Jim Norman Jack: 1965-2012
Saying goodbye to the pied-piper of freeskiing
Selfless. Pure love. Always giving.
I wrote these words on a piece of yellow scrap paper sitting at a table in a community hall in Leavenworth, Washington, surrounded by over 1,000 of Jim Jack’s closest friends and family members. By now, you know Jim Norman Jack died in an avalanche on February 19, 2012, at Stevens Pass, Washington. I was one of the last people to physically touch Jim Jack. We knocked fists through ski gloves, smiled at each other, and then I said, “Have a great run.” Jim smiled back with his huge, warm grin, let out a big whoop, and pushed out onto an apron of untouched snow like he had done a thousand times before. Only this time, as he angled left into the fall line and sunk his skis and body into the comforting embrace of over 2 feet of powder, the mountain released.
For the past 10 years, Jim lit up rooms filled with hundreds of skiers, as he led the Freeskiing World Tour, Junior Freeskiing Tour, and countless regional events as the head judge. But he was so much more than a judge. He was the pied piper for a group of the most devout skiers on the planet. At each meeting, announcer Frankie Alisuag introduced him as, “The man with three first names who needs no introduction…get comfortable, folks, because he is never one who is short of words.” Jim would take the mic, his telltale scratchy, soothing, yet charged voice hyping the room to a level no one else could. Skiers hooted and whistled, holding beers in the air, a raucous cacophony saluting the man behind the movement. But then he’d bring everyone back to earth. The room would fall silent as he advised the competitors to ski in control, with style, fluidity, and finesse. But more than anything, he preached fun. That, in Jim’s mind, was why we skied.
Above all, Jim was a skier—one of the most passionate skiers anywhere. He worked summers in the Washington forest, managing a team of prison inmates on work release programs, so he could take the winters off to ski and travel on the Freeskiing World Tour.
A few days before the avalanche, Jim and I were at Crystal Mountain, Washington, for The North Face Masters big mountain snowboarding competition. He had offered to come work on the operations team for Mountain Sports International. This unit—known as Ninjas—is the first on the hill and the last off. It’s some of the hardest and least glamorous work in the operation. Jim—needing a few bucks—offered to take a position on the bottom rung on the Ninja crew that weekend. And as always, he smiled huge, worked his ass off, laughed incessantly, and most importantly, spread his positive vibes and love throughout the entire team. He had that impossible gift of being ultimately humble, while always garnering absolute respect from everyone around him.
At breakfast on the final day of the comp, I was looking for a ride to Stevens Pass to photograph a Powder story on night skiing. I asked Jim if he would be willing to let me jump in his truck for a ride over the Pass that night since he lived there. He wasn’t planning on leaving until the morning, but we talked about the storms coming in and decided to push out that night after his work was complete. After a 14-hour day of hauling crap around the mountain, Jim grabbed both of my bags and tossed them in his 1982 Ford pickup.
The next two hours were a gift. Jim, having been published as a skier several times over the years, was ecstatic to be on a Powder magazine trip. I’m not sure if he knew, but, even though we’d known each other for 10 years, I was more honored to have him on one. We talked about life, laughed, and stopped off at Herfy’s. “I love Herfy burgers!” Jim exclaimed, and then filled up the truck on the Powder dime. “I love Powder gas!” and talked about how good the skiing would be in the morning.
And it was. The next day we hammered countless powder runs. At nearly every new swath of untouched powder, he offered others first tracks. He introduced us to all his friends and never, ever stopped smiling. That night, we photographed under the lights at Stevens Pass for our first shoot of the trip. The first line Jim skied was reminiscent of a classic Lee Cohen Alta Shoulder setup. Only Jim hit this one in the ambient light—wearing dark lenses in his goggles no less. He was just off his line on the first attempt because it was nearly impossible to explain the apex spot. “You want it again?” I asked, knowing we would crush the shot on a second attempt, but not wanting to push him to hike up and around again. “Hell yeah!” he said, and within minutes he was already on top of the line. He dropped in and held perfect form through a long turn that produced nearly five quintessential, beard-caking, deep-ass powder shots.
Jim Jack skied with an incredible lightness, mixed with power and grace. Much like the late, great Doug Coombs, he made everything he skied look easy and with the same turn. He loved skiing. And skiing loved him.
Selfless. Pure love. Always giving.
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