By Rob Story | Photograph Wade McCoy
The mountains of North America may never again witness a ski career like that of Dave “The Wave” Muccino. A singular figure in ski history, he’s the only dude we know to (in emphatic bullet points):
Attend Pepi Stiegler’s Jackson Hole summer race camp as an impressionable teenager in 1971.
Train in gymnastics and diving at Idaho State University, where he taught backflips to cheerleaders.
Win his nickname from the king of windsurfing.
Usher in American Extreme Skiing as a founding member of the Jackson Hole Air Force.
Poach gnarly lines with the legend Doug Coombs.
Spend the 1990s merely pioneering the greatest revolution in our sport’s history: Big Mountain Freesking, for which he employed cowboy heli-pilots to slay massive lines in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains and, in the process, flood the sport with mind-blowing visuals that ultimately silenced skiing hating snowboarders and the clueless The New York Times.
No, there’ll never be another Dave The Wave. He’s famous for, among many things, his irrepressible, childlike mountain love. When I message him for an interview he replies, “1-800 Hell Yea!” Yes, Dave’s old enough to recall 1-800 numbers, and was in fact born on St. Patrick’s Day 1957. He became “smitten” with the Tetons that first trip in 1971 and returned damn near every winter.
A trim 5’6”, Dave’s lightweight build gave him an inhuman resistance to gravity. The late Coombs once told him, “On steeps, you’re like a fly on a wall. You don’t feel the forces dragging on you.”
He stomped his legend in Jackson for nailing a huck into Corbet’s Couloir that still ranks as the third biggest ever. It was the mid 1980s, a few days after a massive snowfall. A giddy Dave squealed to all that would hear inside the Tram, “I’m gonna go big!” His enthusiasm convinced ski patrol to remove some fencing from around Corbet’s entrance to clear a runway. “I took off from 200 yards back; 100 people watching for carnage,” he says. “I came into Corbet’s at 30 miles per hour, got in the back seat, rolled down the windows.” He barely pulled himself together before slamming to earth. “I went 120 feet and landed by the cave,” he gleams. The crowd cheered.
Fittingly, Dave earned one of the first five patches ever bestowed by the semi-secret fraternity the Jackson Hole Air Force. You can’t join the JHAF until you’ve paid your dues skiing Jackson’s biggest and hardest terrain—with style. And then some guy will tap your shoulder and hand you a diamond-shaped patch. The motto: Swift, Silent, Deep.
Most JHAF members wore black or green when poaching Jackson’s out of bounds cliffs and couloirs. But Dave was a renegade’s renegade. “I’d wear a bright red coat,” he says. “I always thought if someone saw us, they’d think I was a patroller busting these outlaws!”
They called him “Little Dave” in the early days. Then, during an off-season windsurfing trip to the Gorge, he took a clinic from multiple world champion Robby Naish. Witnessing Muccino’s overwhelming “psych,” Naish announced, “We’re gonna change Little Dave to Dave the Wave.” Naish was likely busting balls. Still, the nickname’s better than “Little Dave.”
When the skiing frontier moved northwest to Alaska in the early 1990s, it was because Dave, Coombs, and other Jackson stalwarts, patrollers, and guides turned their attention to it. Why the undue influence of Wyoming randoms in AK? They were some of the only ski mountaineers used to fat dumps and 4,000-foot drops.
“I was the lead guide from the inception of Alaska Backcountry Adventures,” Dave says. “In the early years of Valdez, your heart was in your throat every morning. We were always doing something that hadn’t been done before. I’ll never forget the day Doug told me he wanted to ski Meteorite [the biggest and steepest peak in the Valdez area]. ‘I’ve been watching slides on that monster for eight years!’ I yelled. ‘Maybe you can ski it, but you’re Doug Coombs, for chrissakes.’”
“But you’re Dave The Wave!” said Coombs. The pair did, indeed, ski Meteorite. Dave calls it “one of my life’s greatest moments.”
While Dave hasn’t worked Alaska for a few years, he still logs 100 Jackson Hole days a year, private guiding and getting lots of vertical. “I’m running that tram all day instead of making six heli runs. I still love getting off at the top and rocketing down that bowl.”
Jackson Hole, WY Acres: 2,500 | Vertical: 4,139’ | Snowfall: 459” | jacksonhole.com
From the Early Winter 2016 issue.