Jake Nichols: Locals Reeling Over Ski Death Of Kelly Krause, Restaurateur And Soul Of Old Jackson

Jake Nichols writes, "Krause died Friday while skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. He fell into a tree well on the North Woods run between Rendezvous Trail and The Hobacks. It was the second such incident in the area in less than two weeks."

Jake Nichols

March 05, 20249 min read

Kelly and Lynette Krause 3 5 24
Kelly and Lynette Krause 3 5 24 (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

JACKSON — A memorial service for Kelly Krause will be held Saturday. The community has been through a lot of these — too many since I arrived in 1997. One is too many.

Krause, 67, died Friday while skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. He fell into a tree well on the North Woods run between Rendezvous Trail and The Hobacks. It was the second such incident in the area in less than two weeks.

What makes this loss particularly painful is the suddenness and the who. Krause and his family owned a popular local eatery. No absentee owners here; he and his wife, Lynette, were fixtures at the Virginian Restaurant.

It is unthinkable to envision a Sunday brunch without Kelly Krause pouring out a coffee and graciously spending time at your table to talk Packers football or how your aunt is getting along after surgery.

He cared. He listened. He smiled ceaselessly.

I can't imagine what the family is going through. I knew Kelly probably about as well as anyone else. Not deeply, but the time spent with him made you feel like an old friend.

It’s been four days since Krause left this world. I am still too shook to collect my thoughts in a coherent manner.

Kelly Was Special

Everyone always speaks well of the dead. Given most postmortem rhetoric, one might be persuaded no truly arrogant, self-centered SOB has ever passed away.

But Krause really was the sweetest guy you could ever meet. Don't take my word for it. Look at the condolences offered along with a current tally of more than $82,000 on a fundraiser website.

Gentle and kind, it is no exaggeration to say Krause was one of those “glue guys” that hold a family together. The community was his family and every customer, every casual acquaintance knew that within minutes of meeting him.

I can't remember a time I didn’t know Kelly. He was always the front of house manager at some eatery. Eventually, he and his family would come to own the Virginian Restaurant. I'm willing to bet most people never realized he was the owner. He never bragged about it.

On his own initiative, Kelly seated diners. He poured drinks. In this way he stayed connected to the community. There was almost no one he didn’t know.

And the Virginian Restaurant is one of the few remaining places where it is possible to know almost everyone. Tourists eat elsewhere for the most part. The Virg is affordable and local, two things in short supply in today’s Jackson.

Servers give a 10% local’s discount — which is to say it comes standard with nine out every 10 of the checks.

The unfussy restaurant has aging saddles hanging from the rafter beams and historic photos plaster to the walls. Black-and-whites of beaming yokels holding up a wiggling trout or a batch of gangly-looking boys posing awkwardly around a 1960s state basketball trophy.

Jackson’s newer, sleeker coffee houses hang abstract art for sale and showcase a pile of business cards from personal wealth managers and high-end Realtors at the cashier stand. There are no mints or toothpicks anywhere.

Kelly was king of this kingdom. Coffee pot in hand, dish towel draped over his arm, he lived to serve.

Kelly Krouse stops for a quick visit with Nancy Christian at the Virginian Restaurant in Jackson.
Kelly Krouse stops for a quick visit with Nancy Christian at the Virginian Restaurant in Jackson. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Dangerous Outdoors

Teton County is an adrenaline junkie’s paradise. The wild and rugged landscape is often unforgiving of mistakes. In the 27 years I've made a home here, I’ve seen dozens of people I know die before their time.

Drowned in a boating mishap, buried in an avalanche, crashed in a hang-gliding accident, mauled by a grizzly, thrown from a horse or simply vanished on a hike. There must be a dozen ways to never come home.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know Kelly skied. I would not take him for a skier. Most skiers and riders around Jackson are rabid about it. First-tram freshies. Which wax is best? They can't not talk about skiing for even 2 seconds.

Kelly was skiing with a group of locals with JHMR Mountain Sports School. He became separated from his party. The ski school instructor reported him missing to ski patrol.

Ski patrol arrived quickly, but not before a group of snowboarders were already on scene and attempting to free Krause. A physician with St. John’s Health Urgent Care pronounced Krause dead at the scene.

“We offer our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those involved, and we hold them in our thoughts and hearts during this difficult time,” said JHMR President Mary Kate Buckley.

Tree well deaths are more prevalent than one might think. According to data compiled by National Ski Areas Association, the leading cause of death from inbound skiing at resorts in the U.S. is a result of high-speed impact with trees.

