Having been born and raised in Jackson Hole, it is no surprise that I have an affinity for winter sports. I started skiing when I was two years old. It began with plastic skis that just strapped to my little snow boots on the giant (to a two year old at least) snow banks that the plows left at the end of our drive way. It was a love/hate relationship at first. My parents loved seeing me try to ski and I loved it when I made it to the bottom (mostly tumbled there) but I hated my skis. I thought it was the skis that were the problem and I was too young to realize that the equipment I had made little difference when my skill level was at zero. From then on it was all downhill.
I have many people ask me “how can you learn to ski on a mountain like Jackson?” Probably referring to very steep grade, the multitude of trees and cliffs and the amount of annual snow that falls. I always respond by telling them that there is no better place to learn. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is by far one of the greatest ski destinations in the country and possibly the world. And though it looks menacing, it actually boasts a healthy portion of beginner and intermediate trails.I started my journey up the mountain on the Eagle’s Rest Lift that accesses the shallow slopes of the lower mountain. Once I had mastered the wedge (or pizza) turn, it was time to move onto the Teewinot Lift, which used to be a very slow double chair but has since been upgraded to a high-speed quad lift. Teewinot takes you a little higher on the mountain but not much and is a great place to warm up before heading to the upper mountain. From there it was on to Apres Vous (or AV to those of us without French accents) now a high-speed quad but was once another slow double chair that took 12mins to get to the top. That was as much time as the old Aerial Tram and it only traveled a quarter of the distance. The trails accessed by AV are great for both the intermediate and expert skiers. The terrain varies from long steep pitches to easy slopes all of which are groomed daily. AV now boasts a terrain park and super-pipe for the trick skiers and those brave enough to leave the snow for a brief moment or two. Finally there is the Casper lift, which is about half way up the mountain and iApres Vous (or AV to those of us without French accents),now a high-speed quad but was once another slow double chair that took 12mins to get to the top. That was as much time as the old Aerial Tram and it only traveled a quarter of the distance. The trails accessed by AV are great for both the intermediate and expert skiers. The terrain varies the last of the “intermediate” trails. Casper is quite popular these days probably due to the on-mountain restaurant located at the bottom of the lift. It is a great place for families to relax between runs or to grab a quick lunch on the go. The rest of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is considered to be expert (aka Black Diamond trails) but there are many ways down that don’t require you to have started skiing at two.
Learning to ski in Jackson Hole has given me the ability and confidence to ski anywhere. I have had the great fortune to be able to ski many resorts in the Rocky Mountains and I am looking forward to expanding that list across the world. (Someday) Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is not a large resort per say but the amount of vertical terrain and the variation of that terrain is what makes it world class. If you take the Aerial Tram to the top of the 4,139 ft Rendevous Mountain, you can ski every type of terrain in a single run. You can either start on the wide open faces of the main run or for the more bold and adventurous take the plunge into Corbet’s Couloir, an infamous drop that rewards the brave with some of the best snow on the ski mountain. From there you can traverse to the Cirque, another wide open bowl, or make your way down through the trees to the Thunder quad lift. Then, bypassing the ride back up the mountain, you can hit the mogul fields on Lower Tram Line or head over to the groomers Gros Ventre or Sundance Gully. Many people would have to travel to a few different resorts to have a run like that.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort also appeals to the more extreme skier with its “open gate” policy which basically means that there are no “out of bounds” areas. This means that the backcountry, accessible via the Resort, is always open. However, avalanche danger must still be respected and acknowledged. If the danger is high, it’s probably not a good idea to venture out into the backcountry. In recent years, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has started to pander to the “Freeskier,” those who like to huck big cliffs, send narrow chutes, and do backflips over big jumps. These Freeskiers are right at home at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the resort has built some custom features for them too. The new Burton Stash Parks are terrain parks built into the existing landscape and include features like log rails, a fake cabin rooftop, and even a hole cut out of tree branches through which you can “thread the needle.”
Though Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers a lot and has something for everyone, it is not all that Jackson Hole has to offer. There are two other ski areas that offer much to the Skiers and Boarders of the world. Snow King Resort in downtown Jackson Hole is a small, yet very steep mountain that is great for a quick few runs during lunch for us working stiffs. It is also the training for the Jackson Hole High School Ski Team and the local Jackson Hole Ski Club. The steep pitches, short lift rides, and night skiing allow young racers plenty of runs to hone their skills and master the gates. The US Ski Team and even a few European teams have come to Jackson Hole to train on Snow King. For many years, when I was a part of the Ski Club, we would look forward to the US Ski Team’s arrival and the chance to ski with world class athletes. We also had the opportunity to see the latest in skiing technology as they would usually commandeer our locker room to house their many pairs of skis. It was a great experience and one I will always remember.
The third local resort is a hidden gem on the west side of the Tetons known as Grand Targhee. It is a relatively small mountain but boasts an average of over 400 inches, annually, of the best snow in the Rockies. Since Grand Targhee is somewhat unknown to the rest of the world, the lines are usually short, the runs are open, and you can sometimes get first tracks on the same run twice in a day. If you live in Jackson, Grand Targhee is a great place for a winter weekend getaway. They have great lodging, though not too much of it, and usually offer great packages throughout the winter months. Many times they will throw in a day of Cat Skiing too. This is one of the unknown treasures of Grand Targhee, Cat Skiing. They have an entire section of the best skiing in the area closed off just for it. Plus, how often do you get to ride a Cat (the grooming machines for those who don’t know).
All in all, Jackson Hole has a lot to offer when it comes to skiing. Not only is it a great ski destination but it is also a great place to grow up in the sport. Whether you are an expert looking for a new thrill or beginner looking for a challenge, Jackson is the place to be.