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Perched atop my saddle at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, I admire the rugged, authentic vintage western decor that envelops me. I soak in the ambiance and relish the moment as I sip from a cold, refreshing, stubby bottle of Coors Banquet Beer. To my left are George and Andrew and to my right Eric and Matt. Coming at me from both directions is a steady flow of cheerful banter with a healthy side of gut-busting wisecracks and cheap laughs. 

Between it all, I remember the one thought that wouldn’t escape me: “Wow, for the heavy stuff, the temperature of this brewski sure seems pretty close to what the experts would describe as ‘cold as the Rockies.’ If the niche reference to the Coors Brewing Company’s marketing campaign went over your head, congrats on your mental stability, and allow me to explain. My familiarity with the Coors Light ‘Cold as the Rockies’ campaign is what left me dumbfounded that in addition to their light beer being as cold as advertised, Coors is also achieving these arctic temperatures with the Coors original product and for some reason, they aren’t even bragging about it. Anyhoo, I’m not one for getting sidetracked, so I’ll just keep a long story short and say that was the moment I knew I was in for an epic trip.  

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar

Saddled up

For me, the aforementioned description symbolizes the start of my first time at the annual FREESKIER Magazine Ski Test in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Unfortunately, the image that represents the end of the trip is not as glorious as our belly-laugh-filled trip to the world-famous saloon, as it involves Andrew pushing me through the airport in an airline-provided wheelchair as I nursed what I believed to be a broken ankle (I was correct, more on that later). 

As I sit here and write this, foot elevated and wrapped in a splint, I can confidently say that what transpired between posting up at the Cowboy Bar to hobbling out of Jackson makes it all worth it. What bridges those two moments in time is a week that consisted of some of the best pow turns of my life, long treks out into the vast Jackson backcountry, resort hot laps, Banquet Beers as far as the eye can see, daily apres sessions, R&R at the hotel pool, and late nights at the Mangy Moose. All with a crew of testers that radiate enough stoke and energy to power the Teton Village. 

After our pitstop at the Cowboy Bar is when the excitement really kicked in. We had gotten the travel over with, arrived in Teton Village where we would be staying, made the rounds at the welcome party, and finally Andrew and I got settled into our two queen-bed hotel room where we would eventually doze off after a long discussion about what we were supposed to do with an extra bed. It was officially Day 1, time to ski. 

Before we dive in, let me give you the lowdown on the actual test. Each year, FREESKIER Magazine handpicks a squad of badass skiers from all over the country to test out a wide range of next year's skis from some of the dopest brands out there. The test includes the tried-and-true classics that make it onto just about every "top tested" list, as well as brand new models and revamped versions of old favorites. This year's crew consisted of around 80 testers, myself included. Our mission? To hop on as many skis as possible and put them through their paces in the gnarly conditions of Jackson Hole. We used a custom app to submit a review of each ski, rating its various characteristics and leaving any additional comments we had. The data collected from all the testers is then used by FREESKIER to create their annual buyers guide every fall. Aside from that, all you really have to know is the testing crew is a wild cast of characters that rips equally as hard off-hill, and the event was packed with extracurriculars that were almost as exciting as the skiing itself. LFG!

Day 1: 

We started off the first day by heading up to the FREESKIER Tent. I was surprised to figure out that that was the tent with the big FREESKIER logo on it. This would be HQ for the week. While the main purpose of the tent was to serve as the place to take out and return skis for the test, the area could also be classified as a mixed-use property of sorts. It also functioned as a beer-drinking chalet, DJ booth, dancefloor, flip cup arena, and a ‘take a penny leave a penny jar’ for ski poles (I apologize to all the other testers if I was the only one that interpreted it that way). That first morning it was clear that all the testers were ready to get after it. Specifically, our crew was hungry to get some skiing in.

The Ski Monster, FREESKIER Magazine, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Now came a decision I had looked forward to making: Which skis would I be taking out first? Ben Fresco, the product manager at Elan, made this an easy choice for me when he approached me with the new Elan Playmaker 101s at 188 CMs. A brand new ski for 23/24 that just so happens to be the ski I am most excited about at the moment. I’ve spent the season patiently waiting to get on the 101s because the ones we have in the TSM fleet are only 180 CM. Perfect for the regular-sized folk, but not for a 6 foot 5 unit like myself. If you know anything about me, you're probably pretty impressed that I almost made it 1,000 words into a blog without bragging about my awesome height but that's beside the point. The point is that sure, I could have skied them short, but it could have spoiled the experience, kinda like that time I watched Top Gun: Maverick at home because I just couldn’t wait to see it in theaters.

Once everybody was all set up with skis the crew headed toward the tram right away. The number 1 rule about a Jackson trip is first run has to be on the tram. How else are you going to prove you’re the biggest hardos, I mean, best skiers on the mountain? Also, side note, I think you have to spend at least three full seasons in Jackson to fully get rid of the lingering “man it would really suck if this thing fell, huh?” thought that I deal with every tram ride. I think that’s how the locals sniff out the outsiders. They can feel your nerves. After the 9-minute tram ride filled with stoke, anticipation, excitement, and pretending not to be nervous we reached the summit. To me, getting to the top on that first tram ride felt supernatural. Stepping out at over 10,000 feet above sea level I immediately felt this larger-than-life sensory overload that instantly reminded me why Jackson Hole has the reputation it does. 

From there we skied out of the resort to Cody Peak where we’d hike up a ridge line and drop into a field of wide open blower powder for the first turns of the trip. What an unbelievable way to get it going, we were off to the races. We spent the majority of the day in Cody seeking out the best pow stashes and cliff drops we could find and eventually made our way over to the exact opposite side of the mountain for a final lap. All in all perfect way to start the trip and well, I’ll let the photos do the talking… 

Garrett Finn Skiing Jackson Hole Backcountry Rock SpringsGettin' the goods right out of the gate

Andrew Plourde Cliff Drop Rock Springs Jackson HoleAP Boosting. I actually thought the kid was headed for the airport. 

Jeff Annetts Jackson HoleShoutout to the homie Jeff Annets, the MVP of our trip who left no stone unturned in showing us the Jackson backcountry! 

Rock Springs Jackson HoleElan Playmaker 101s lookin' sexy

We wrapped up the day’s session and headed back to the tent. It was time for apres. Ski boots turned to Crocs, goggles turned to speed shades, and my avi pack turned into a 30 rack. The first day was a lot of work for the fellas, so to say we were eager to delete beers would be an understatement. To my surprise, about 20 minutes after arriving at the tent, just as I was finishing my 14th beer, I heard Damian Quigley hop on the mic to announce a flip-cup tournament. Wow. I knew this was coming, but I didn’t realize it was going down on day 1. I had heard so much about the annual FREESKIER test official flip cup tourney. It’s impossible to walk the halls of The Ski Monster Boston without coming upon the legendary stories of George, Eric and Matt’s triumphant victory in Aspen a few years back.

Since this year's tournament was teams of 4 and our group was 5, I generously volunteered myself as team manager. Just to clarify, I didn’t get thrown off the team because I’m the “weakest link” or “uncoordinated” or anything like that. Anyway, if the stories I’d heard about these guys in Aspen were true, I was more than happy to watch the masters at work. It felt like I had gotten a chance to sit courtside to watch the ‘86 Celtics. The tournament began and I honestly didn’t pay that much attention but before I knew it they lost. Not much more to it. They probably could have used some height. Congrats on 4th place guys!

Day 2:  

Our second day was slated to be a big one. The plan was a six-hour excursion into a few different areas of Jackson’s backcountry. It sounded like a lot of hiking, but if the skiing out there was anything like what we found the day before, I was down for whatever. We started out as we did every day by making our way to the tent for ski selection. I chose the newly constructed Blizzard Rustler 11, another ski I had been looking forward to getting on. I had skied the Rustler 9 and Rustler 10 for 23/24 and loved them, so it was no surprise their beefier brother left me just as impressed. Shoutout Rustler 11, you did not disappoint you thicccc boy. 

The day turned out to be exactly what I expected. A lot of hiking and EPIC skiing. Again, the photos are going to do a better job explaining this one… 

Hiking Jackson Hole Backcountry      

Earnin' em

Hiking in the Jackson Hole Backcountry, skiing, the ski monster

Four Pines Jackson Hole"Yo wtf?!?! This isn't Loon..."

Eric Gerrmann Skiing Jackson HoleGerrm getting in on the action

I usually don’t love the type of skiing we had to do to get back to the resort, it’s a lot of tedious traversing through tight trees and rutted-out cat tracks, but the ride back from Rock Springs on day 2 was a different vibe. Even though we’d just done the most hiking and some of the hardest skiing we’d ever done, the whole crew was super high energy. We laughed, joked, and ball-busted our way back to the tent and eventually b-lined for the hotel pool.

Our pool sessions were a great way to recharge. This is where we’d recap the day, splash around in our SICK hotel pool, and listen to Eric hold court in the outdoor hot tub under the grotto. After our refreshing daily dip, we headed a few doors down to the Continuum for an apres party. Which was funny to me because what we’d left at the tent like an hour ago felt like a full-blown apres party. Sounded like we were just going to be doing the exact same thing in a different location. Twist my arm.

