Karen Daubert and Jared Smith are not only avid skiers but also engaged Jackson residents involved in different organizations. Though Jared has more personal history in Jackson than Karen, since retiring 4 years ago, they have both been actively exploring all the winter trails of Jackson and actively involved in nonprofit work.
Jared’s history in Jackson
Jared grew up enmeshed in the Nordic community of Jackson. His parents first came to Jackon in 1945 on their honeymoon, and they started building a cabin at the end of Fish Creek Road when Jared was born in 1956. He grew up spending summers at the cabin, and then 1973 was the first winter and full year Jared and his family spent in Jackson.
Jared’s neighbors were Pepi Stiegler, the first ski school director for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and John Simms, an early avalanche expert at the ski area. When Jared worked at the Mangy Moose in its early days as a restaurant, the three of them used to eat, sleep, breathe skiing.
“The three of us commuted from the end of Fish Creek Road by ski and snowmobile,” Jared said. “Sometimes they would ski as well, so we skied over to the ski area, and then I would ski all day downhill and then commute back on Nordic skis. I could actually get there quicker by skis than by driving down to Wilson and all the way around.”
At that time, he was using wood waxable skinny skis as his winter transportation. Jared and his family also spent a lot of time on their old leather snowshoes. And he witnessed a more primitive use of skis and snowshoes as ways of getting through the snow surrounding their home.
Jared’s parents were also close with Olaus and Adolf Murie after supporting their work as elk biologists, who also utilized skis and snowshoes for getting around.
He also has countless fond memories of adventures in Jackson. On a memorable trip, Jared and his friends skied across the north end of frozen Jackson Lake from Lizard Creek Campground, skied up into Web Canyon. They had to dig down 10 feet of snow to get into a cabin up there to stay the night.
“A favorite thing to do in those days was to drive to the top [of Teton Pass] and wait for the full moon to rise,” Jared said. “And then we would ski with a bunch of friends off the top of Teton Pass by the light of the full moon.”
Karen’s advocacy for trails and land stewardship
Karen started coming to Jackson in the winter 30 years ago when she met Jared. Though they were doing primarily downhill skiing at the Village, Karen loves how alpine and Nordic skiing complement each other. Jared calls himself “agnostic in terms of preference.”
“It’s the perfect combination,” Karen said. “It’s different muscles, and you have the excitement and the hubbub of downhill skiing and then you have just that peace and quiet of Nordic [skiing].”
“I love to downhill ski, I love lift-served skiing, I love backcountry skiing,” said Jared.
Nonetheless, Jared does think that skiing off-track does offer a “more solitary [experience] and feeling closer to nature.”
Karen got involved with the Nordic Alliance after starting to ski with Nancy. She began utilizing the Nordic Alliance website resources and found it inspiring, leading her to start contributing to the website with her trip reports.
“It’s just so motivating in terms of just getting out that day but also planning trips into the future,” Karen said. “When I look ahead at this coming year, I am so excited to help out with more content, more trip reports, just to get people out to explore different areas, so that’s what I’m thinking about for this year.”
This year Karen also joined the Board of Friends of the Bridger-Teton, a non-profit focused on stewardship of the Bridger-Teton National Forest–a shared goal with the Nordic Alliance. In her pursuit of new places to explore, Karen wants to visit more Nordic trails on the Bridger-Teton to write up more trail reports and increase exposure to the forest.
Though so much of Jackson is part of or connected to the national forest, it is not as well-known as Grand Teton National Park.
“Grand Teton National Park just has more resources than the Bridger Teton national forest, and I think the forest is 20 times bigger,” said Karen. “There is something very important about our national parks and we want to highlight that, but we also have our national forests.”
Something less well-known about the national forest is that the forest service is under the Department of Agriculture, so its priorities are quite different than the national parks service. Thinking about budgeting, this means that much more money goes towards the stewardship and harvesting of the forest and trees, rather than for recreation.
Karen is very passionate about advocating for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and she draws on a lot of her experience growing up and working in Washington state. Karen worked as the executive director of the Washington Trails Association, a nonprofit engaged in a similar private-public partnership as Friends of the Bridger Teton. At the Washington Trails Association, they had a volunteer fleet that worked on trails and public lands.
“They were giving back and increasing [their] understanding of the value of our public lands, and then that really translates into being a strong advocate [for public lands],” Karen said. “I think that’s [also] really important to the youth, providing opportunities to get out into our different public lands and understand the rejuvenation and contemplation [that they offer].”
