take the jabs about my previous stint at a certain alt weekly). If I owned Exum, I wouldn’t want a guide working for me that wasn’t setting an example of good stewardship in the mountains and national parks. Bad decision making often leads to an unfortunate outcome. He should have thought about how it would play out with his employer BEFORE he’s ego decided to post the incident up on the web.

  9. Rob February 25, 2009 4:55 pm

    You certainly don’t add much to the conversation but don’t let that stop you from dropping a comment here for him to “cash in on.” Guess who’s feeling left out.

    I don’t see why Jim shouldn’t take up issue after Rando lit it on fire and walked away. Talk about pathetic. How about zero reaction to the sudden firing of the person who’s actions you criticized.

  10. willy February 25, 2009 6:30 pm

    It is his own fault and he cannot blame anyone for being an idiot. As an Exum guide, he should know the rules. If he wasn’t so concerned about being “the man”, he would have kept the video to himself and close friends.

  11. maria- trail crew February 25, 2009 6:39 pm

    Should all mountain guides be fired for shortcutting the summer trail (with clients) to Garnet Canyon? The damage being done to the land they supposedly love and respect is 100 times worse than snowmobiling across a frozen lake and camping without a permit. Perspective is always an interesting angle.

    P.S. What does that particular shortcut save you? 5 minutes.

  12. gman February 25, 2009 6:39 pm

    getting fired from your job for having an epic day in the mountains with friends? What a fucking joke. Is exum taking the position that if a guide was seen or heard about smoking a jay in the national forest or park they would be fired. If Koch was caught fishing without a day license, would he be fired? If Koch was given a ticket for having his car parked at red rocks, nevada overnight because he was late on a climb, would he be fired? If Koch was cited for a dui in the Park, would he be fired? Maybe the esteemed Exum Board of Directors can explain to us what the difference is? If the remaining Exum guides had any gumption and solidarity, they would demand the board reconsider and/or mediate the issue, at the risk of consequences. Unfortunately, in the ego driven selfish world of guides, it will probably not happen. I hope it will.

  13. GalaxyChicken February 25, 2009 6:54 pm

    Interesting… when “someone who is a big part of the community” loses his job, you consider it “slow news” yet it’s your story of the day. And I bet you get a few more hits to your site, er, I mean, “comments from interested readers.”

    Braaaa-gawwww! The savvy media critic has a nom de plum just like 90% of the folks commenting on your blog, so don’t act so surprised and you sure as Shinola shouldn’t complain, as this is your own doing. It’s like shaking a jar of bees, opening it, then asking why you got stung.

    Seriously, blaming Rando for this is a load steaming, creamy BS. I don’t condone what Koch did but don’t think he should’ve been fired from Exum, either, but let’s remember that this video was posted on YouTube, TGR’s website (later removed) and KOCH’S OWN WEBSITE before Romeo asked a LEGITIMATE question regarding snowmobile access in the park. Koch has no one to blame for this but himself, and I think he would say so.

  14. DAVE February 25, 2009 7:15 pm

    koch knew full well the risks both climbing and snowmobiling within the park. the rules are the rules. if you dont like them try to change them. if you get caught then you get the consequences. as far as exum consequence goes its their prerogative. they have a high profile employee performing a clear violation as an accessory to what hes employed for. add to that his blatant advertising of his quest and the punishment is,,,, his own wish.

  15. Rob February 25, 2009 8:09 pm

    Wow, you wouldn’t happen to work at a local newspaper would you. How sad is it for you to defend your newspaper’s important story choice as a troll in the comments of a blog.

    Here’s the steaming pile for you:
    Rando posted the video because he wanted them to get busted. He did it to tell everyone what they were doing was illegal (I’m sure his failure to ski Moran previously had some effect). So, mission accomplished. Why not write about that?

    I know the answer so no need to add more “concerned reader comments” and make Jim a big paycheck.

