It was dumping powder at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, on Sunday, Jan. 17. Before the mountain even opened, the lift lines for the Aerial Tram and the Bridger Gondola snaked into makeshift mazes. The snow was soft and deep and for a brief time in the morning, still untracked. If ever there was a day to call in your powder-clause with God and skip church, this was it.
But in the Rendezvous Lodge at the top of the gondola, about 25 people had made it through the long lines in time for church, sacrificing about an hour of skiing to come together in worship.
Some people feel the mountains are their church and they find God outdoors.
In an appeal to this spirit, several times each winter, the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole takes its worship to the top of the Bridger Gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. People gather on Sunday mornings in beanies, ski boots and snow pants, and they worship, joining church in the classic sense with the sport and lifestyle some consider a religion unto itself.
“I feel a lot closer to God when I’m outside,” said Aubrey Hoffman, an intern with the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, who led the service. “It’s always been that way with my faith so I love the chance to worship on top of a mountain.”
It is in nature, Hoffman said, that she finds order, compassion and an understanding of how not in control she is of the environment. She feels most alive and in tune with God, and herself, when she is outside doing sports like skiing.
Worshiping on the mountain, which she could see through the large windows, reminded her of those feelings.
“It reminds us of a higher power, and as a Christian, I believe that higher power is God,” she said.
Church in the Rendezvous Lodge at the top of the Bridger Gondola is similar to the services at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole in town. There are still prayers for the sick, music celebrating God and an emphasis on fellowship, but there are also prayers for snow and the safety of skiers out in it. Behind the musicians singing the Lord’s praises, a large picture window framed snowflakes still fluttering down on the mountain, taunting those inside, but also, they said, reminding them of God and his gifts in nature. And when it was over, they came together not just in faith, but also on skis outside.
“I think that there is just something really beautiful about having a more intimate group of people up there and then to be able to play outside together,” Hoffman said. “Honestly, I wish we could worship up there every Sunday.”
Ben Pascal, the senior pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, started offering the services at the resort in the winter of 2010. He is now the resort’s official chaplain, a role meant to support resort staff and people who come to ski.
Pascal worked retail at the resort for a few seasons starting in 2001. He knew how special the mountain was and the people he could reach there.
Offering a service at the ski area reflects his philosophy of ministry. Christ came and lived among the people, he said.
“Instead of staying in a church building and expecting people to come to us, we need to reach out and go to them,” he said. “On a Sunday morning in Jackson, people aren’t always in church. They are out there and skiing and we thought we should be out there, too.”
The church now offers a service about once a month during the winter, as well as a special Christmas eve and sunrise Easter service when Easter falls within in the mountain’s open season. The Easter service often draws up to 400 people, Pascal said. The headlights streaming into the parking lot before sunrise mimics the traffic of a massive powder day.
The regular services usually bring around 40 people, but sometimes as many as 80. About 70 percent are usually members of the church in town, a few are members of other local churches and resort employees. The rest are visitors to the area.
Kurt and Maureen Harter of Hood River, Oregon, visited Jackson Hole with their twin 15-year-old boys to ski. They saw a sign Saturday for the Sunday service and while they let their sons skip church, they attended before hitting the slopes.
“There are some things that are more important than good snow,” Kurt Harter said.
The family skis a lot on Sundays and often misses services, but the accessibility of attending church on the mountain made it a perfect way for them to practice their faith without missing a morning of excellent skiing.
Polly Friess and her family are members of the church in Jackson. They always attend the mountain services.
“It’s wonderful to be up here on the mountain and see all of God’s glory,” her son Cotter Friess, 10, said. “And then after, I get to go skiing.”
9:30 a.m. Feb. 14
9:30 a.m. March 6
Sunrise Easter Service March 27