Chances are you’ve heard of the Jackson Hole Air Force, a group of avid powder skiers formed in the early ’80’s famous for hard skiing, hard partying, and poaching gnarly out-of-bounds terrain. It was a group that Crystal Wright, two-time Freestyle world champion and Jackson native, had looked up to her whole life. Problem was, it was an all boy’s club. So Crystal did what any self-respecting Ski Diva would do: in 2012, she took matters into her own hands and started the Jackson Hole Babe Force.
Espousing the motto Strong, Sexy, Soulful, the Babe Force has a mission I can totally get behind:
“To encourage female skiers and snowboarders to push your limits, gain confidence, and support each other, all while building relationships with other like-minded women who are down to get buck wild in the mountains.”
I spoke to Crystal from her home in Jackson a few days ago, where she was helping her mom recover from ankle surgery.
SD: So how’d the Babe Force get started?
CW: I grew up in Jackson admiring the Air Force, but there were never any girls in it. There were some token females — my mom, for example, and Emily Coombs, Doug Coombs’ wife — but they were never really included, and they were all super-inspiring to my generation. As I got older, I realized that there are a lot of women in Jackson who are pushing themselves and excelling, and I thought, well, the guys have their club, we should a club for girls, too!
When my friend, Sarah Felton, and I first came up with the Babe Force, we thought it was pretty funny. But the more we thought about it, the better it sounded. We worked at a restaurant in Jackson, and during slow times, we’d work on coming up with our mission and what we wanted to do.
SD: So what’s the idea behind the Babe Force?
CW: Basically, we wanted a group where women could learn from one another, build confidence, make friends, and find new ski partners. It’s a way to get out on the mountain, hear stories from one another, and make new friends. I have a gym here in Jackson, and I see so many young girls or women who’re training and who only ski with their boyfriends or brothers. Skiing with other women is motivating and empowering. I remember I was nervous all the time when I skied with just guys. When I ski with the girls, it’s a different feeling.
My big thing is getting women to push themselves out of their comfort zone, but in a safe manner. It comes down to the if she can do it, maybe I can do it mentality. Women tend to push themselves more with other women than they do with a bunch of guys. When we have ski days, or when I teach at a camp, there are women who say, ‘I would never do this with my husband!’ It’s fun to get that dynamic going.
The Babe Force is open to women of all different abilities and demographics – from young girls all the way through 80-year old women. We mentor the young girls, and we challenge the older women. We want to get everyone involved.
SD: How do you go about doing this?
CW: Our goal is to have an event each month. On our first ski day, about 50 people turned out, which was a real shock! To be honest, it was a little overwhelming. So we’re planning on developing activities to make things a bit more manageable, like scavenger hunts on the mountain, where you have to partner with 3 people you don’t know and find things all over the resort. We’re also planning “Queen of the King” at our local hill, “Snow King.” We go night skiing, and you try to make as many runs as you can to become Queen of the King.
One of the things we want to focus on is building our scholarship program. Last year we offered our first Avalanche scholarships to help women take their Level 1 Avalanche Training. We had our first fundraiser in May, and raised $8,000, so we’re going to be able to offer a lot more scholarships this year. We also plan to partner with the Doug Coombs Foundation to donate our time with the kids. And we’re going to partner with Search and Rescue for talks about how to deal with getting caught out in the backcountry.
It’s not always skiing. We do other fun stuff, too. Tomorrow we’re going to do a hike. And last year we had a Halloween party. It’s ways to have fun and build relationships, on and off the mountain.
SD: The Jackson Hole Air Force has a very famous patch, and I see you have one, too. Can you tell me about it?
CW: Sure. These are only given out for special reasons. They can be earned one of three ways: Facing your fears, Progression Session, and Inspiring Epic Adventure. So they’re for things like skiing off the tram for the first time or doing a super chute or going in the backcountry for the first time. Eventually we want to get a nomination process going, so you’d nominate a friend who’s gone above and beyond or who’s really inspired you. I had a lady write me from Finland about her friend and why she wanted to give her a patch, so I sent a patch to Finland!
SD: Do you have any plans to go beyond Jackson Hole?
CW: We’re not totally committed to local; we’d like to inspire ladies all around. What I’d love to do is have chapters all over the place, like an Alta Babe Force chapter. So no matter where a woman was, there’d be a local chapter where they could find a ski partner. For right now, we’re keeping it local.