  16. js February 26, 2009 1:52 am


    @GC: I am not surprised, nor complaining, and if you think I have been “stung,” you are giving yourself too much credit.

    let me clear up a misconception: no blogger gets paid by the number of comments.

    coming soon to a tube near you:

  17. Tony Pizzacotta February 26, 2009 2:23 am

    Imbecile…..One who demonstrates a monumental deficit in judgement. Awards should be given to Romeo and Koch!

  18. alex worthington February 26, 2009 8:12 am

    It would seem that Koch’s crime was not the sledding, the crime was posting a video of it online. This whole situation, however, brings up a more interesting topic- internet comments, and the anonymity of those who post. When my friend was killed in a mountaineering accident recently, I was horrified to read the awful things that anonymous people said about “stupid climbers” on newspaper sites with no regard for the climber’s family. On the other hand, I would be less apt to say anything negative about the creepy Cheney adminstration if I had to give my full name everytime. I certainly have more respect for those people who back up their comments with their name. Perhaps we should ask ourselves “Would I say this if I wasn’t anonymous?” There is certainly a place for anonymity on the web, but if we are going to attack other commenters, we should probably have the balls to back it up with our name. What do you think?

  19. Derek February 26, 2009 10:26 am

    I have no comment other than the name Galaxy Chicken pretty much kicks ass.

  20. Cara February 26, 2009 10:55 am


    Just to clear things up. If someone from said newspaper is posting under Galaxy Chicken, it’s not this reporter. I’ll use my name.

    Interesting thought. I just reread your post. Did you edit it? I see no “must have been a slow news day” in your post anymore.

    Man…If only we had the power to round up 10,000 copies of the newspaper and insert “big” into the mountain snowboarder phrase. Or change an errant “s” that slipped into some copy.

    Why cut the sentence after there’s a debate brewing over use of it?

  21. js February 26, 2009 11:06 am

    see comment #3, above. nothing was edited.

    the stories in the paper were good. my point was about perspective — in the big picture, a snowmobile citation doesn’t make the front page, unless not much else is going on.

    again, the fuss about this is much larger than the violation itself.

  22. D February 26, 2009 11:14 am

    Wow what a Joke. The rule in place is a complete joke and anyone who think what Koch did was crazy wrong should move back to the coast you came from. I can’t believe this. Exum is like every other company right now just begging for a way to get rid of some people to save the company even if it is for unjust reasons. IF they are such great model citizens how about a random cup sample to see how true and law bighting they really are. AT least that would relate to client safety. I think I will take my Sled out this weekend and find some wilderness that we used to be allowed to ride and enjoy Wyoming the way it was when I grew up. Jeez this place gets more infested by the minute.

    If you think you must skin from the trailhead to the peak and back to make it legit please keep that opinion to yourself. Because I will use ever advantage I can because I do it for myself and tend not to tell people how to live there life. I have lost a ton!! of respect for “some one” over this, and just because he was fired this year doesn’t mean he needs to go on a mission hurting others. I didn’t agree with his firing either but this is Bu!!Shit.

  23. juice February 26, 2009 1:42 pm

    Was the bilin’ incident the straw that broke the camel’s back?

  24. Bones February 26, 2009 6:02 pm

    Count me as another from “said newspaper” who’s got the balls (no pun intended) to put his name out there.

    JS – I suppose perspective depends on how big your picture is. Our “picture” is this valley, and I think Romeo’s blog proved that a lot people, both locals and non-residents, were talking about this issue.

    If The Wort had burned down for the second time in 30 years and Koch’s little excursion was still on the front page, I would agree that, yes, we would’ve lost perspective. But suggesting that we ran this story because it was a slow news day implies that we were making something out of nothing, and I have to respectfully disagree. The level and intensity of discussion that is still going on at TetonAT indicate, to me at least, that this was of interest to our readers. I would also bet most of the conversations at Pearl Street Bagels on Wednesday morning and at the Pub on Wednesday night didn’t revolve around the local wolf pack and it’s mange infestation (apologies to my good friend Cory).

