It Takes a Skier’s Eye to Tame the Heart of a Horse

There’s a memory I have of Joe Turner that’s burned (pardon the pun) into my brain. A few years back, we were skiing together in a steep out-of-bounds zone in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was during one of those wickedly beautiful Teton storms, where the wind howled across the trees and snow blew in sideways, the inches stacking by the hour.

Turner, who lived in Jackson from 1999 to 2005, had led our small group into a protected alcove among tall evergreens at the drop zone of a couloir. As we got ready to ski, somebody pulled out a little glass pipe and packed it with a small amount of marijuana tinged with lavender. Aside from the setting, there was nothing particularly unusual about this. A lot of skiers smoke weed. But the more I got to know Turner in the years since, the more it made sense in illustrating how well everyone at that moment was connected to each other and the mountain through a simple, small ritual.

“Take some time and recognize that other people are other people. Not everyone has the same emotions or beliefs that I do. Not everyone walks the same path in life as I do.” —Joe Turner

A tele skier deep in the ski industry for two decades, Turner, 41, is a force of positivity whose big smile, work ethic, and positivity draws people close. Since the late 1990s, he’s done just about every job in numerous ski towns—from retail in Crested Butte, to snowmaking, waiting tables, and whitewater kayak instructing in Jackson, to ski patrolling at Sierra Summit, to being a liftie at Big Sky. He’s a sponsored athlete with Icelantic and nine other brands, and is an ambassador for Mountain Rider’s Alliance.

Joe Turner says the focus and observation required to ski a big line helps teach us about how to observe and react to animal behaviors. PHOTO: Emmet Lingle

Though all of those things are important to understanding who Joe Turner is, they obscure a rich personal connection to friends, family, and a deep understanding of animals. He was born in Maine but grew up in California outside of Yosemite National Park, skiing little old Badger Pass. Friends say he’s been “through some shit,” including run-ins with the law as a teenager, and a broken first marriage that left him, for a time, as a single father caring for their two children, including a daughter who is non-verbal autistic. “He is probably the most solid person I know,” says Icelantic CEO Annelise Loevlie. “We call him ‘Fuck Yeah’ Joe Turner because he’s such a boss—in everything. I always tell him I’d give him my first born.”

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Today, in what seems like a complete 180, half of his year is dedicated to horses and their riders. Not many pro skiers wear tight Wranglers, a huge belt buckle, boots, and a cowboy hat, but that’s Turner’s split personality as a natural horseman (think Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer). He says dealing with horses, including those with behavioral and psychological issues, has deepened his understanding of the importance of patience, listening, and observation. He now runs horsemanship clinics near his home outside of Bozeman, Montana, as well as overseas in Italy, German, and Poland, where he met his current wife, Klaudia. They have a child of their own, and have created a solid foundation for his 10-year-old autistic daughter.