Day 2 quickly turned from the busiest day of the trip to the earliest night of the trip for me. After the Apres party, I got back to the hotel and immediately entered a 12-hour hibernation. I even missed dinner. Matt was worried so he made sure Andrew brought Pop-Tarts from the lobby to put on the bedside table. Guess they weren’t kidding when they said you can OD on good vibes. 

Day 3: 

With two all-time backcountry days in the rearview, day 3 was going to be spent putting skis through their paces on-piste in the resort. The minute I heard the plan I grabbed a Volkl Mantra 102 because I couldn’t think of a better ski for some speedy groomer laps.

Skiing Groomers Jackson HoleGeorge doing what he does best

testing skis on piste at Jackson Hole

Arc em' or Park em'

Jackson Hole Groomer skiingFast turns. Good times. 

Our homie Jim Ryan, who we had as a guest on our podcast this past fall, dropped by to spin a few laps with us and put on an absolute clinic in railing turns. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve never been more impressed watching someone ski groomers. 

Jim Ryan Jackson Hole CarvingAlright, hand up, I'll admit it, Jim's angles are a little better than mine.

In terms of the skiing itself, day 3 was probably the most mellow of the trip, which was a fine change of pace, because the real excitement of the day was the FREESKIER gala, arguably the most highly anticipated evening event of the trip. The Gala was held in a ballroom at Hotel Terra in the heart of the village, and everyone involved in the test was dressed to the nines. The nines, of course, consisted of a lot of denim, fluorescent colors, cowboy hats, and Pit Vipers. The atmosphere was electric as people filled the room, found their seats, and settled in for an evening of high fashion and elegance. Two ski industry specials. The speeches, performances, and awards were all incredible. I won’t comb through every single presentation, but I do have to shout out a couple.

Leading up to the gala, the murmurs around the test were that Bode Miller was going to be the main event of the Gala. He was scheduled to give a keynote speech, but unfortunately canceled the day of the event due to an unexpected, last-minute obligation to go crush margs at the Four Seasons in Cabo. Hate when that happens.

I really was bummed when I found out the champ wasn't gonna be speaking. I bet that would have been as intriguing as his Instagram stories of his kids playing sports! In Bode’s absence, the FREESKIER team was forced into a last-minute audible. You’re probably asking yourself, “How are you gonna replace alpine skiing Jesus?” I have one name for you. 

Catherine Couloir

Catherine Couloir can be described as many things, but Catherine is primarily an artist. This was quickly evident the moment she floored the room with her performance of her song “IKONIC.” I don’t think I can do the song justice, but to sum it up, imagine the beat of a hit pop song with lyrics telling the story of a kid who moved to Jackson Hole and bought an IKON Pass with his parent's money. Some of my favorite lyrics are the following: 

“It’s probably cliche for a guy in the mountains to spend his whole winter embracing the scene, why read a book when I just can go skiing?” 

“Love hookin’ up cuz I’m lackin’ commitment, I cycle through girls like I ski-swap equipment. Think they’re unique but I don’t have just one, my only true love is my family’s trust fund” 

And who could forget, 

“Grab another beer let’s kick it into gear, got a DUI but my Dad knows a guy” 

Beyond the hilarious antics of Catherine, and on a more serious note, I do have to give a shoutout to The Ski Monster’s very own Matt Berkowitz for giving a beautiful speech paying tribute to our good friend Kyle Smaine, who lost his life earlier this winter in an avalanche. Kyle had been involved in the FREESKIER test in years past, as well as being a Ski Monster athlete, so it was only appropriate to properly commemorate him in a room full of the community he was such a crucial part of. Obviously, the remembrance of a lost life is a very real and difficult change of pace from the typical FREESKIER test silliness, but once everybody in the room took a tequila shot in honor of Kyle and made some noise so he could hear us, the vibes were exactly where they needed to be, just as Kyle would have wanted. We wrapped up the Gala and headed to the Mangy Moose to enjoy the live band and partake in some responsible decision-making. 

Ski Monster Freeskier Magazine

The whole squad at the Gala (Matt is a supernatural entity so he does not appear in photographs) 

Day 4: 

We’d made it to our fourth and final day on snow. At this point, my mindset SHOULD have been “okay, let’s just take it easy, enjoy the last day, and get out of here safely” but as I’ve already teased, that clearly wasn’t the case. We headed for the tent, and I grabbed a pair of Volkl Revolt 114s, another new ski for the upcoming season. Would be nice if every day of skiing started with the question “which brand-new skis do I want to take out?” 

The day was shaping up to be pretty chill. The whole crew was loose, everyone was jazzed up, and the snow was great. We skied the first half of the day in the resort doing a little bit of everything. We piped groomers, we ripped bumps, and we dipped into the trees for the leftovers from the past week’s storms. Those turned out to be some of my favorite laps of the trip. Once the afternoon hit, the crew decided we’d head up the tram for one final Cody lap before we began our trip home after skiing. 

