In mountain towns across the country, there are stories of legends, past and present, that run through the peaks and valleys of the community. These people inspire the lives of many and create a lasting impact on the local culture. Tom Raymer of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol was one of those people and Stio\u2019s Raymer jacket is named to honor his legacy. \r\n\r\nWords by Jeff Burke.\r\n\r\nI never knew Tom Raymer, but I hear his name every day. I work winters for the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol, and each morning during our meeting we are enjoined to hear the snow and wind forecast from the Raymer snow study plot, a staple of our job. One of our primary weather data collecting sites, it lives at 9300 feet, a short hike above what is now the summit of the Bridger Gondola and gateway into Casper Bowl and Ranger Point. And, like Tom Raymer\u2019s spirit, it is still one of the most untamed places at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.\r\n\r\nTom Raymer was like many east coast transplants looking for glory in the snowy mountains of Wyoming. Born in Annapolis, Md., in 1948, he was the son of a Navy man. He and his older sister Susan were subject to their father\u2019s itinerant career, living in Key West, Norfolk, Boston and Newport while growing up.\r\n\r\nTom learned to ski in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where he got the bug to schuss down wind-swept slopes, and even worked in a ski shop as a kid in the DC area. After graduating high school, he met his father\u2019s wishes by enlisting in the US Coast Guard, to satisfy his public service. But once he finished, Raymer did what any 20-year-old who longed for the mountain life would do. He borrowed 11 dollars from his mother, went to the local police auction, bought a three-speed bicycle for five bucks and rode it from Virginia to Wyoming \u2014 in November.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was the farthest place from the ocean he could find,\u201d says his niece Meilani Schijvins, who, along with her sister Jocelyn, spent much time with Uncle Tommy in Wyoming when they were teenagers.\r\n\r\nThat transcontinental ride is a less-than-subtle introduction into his self-imposed austerity and resilience, the twin pillars of his larger-than-life character. In the early \u201870s, Tommy Raymer would \u201clive\u201d at what was called the Halfway House, a small shack beside the base of the Thunder Chairlift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Equidistant from the valley floor and the summit of Rendezvous Mountain, Raymer\u2019s home was approximately 2,000 vertical feet up the mountain. \u201cHe would walk up there every night in the summer to sleep,\u201d says Margo Krisjansons, a close girlfriend, and long-time colleague on the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol.\r\n\r\nOn days off he would meet partners at the base of the tram to go climbing in Grand Teton National Park. Doug Ward, who served out his draft service during the Vietnam War on a base in Germany, (\u201cI was lucky\u201d, he says) originally met Tom at the famous Stagecoach Bar in Wilson in 1972. Ward, who is the brother to long-time patrol director, Corky Ward, became fast friends with Raymer and formed a tight climbing partnership. One evening they made plans to climb in the park the following day. That morning, Doug noticed something out of the ordinary. \u201cI remember seeing his pack beside the Tram,\u201d he says, \u201cbut no Tom.\u201d Tom wasn\u2019t the kind of person to be late. He waited a few minutes, and noticed Raymer jogging into view down the game trail from above. \u201cI forgot to feed the cats,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nOne of Raymer\u2019s more lasting sobriquets was \u2018Ranger\u2019, but to many of his earlier associates, he was Tommy Terrific, a preternatural athlete who was the inaugural winner of the valley\u2019s \u201cPole, Pedal, Paddle\u201d race every spring. The brainchild of Harry Baxter, the PPP as it\u2019s known, is part Downhill Super G, part skate ski, part road bike and part boat\/kayak. The race starts atop Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and ends half a day down the valley at the Astoria Hot Springs\u2019 boat ramp.\r\n\r\nCompetitors are usually comprised of teams, who each take a leg of the race. Some do perform the whole race solo, as did Raymer, who ended up taking First Place two years in a row. It is believed he bested the competition by not swapping out skate ski boots for cycling shoes during the road bike leg. Fair enough.\r\n\r\nRaymer drew a paycheck in the summers from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. In 1976, he was leading a client off of the Grand Teton when they took a fall during a descent. \u201cHe saved his client and himself,\u201d remembers Krisjansons. And in catching the fall, Raymer injured both of his legs very badly. \u201cHe broke his femur in one leg, and blew his ankle apart in the other,\u201d she says.