The second-leading killer is SIS, or snow immersion suffocation. It accounts for four to five deaths per year on average.

Tree wells are created after heavy snowfalls. A tree well is a depression that forms at the base of a tree when its branches keep snow from consolidating. The wells can be a mix of tree branches, snow and air, and many of the fatalities that happen in them are from snow immersion suffocation.

Snow on ski runs becomes more packed, denser and can easily support the weight of a skier. New snowfall around the base of a tree is much softer. If a person falls into this snow, which can exceed 10 feet in depth, it is extremely difficult to self-extricate.

Paul Baugher is the global expert on SIS. His studies have shown that the angle of immersion is key. Horizontal falls into tree well snow result in about three out of every 10 victims being able to get themselves out.

Once a person falls headfirst at a minimum of a 30-degree angle, the self-extraction success rate falls to zero. The more a victim struggles, the more snow fills in every space. Those that create an air pocket in front of their face with their hands can last the longest but will need to be rescued quickly, Baugher said.

Not The First

The death of William England, 67, at Grand Targhee Resort on Feb. 17 was a wakeup call for all big mountain recreationalists. The Colorado man was found upside-down in a tree well and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Preliminary reports suggest his death was caused by asphyxiation.

It was the first inbounds death of the 2023-24 ski season in Teton County, which supports three area ski resorts — Grand Targhee Resort, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King Mountain.

After a very slow start to the season weather-wise, the valley has been pounded by late-season storms. The Valentine’s Day snowstorm brought up to 4 feet of new snow. The most recent blast late last week dumped up to 3 feet of snow over a 48-hour period at JHMR.

Death from avalanche is most common even with extensive mitigation practices by all resorts, but tree well deaths appear to be on the rise.

In 2021, snowboarder Daniel Tatum died after falling into a tree well at JHMR. The 27-year-old’s body was not found until the following day. He was only found after rescuers spotted his board sitting on top of the snow.

The unpretentious Virginian Restaurant stands out in Jackson for its authenticity.
The unpretentious Virginian Restaurant stands out in Jackson for its authenticity. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Kelly Remembered

Each has a way they will remember Kelly. When you read the obituary headline, it won't hardly encapsulate the man’s 67 years. It will read “prominent businessman” or “well-known restaurateur” or “loving father.”

Sure, he was those, but none define him in any comprehensive way.

We will all get that in the end, I suppose. An inadequate headline. A gravestone with a chiseled dash between two dates that tells everything ... and nothing.

I will cherish our brief exchanges about the Green Bay Packers. God, he loved the Pack. Whenever they were playing the early game on Sunday, I knew Kelly was taping it and did not want to know the score.

“Oh boy, Kelly, those Packers keep breaking your heart,” I would tease.

“Ssshhh, don't tell me the score,” he would inevitably reply, and then go on about why this was their year.

Kelly also knew not to seat me at Bill Brigg’s booth. The end booth features a 1971 photo of the ski tracks put down by the Godfather of Extreme Skiing on the Grand Teton. Briggs was the first wild ass to ever do that.

Old Bill, who at age 92 is content these days to pluck a banjo for the Stagecoach Band, stops frequently at the Virginian Restaurant and will always sit in “his booth” if it’s open. He’ll never find me in it and Kelly always remembered that.

I can't go back to the Virginian Restaurant yet. It might be a while before I can fathom the idea of breakfast without Kelly.

When I do, I’ll raise a Coke (still poured in one of those indestructible 20-oz. red plastic pebbled tumblers circa 1970s) to a man who leaves behind a hollowness that will never be filled. I’ll order a Kelly’s Omelet (broccoli, ham, Swiss) even though I like none of the ingredients.

The loss of Kelly Krause is felt deeply by the Jackson community because of who he was and what he represented. He was one of the last of the old guard — a Jackson before the buyout. A Jackson that was then still a part of Wyoming.

To honor Kelly’s memory, the Krause family has created an endowment for an annual scholarship for the culinary arts program at Central Wyoming College.

“It will be available to a Jackson Hole High School student who embodies what Kelly held most dear — bringing joy through friendship and food,” said surviving son Kevin Krause.

Jake Nichols can be reached at: Jake@CowboyStateDaily.com

Virginian Restaurant rafters are filled with timeworn antiques.
Virginian Restaurant rafters are filled with timeworn antiques. (Courtesy Sandy Ferrell via Facebook)
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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter