Jackson is a sleepy little town tucked within a 55-mile long valley in northwest Wyoming. It also lies within the shadow of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the crown jewel of Grand Teton ski country. J-Hole, as the locals call it, is neither for the faint-of-heart nor the big-of-attitude. It boasts over four thousand vertical feet. It’s got steep lines, tight chutes, and mandatory cliffs. Fifty percent of the trails rate expert only. Furthermore, Jackson doesn’t teem with the fur coats of Aspen or the family fun of Park City. With its wooden sidewalks and rustic storefronts, it has managed to retain much of the frontier feel that has attracted hardcore enthusiasts since its official opening in 1966.
Travis Rice grew up in Jackson. Even as a toddler, he bristled with kinetic energy. On skis by age two. Doing gymnasium somersaults at three. At ten, he got his first snowboard. For a young snow junkie, spending a childhood in Jackson was the equivalent of a surfer being raised on Oahu’s North Shore or a mountain biker growing up in Vancouver’s northern suburbs. The young Rice shredded every inch of J-Hole’s 2,500 acres. He conquered the legendary Corbet’s and S&S. Yet his most seminal teenage moment wasn’t killing a specific run or nailing a certain trick. It was receiving an invitation.
“I didn’t know them well at first,” says Rice. “But I’d always looked up to them.” “Them” meaning Jackson’s most hardcore powder cowboys—snowboarders Lance Pitman, Rob Kingwill, and Bryan Iguchi. The three were J-Hole stars. Talented yet grounded. Seasoned and savvy. They’d won X-Games medals. They made boarding videos. They consistently tore up the Teton backcountry. One wintery morning, Iguchi, who was seven years Travis’s senior, asked the high schooler to come along with them. This was major. Rice knew of the legendary Teton backcountry spots like Cody Peak, Four Pines, and Granite Canyon, but he’d never really tackled them. And “Guch,” as he was known, was a pioneer, one of the earliest shredders to push freestyle snowboarding into the backcountry. One of the first guys to throw blindside 720s off natural terrain. An invitation from Iguchi was like an offer from Butch Cassidy to join in a ride with the Hole in the Wall Gang. “Guch doubled me out on his snowmobile,” recalls Rice. They built a jump. Something “super poppy” over a seam of boulders. Rice had been trying some new tricks and thought it’d be a perfect time to test one out. An initiation of sorts. “I stuck a double backflip,” says Rice. “The guys were like, what the fuck?? From then on I could hang with them.”
The three older men became Rice’s friends, his family, his teachers. “Everyone had their own personal character,” says Rice. “And they all brought something different to the table.” Guch possessed the old-school wisdom and patience, Pitman was the fiery go-getter, and Kingwill provided the comic relief. And for the following three years, the J-Hole crew taught Rice lessons that would serve him for the rest of his life. How to safely run with an organized crew. How to depend on one another. How to prepare, how to focus, and how to manage the “business of filming.” And perhaps most critically, the humility required to ride—and survive—the backcountry. It was a skill set Rice would leverage not only to become a better snowboarder, but also a better man.