    On another note, have you registered yet? The name seems to be catchy.

  25. BO BO February 26, 2009 7:38 pm

    Come on Bones, you’re a newspaper man. You know how to spell galaxy.

    Everybody is straying from the point. He broke the law and then busted himself via his own blog. If I hang myself, feel sorry for my family, not or me.

  26. bruce hayse February 26, 2009 10:07 pm

    Well I certainly got a rude introduction to blogs and the current crop of backcountry skiers from reading the posts on the other blog. Was disappointed that no one even seemed interested in the by far more important issue of snowmobiles in the wilderness, but realized the blog apparently functioned mainly as a means to settle personal scores and vendettas. Glad I never took any ski trips with those guys; some of them sound scarier than any peaks I have been on.. Also glad no one caught any of my little transgressions in the past, intentional or inadvertent; wow what a different group these days. Of course the rangers, following initiation of the new absurd regs, always had a basically “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for skiers with biles on the lake; never even heard of anyone being ticketed, but guess that will change. Assume they will be forced to ban all skiers from most of the north Tetons. They obviously can’t legitimately justify their current policy, and will need to do something different. The last few sad bighorns have been holding on precariously on the bare spots on the winter ridges for years, with all their old migration routes to Blacktail Butte blocked, and not really acceptable for NPS to let skiers exterminate them (they are very easily disturbed in the winter). NPS would get a real black eye letting a rare charismatic species be eliminated from their park. So I guess if that blog did accomplish anything the good may be that those bighorns will have a better chance. Always need to look on the positive side.

  27. Bones February 26, 2009 11:51 pm

    BO – I may be a newspaper man, but a photographer at that. Shooters are given certain liberties; wiggle room in spelling and grammar, for instance. ;)

  28. skip February 27, 2009 1:04 am

    I am disturbed by Koch’s firing, if but that despite his lapse in judgment, he has brought a certain prestige with him to Exum and Jackson Hole. He may have demonstrated arrogance in his actions, but arrogance is what makes a man declare that he plans to snowboard the highest peaks of every continent. Exum has certainly reaped some rewards from having Koch on their team–they should recognize what he has given them and stand by him.

  29. dswift February 27, 2009 1:29 pm

    Is this where I go on the Internets to say that other people should not be saying what they are saying on the Internets?

    Because I would like to point out that there is nothing to say, and the fact I am saying something about this should not be construed as an endorsement to say things about things that are better left unsaid.

  30. David Stubbs March 1, 2009 9:14 am

    Well said.

  31. Clayton March 5, 2009 9:41 am

    I know this is almost old news but after listening to many people spout off about it, I had to chime in. First, obviously what Koch did was wrong. Exum should consider a different PR route though. Fire Koch swiftly, then rehire him silently, and love him deeply. Maybe not the last part, but he seems like a loveable guy.

    As for Romeo and TetonAt. I think that a blogger that has sponsership from his blog and posts and makes accessible all kinds of info on our backcountry, which includes a lot of info on the park, should learn to support the local element. And not jump up and down pointing fingers like a little kid. It makes me think that now we know who took the photo of Michael Phelps with the bong.

    I read an article many years ago in Climbing mag about “white wilderness.” It basically talked about the rewards of scoping and climbing in uncharted areas. It discussed the benefits of leaving these areas uncharted.

    I think some of the best mountaineers are those that go quietly about there dreams. That ski or ascend lines, not for the fanfare but for the personal glory. The true gift of travelling in the mountains.

    As an “unknown” you have no reputation to uphold. And as an unknown you have nothing to sell. And you don’t have to come up with a superhero-like nickname for yourself.

    So many more “perks” to being unknown, and part of the white wilderness, than being known and part of the glitz.

    But maybe this is just a flighty notion.

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