The Wyoming Way With Mark Carter

photos & interview / ben gavelda

A couple seasons ago I got a random text from snowboarder Mark Carter. He was looking for someone to come shoot with him and Bryan “Guch” Iguchi. It’d been nearly six years since I spent time around Jackson, so I hightailed it up there. Our mornings were spent in the stinging dark cold, the days burned in remote and rarely ridden mountains and the nights were short and weary. What would unfold over the next couple weeks, and linger season after season, were calculated missions far in the backcountry and a look at how these two mountaineers operate. I’d also learn that that Carter, the gruff toothpick-chewing cowboy from rural Wyoming, had a completely different side.

Carter grew up in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, a rural ranching town of only 250 people in northern central Wyoming. The tiny hill of Meadowlark was the closest spot to ride, but the idea of riding professional was a world away. Carter played high school football. He worked on the family ranch. He lived in the middle of nowhere. That all changed when he moved to Jackson Hole for a season after high school. He worked at the terrain park and lived the snowboard bum life. Hard, honest work in the summers would make winters doable. It’s a migration that he continues to do to this day, running a cattle ranching operation with his brother and father and returning to the Tetons for winter.

The smell of seared beef and coconut oil fills the small kitchen of his friend Resi’s rustic cabin off of Fish Creek Road. He’s cooking up some fresh steaks from the ranch. From coconut oil to Ayurvedic supplements, doobies instead of chew, I discovered that Carter is more hippy than redneck, more generous and relaxed than the rough persona some may perceive. He knows these mountains well and understands when to push it and when not to. It’s an inspiring trait of confidence he’s pulled from over many years in Jackson with legendary riders. His authenticity and drive have gotten him where he is today, a by-product of a life of honest labor. Regardless of sponsors, filming or the professional side of snowboarding, he’s going to continue riding these mountains for as long as he can.

The days of snowmobiling and scouring the mountains continue. I follow along as we see moose on the trail, hunker down over campfires while trading stories and waiting for windows of sun. I sit behind the lens and track Carter and Guch as they take lines down fresh faces. The cold hard days are rewarded with the satisfaction of exploration and powder turns. The hunt in these cold, craggy ranges, with its faded western heritage and glitz, is the Wyoming way. It’s a place of contrasts, a place where cowboy and snowboard bum are one.

How does a cowboy from Wyoming become a professional snowboarder?
I believe I manifested this path. It’s a pretty unordinary career choice coming from Ten Sleep, but I always knew I wanted to live by my own choices and dreams.

Tell me about learning to ride, the hill, how all that happened?
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a wild place. Our school was a tiny K-12. If your grades were up to par the bus went up to the little resort “Meadowlark” half days on Friday. It was nothing but a poma lift and tickets were $3, so most of the ranch kids could afford it. I started out skiing until I saw Charlie Hicks, the only shredder riding down the hill with his big husky chasing him. He just looked like he was having way more fun ripping around on a board. Even going up the poma he was getting fresh tracks in the powder off to the side. I was so interested in snowboarding at that point. It was all I could think about. I begged for a board. Finally my mom hooked it up. She has always been the most supportive of my path in the mountains. Charlie took my brother, sister and I under his wing and showed us the way. He has been my biggest influence in snowboarding to this day. He still continues to live in the Big Horns keeping the dream alive.

What keeps you snowboarding? What is it about the pursuit that keeps you hooked? 
I feel most alive and at peace when I’m in the mountains. Snowboarding gives me a sense of accomplishment and a challenge. I love to balance fear and my comfort in chaos with the flow of the natural terrain. The exploration of my inner self and the terrain around me always has me at my best. Adventures with my comrades is all I’ve ever really wanted. The bonds that it creates between brothers are priceless.

Tell me about your other life, summer working the land?
I credit my other life on the ranch for the man I have become. Growing up with a solid work ethic and real men and women. I’m always back in the summer because that’s where my family is and my roots are buried. Some of the most rewarding days I’ve had are the ones working side by side with my family. I’ll never leave.

You seem really content with staying at home in Jackson. Why? What keeps you there instead of chasing snow elsewhere? 
Jackson is my other home. I feel more comfortable riding there than any place in the world. I really have no reason to leave. The shred community is as authentic as is gets and all my friends are there. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is the best place I’ve ever ridden and seems to keep producing year after year. The surrounding mountains have endless terrain to explore with difficult access to keep the donkeys at bay. Bottom line is that it’s in Wyoming and that’s the only place I want to be.