At this point, we all knew the drill. Get off the tram and head skiers right towards what we’d been skiing all week. Once we got in there it started off as all Cody laps do: Awesome. The sun was shining, the lighting was perfect, and there were still plenty of pow to be shared among our crew.

The Ski Monster crew testing skis in Jackson Hole, WY

Vibes at an all time high!

George in the white room

George trying to find the bottom. He didn't.

As we made it into Rock Springs we came across what looked to be a nice, diving-board-style rock takeoff that from my perspective, was absolutely asking for it. My mouth was watering at the thought of potentially getting one more air shot I could be stoked on before heading home. I traversed over to scope it out. Looking back this is where I wish I had a part of my brain that would have kicked in and said, “Garrett, we’re so close buddy, nobody needs a hero.” 

I stood above the cliff, feeling mostly confident. However, in hindsight, there was a red flag that should have steered me away. The rock was covered in snow, but the snowpack looked dicey. As I inspected, my concern was that it looked like a smooth takeoff from where I was, but as soon as I ski up onto that snow covering I’d sink in and scrape against the rocks in the takeoff. 

What I was dealing with here is an inherent risk assessment process that comes with the type of skiing we do. I stood in the inrun of the cliff evaluating everything that could go wrong, how likely is it to go wrong, and how bad it would be if it went wrong. As it turns out, I have the risk assessment skills of a fucking FTX investor. 

Garrett Finn, Jackson Hole, Broken Ankle

Nobody gets hurt in the air...

I dropped in and to my surprise, exactly what I expected to happen, happened. I hit rocks in the takeoff, they sent me off-balance in the air, I came down into a soft powder landing in an awkward position, and twisted my ankle in a way that I didn’t know was possible in a ski boot. 

I looked up after my fall and it looked like the whole crew knew what was up. What gave it away? Not sure, but I did shout an F-bomb that echoed ever so nicely through the Tetons, so that could have been it. George, who’s newly a Dad, went into full Dad mode and wrangled my ski that had fallen off my injured foot during the fall. “I’m good, it’s just a tweak,” I said in denial as George made his way down to tend to me. 

Jackson Hole Backcountry

I spent the next few minutes downplaying how bad my ankle felt because I did not want to have a broken ankle. A lot of lessons were learned in the Jackson wilderness, but I think my main takeaway is that it’s really hard to go back on giving yourself a broken ankle. But still, I tried. The thought of calling ski patrol or getting evacuated or calling the royal mounties or whatever they’d have to do to get me out of the wilderness didn’t cross my mind once. Death before sled bro. I one-skied out of there all the way down to ski patrol. If you’re wondering, this ride out of the backcountry did not have the same immaculate vibes we experienced on day 2 after Rock Springs. 

We got to ski patrol, my adrenaline wore off, and it was time for me to come to terms with what had just happened. It was clear my ankle was as broken as one of Tanner Hall’s. To be entirely truthful, of all the ways I was planning on the end of this trip going, this wasn’t even close to the top of the list. 

Nevertheless, despite an unfavorable turn of events, it’s hard to look back on my week in Jackson and call it anything other than a success. You can break my bones but don’t even think about trying to break my spirit. 

From the moment we arrived in Jackson, to our visit to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, to all the face shots, to all the good times, to the hobble out, we achieved everything we set out to do. Considering that you’ve made it this far into the blog, you already know there was no shortage of good skiing and good times, but as important, we got a better understanding of all the sick products coming down the pipe for the 23/24 winter. Based on the test, it’s pretty clear what people are responding well to and what people are the most stoked on. As a ski nerd, it was super exciting to see the other testers share my hype on some of the new skis for next season. It was sweet to pick their brains and hear their thoughts on what's incoming for next year.  We also had the opportunity to get on a ton of skis on terrain and conditions we don’t have access to back home. From our proven favorites to some new-to-us skis that lived up to the hype, we had the opportunity to strengthen our grasp on what models will continue to make noise as top skis, and what new skis have the potential to etch themselves right into that discussion. 

Taking all of that into account, in addition to the rip-roaring good times I’ve chronicled in this blog, I hope you can understand how I can possibly view this trip as a success. I broke my ankle, I won’t ski for the rest of the season and I won’t walk until May, but by gosh if I didn’t have the greatest week a guy could ask for. If someone were to come up to me and ask: “Hey Garrett, would you trade a week full of ski-testing next year's product in bottomless powder with an all-time crew in the best place ever for a broken bone and 2 months of recovery time?” My response would simply be the following: “I didn’t have much of a choice now did I asshole?” 

And remember kids, NEVER call last day: 

Jackson Hole Twitter

Your boy, a couple hours before disaster

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