\r\n\r\nRenny Jackson and John Carr, both newly christened Grand Teton Climbing Rangers at the time, were a part of the rescue efforts. The weather that day was unstable, remembers Jackson, preventing any chance of a helicopter rescue. \u201cIt was stormy enough that we couldn\u2019t even pick him up at the Saddle,\u201d he says. The Lower Saddle is the divide between the Grand and Middle Teton, a high alpine camping spot shared by climbing rangers, guides and private parties.\r\n\r\nBecause his injuries were serious enough to warrant an immediate evacuation, they loaded him into a litter above the Saddle, and several rescuers carried him over seven miles down trail, snow and rock, using additional rope lowers where necessary, to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, spending much of the time under darkness before arriving at the valley floor the following morning. \u201cHe had to take numerous years to heal, and one leg had to be shortened,\u201d says Krisjansons. \u201cIt was way back in the day before all the fancy surgeries.\u201d\r\n\r\nAfter the accident, Raymer still thrived in the skiing environment, and he was no less a superstar on the ski patrol, according to John Carr, who worked alongside Raymer for many years. Big smile, quiet and curious, he was known to be a prodigious worker among his peers, never shying away from a difficult task. His favorite saying was \u201cno danger\u201d. \u201cHe didn\u2019t talk much,\u201d says Carr, \u201cbut he nodded a lot. He was also the hardest worker too. He made us all look bad.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cHe was just completely dedicated to the job,\u201d adds Jackson, who also worked on ski patrol with Raymer from 1980 to 1986. On some nights during the winter, the patrol room might see a couple of workers who drank too much and spent the night. \u201cIt didn\u2019t matter how early the next day came,\u201d says Jackson, \u201che\u2019d have already been there, made coffee, cleaned the room, boots on and ready to go.\u201d It\u2019s worth mentioning that Raymer\u2019s commute to work was made possible by the fact he lived in an igloo beside Eagle\u2019s Rest Chairlift one winter, to which his aforementioned climbing partner Doug Ward was a houseguest from time to time.\r\n\r\nMelissa Malm and, shortly thereafter, Krisjansons, became the first two women to work on JHSP, an intimidating position regarding the type of job and time in western Wyoming mountain culture. To call it male-dominated is nothing shy of an understatement. Yet, Malm and Krisjansons flourished. \u201cTom was always there to show us how he did things,\u201d says Krisjansons, \u201cbecause he wasn\u2019t very tall either. But he was super strong and gave us all the support and encouragement, and told us how stoked he was that we got hired.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe first two decades of avalanche control work at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort were raw and rife with men and artillery versus Mother Nature, much of which was conducted by professional Snow Rangers and former ski patrolman with previous experience. It\u2019s not that the attitude was cavalier as much as they merely participated in the inchoate world of avalanche reduction, and formed a burgeoning understanding of the dynamic relationship between weather, terrain and snowpack on a scale never before realized in North America. On-the-job education was prevalent across the U.S., and so far, the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol had a safe record.\r\n\r\nPaul Rice worked on the patrol for 18 seasons over 20 years, and he remembers the day Tommy Raymer died. A prolonged storm had taken the Tetons hostage in February of 1986. \u201cIt was still loading and snowing,\u201d he says. \u201cThe ski area was closed to the public, and all we were trying to do was protect the lifts as I recall.\u201d Rice, John \u201cBernie\u201d Bernadyn, and Raymer went up to the Casper area. \u201cThe 105 (Howitzer Canon) had been shot with what we now call 'Tommy\u2019s Slide ridge shot'. We went out on the slope, put another \u2019boo shot (air blast above the snow surface) on it, retreated and it went off. Nothing.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt wasn\u2019t a known slide area, but since it was such a historic snow event, with slides going off the Lower Faces and the Hobacks, nothing was off-limits. After the blast, the three spread out over the slope to surmise the situation. Rice thinks the slide was from a point on the ridge above them where it collapsed and gathered steam.