Access for All in our National Forests
Karen feels the same way about folks in the Jackson area too and strives to offer great access to the national forest for everyone. She also hopes to get people the opportunity to push into the backcountry parts of the forest to get an additional, quiet appreciation of the lands.
“With Friends of Bridger-Teton being a strong partner of the Nordic Alliance, there are a lot of people that are connected to their public lands through the nordic website,” Karen said. “So that [can] help educate people about where they’re actually skiing and how to give back.”
Karen has engaged in some volunteer work with Friends of the Bridger-Teton, going out with volunteer crews to do cleaning and maintenance work at campsites. Though it wasn’t glamorous, Karen and the other volunteers felt that they were making a big difference–and their reports afterward confirmed it. Karen felt similarly about the Lost Trails Found campaign she founded while at the Washington Trails Association.
“[Lost trails], for many reasons, haven’t been maintained and are literally becoming lost,” Karen said. “[They] are always in the backcountry and more difficult to get to, [but it] is so satisfying when you can get a group of volunteers in for a week and completely transform a lost trail into one that’s found.”
Karen loved how this campaign opened up access to more trails–without carving out any more of the landscape.
Jared, on the other hand, is on the Murie Center advisory board and the transit Board of Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START), serving on their operation and finance committees. Though much of START winter service focuses on getting people to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Jared wants to work on providing skier access to different, more Nordic-focused areas.
“My ideal vision is a type of system where you have a remote parking area and then a circulator route that gets skiers to trailheads,” Jared said. “Then you don’t have all this need for cars clogging the trailheads and overflowing our roads.”
Advocating for inclusivity
Karen has also been pursuing ways to make land stewardship and winter recreation more inclusive. On behalf of Bridger-Teton and the Nordic Alliance, she’s started participating in Jackson Hole Voices in an effort to increase the visibility of Hispanic outdoor recreationists.
“It’s a way to get out the word about issues, projects, and support for the English as a second language community here,” Karen said. “It is an awesome opportunity to showcase other diverse groups that are out there in Jackson Hole skiing.”
After doing a pack trip guided by a member of the Shoshone tribe on the Wind River Reservation, Karen realized that indigenous engagement is an area of importance that hasn’t been explored.
“In the greater community in Wyoming that cares about our partnerships and our underserved area, [the reservations and indigenous peoples] should be much more of a priority,” Karen said.
Karen also tries to make the Nordic community as welcoming as possible–even just through the clothes she wears out skiing.
“I don’t have a “nordic outfit,” so that it was more welcoming, more encouraging, for people that were just starting out,” Karen said. “You don’t need to spend a thousand dollars on your outfit, but it can be intimidated in some of the groomed areas with the outfits and the skills, so I just like making it feel more accessible.”
Crust cruising and the wonders of Nordic skiing in Jackson Hole
Karen and Jared have had their fair share of adventures in Jackson, whether that’s coming upon fresh grizzly tracks at Ditch Creek, watching the Trumpeter swans along the Snake River and Oxbow in Grand Teton National Park, or getting caught in a blizzard and going in circles before finding the cabin on Fish Creek Road.
Though two of Karen’s favorite places to ski are in the Cascade Mountains in Washington–at Crystal Mountain and around Mt. Rainier–Jackson also ranks high and has incomparable weather. Unlike the Pacific Northwest, it’s cold–not wet–in Jackson, so the conditions are much more consistent and the snow stays cold and light.
And the view of the Tetons never fails. Karen has two go-to skis she does every year, and there might be a common theme.
“It’s an easy half day up to Phelps Lake where you can go out onto the frozen lake, and it’s just beautiful at the base of the Tetons,” she said. “And once a year, I ski Signal Mountain to Bradley Taggart. If you do it from north to south, you’ve got the Tetons right in your face the whole time. It’s absolutely spectacular.”
One of Karen and Jared’s favorite parts about skiing in Jackson is an end-of-season gem in the flat sagebrush terrain: “Crust-cruising”
“There’s this particular condition where you get this icy crust out on the sagebrush flats, and it’s just like the entire thing is groomed with a thin crust that you can skate on,” said Jared. “The tail end of the season is the best time because it freezes overnight and it’s thawing during the day, so there’s a 2 hour period in the morning where you get this thin melted portion of the crust that’s a really flat surface, so you can just cruise for miles without being constricted by groomed track.”
“You have to be there at that right time,” Karen said. “The sun is beating down, melting and then freezing [the snow], so it’s like an ice skating rink.”
Look out for Karen and Jared exploring the Bridger-Teton National forest trails this winter on their Nordic skis and continuing their advocacy with the nonprofits of Jackson Hole.