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere was no noise, no sound,\u201d says Rice. \u201cI glanced over and just saw the wall of snow coming down. I was only maybe fifty feet from Tommy, and the slide missed me by fifteen feet, I\u2019m guessing.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cI yelled at Tommy, and he was actually in a pretty good spot. And he pushed off. It was just a reflex to yell. What do you do? If he\u2019d stayed put, maybe, it would\u2019ve gone over him. But he was a great athlete with amazing reflexes. Then he disappeared under the cloud of snow.\u201d\r\n\r\nSad as this was, Raymer\u2019s death was not the first of that winter season. On December 2, 1985, his co-worker Paul Driscoll, a native New Yorker and US Army Lieutenant, (who passed on a law career despite passing the Wyoming Bar) died in an avalanche on Dean\u2019s Slide in the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. \u201cPaul\u2019s death really took Tommy down hard,\u201d says Krisjansons. \u201cLike, he took it personally. He got pretty quiet after that.\u201d\r\n\r\nWith Driscoll\u2019s death, the first on-the-job fatality sustained by JHSP, the event wiped away the superficial gloss of cheating death, saving lives and blowing shit up, and placed a period on the seriousness of ski patrolling in the big mountains. Yes, it\u2019s exciting, risky, and it\u2019s got sex appeal, but you can also lose your life doing this job.\r\n\r\n\u201cAnd when Tommy died,\u201d says Krisjansons, \u201cit was the absolute worst. It had us all traumatized.\u201d\r\n\r\nLike any professional career with consequences, there is still a job to do, and JHSP rode out the winter supporting one another. \u201cPatrol stuck together,\u201d says Krisjansons, \u201cand we finished out the year. I actually got a little depressed when ski patrol ended, because all of a sudden you\u2019re not with your buddies anymore. Everyone separates after the season and goes their own way. It was just so much losing two guys in avalanches.\u201d\r\n\r\nWith any close-knit community, painful experiences can momentarily crush our collective spirit, and often leave us desperate and lethargic. \u201cThe world breaks everyone,\u201d reminds Hemingway, \u201cand afterward many are strong at the broken places.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cAll the people who were working those years,\u201d says Krisjansons, \u201cwe\u2019ve been like a bonded family. There\u2019s been very close camaraderie between all of us since that year.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn tracking down stories of Tom Raymer, all my sources kept telling me to talk to this person, that person \u2014 the list of characters and storylines would make a Netflix series. Tales of near misses, forbidden love, heroic feats, twisted humor \u2014 the very fuel that fills a world burning with vitality and meaning.\r\n\r\nAfter Tom\u2019s death, his friends finished his rustic cabin on the Teton Village Road, and his family has kept the house to this day. For years, his parents kept close ties with the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol, and have given them all but unfettered access to family and friends of the patrol. \u201cHis parents were so gracious,\u201d says Krisjansons. \u201cThey said, \u2018we want to stay connected to the ski patrol people.\u2019 So they came out every year to visit and got very close. \u2018We want to share this house with ski patrol families and exchanges.\u2019 And it\u2019s that spirit,\u201d maintains Krisjansons, \u201cthat must\u2019ve been where he got it. Because his parents were so generous.\u201d\r\n\r\nTom was one of many characters who emigrated to the Tetons from the distant corners of the U.S. in search of some fulfillment. His Spartan lifestyle and creative mind live on in the memories of friends and loved ones he left behind. One could argue that 37 is a troubling age to get caught in the crosshairs of life and death. You\u2019ve lived long enough to hopefully know who you are, so that the second half of your life, if you\u2019re lucky to live it, will matter. \u201cPeople said it was sad that he died at such a young age,\u201d says niece Meilani, \u201cbut I\u2019m pretty sure he lived all nine lives to the fullest.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe Jackson Hole Ski Patrol Memorial Scholarship Fund is dedicated to providing college scholarships to high school students whose spirit and love of mountain adventure honors the memory of ski patrollers no longer with us. Donations can be made here to support the Raymer family and the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol.\u00a0\r\n\r\nJeff Burke is a freelance writer living in Jackson, Wyoming. He has been working on the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol for fourteen years keeping skiers safe in our community.