Jackson Hole. The name itself should bring shivers of anticipation to any seasoned skier or snowboarder in North America.
Where else can you find a several seasons’ worth of steeps, chutes, couloirs, glades and seemingly boundless snowfields — 4,139 vertical feet of them — compressed into a relatively small area (2,500 acres)? And to sweeten the pot, there’s another 3,000 acres of gate-accessed backcountry to test your legs and lungs.
And all of this is tilted at a pretty good angle, with more than half of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s 131 named runs rated black or double black diamond. Even the blue and double blue runs, which comprise 40 percent of the resort’s skiable terrain, are probably steeper than similarly rated runs at most other American resorts.
So, how’s a Jackson Hole newbie supposed to negotiate all of this Wyoming winter wonderland? Glad you asked.
Finding Your Legs
There are two schools of thought on skiing Jackson Hole: You’ve got your dedicated tram riders, who simply do lap after top-to-bottom lap on Big Red, and then you’ve got everyone else, who poke around on the other two-thirds of the mountain utilizing the resort’s non-tram transit system of two 8-passenger gondolas, five high-speed quads, four fixed-gripped quads, one double chair and three surface lifts.
We’ll go the latter route first.
A good way to start the day is hop on the Sweetwater gondola — its mid-station is the perfect unloading spot to gain access to Jackson’s limited green terrain — and then connect to the Teton Quad for a warmup lap or two on the Crags-Moran combo run. And while you’re there check out the gladed runs on Moran Face for future reference.
Next head over to the Bridger gondola for a few zoomers on either — or both — Sundance or Gros Ventre, which provide 2,700 vertical feet of (usually) groomed enjoyment.
Upping the Ante
After lunch — Piste Mountain Bistro at the top of the Bridger gondola is a good choice — find your way to the brand-new, game-changing Thunder quad, which replaced an old triple chair and cut the ride-time in half to some of the gnarliest terrain on the mountain. Tower Three Chute is an essential rite of passage off the chair, but other runs such as Thunder and Hoops Gap will keep the adrenaline flowing.
Finally, catch a ride on the Sublette quad, which provides access to Flip Point and Alta Chutes, where you’ll find some of the best wind-deposited snow on the mountain, especially in chute No. 3. You can also mosey over to Corbet’s Couloir and take a peek into perhaps the most famous — or infamous, depending on your outlook — chute in American ski country.
Time for Big Red
But to get the complete Jackson Hole experience you have to ride the tram, which deposits up to 100 skiers and snowboarders on the top of Rendezvous peak every quarter-hour. From the resort’s 10,450-foot high point, you get a 360-degree view of the Teton Range, the Snake River Valley and bazillion square miles of Wyoming wilderness.
But enough rubber-necking. It’s time to point ’em downhill.
Once you get through Rendezvous Bowl, head skier’s right to Wally World, a not-to-miss gladed area, or keep heading down the Rendezvous Trail to find the entry to the Hobacks, where you’ll find the Jackson Hole Air Force hanging out in the trees and playing on the longest consistent fall-line — 1,800 vertical feet worth — on the mountain.
Then it’s time to catch your breath on another ride on Big Red.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Apres … and Beyond
Whew. All that exercise can generate a mighty thirst, and when the sun starts to set over the Tetons it’s time to think of where to wet your whistle. Check out RPK3 for small bites and beer specials, or Spur Restaurant and Bar for a rustic-chic atmosphere, or the General Store for burritos and a 6-pack to go. And, of course, don’t forget the Mangy Moose, a Jackson Hole apres tradition since time immemorial.
Dinner choices abound in Teton Village, with special nods to The Handle Bar, a contemporary pub in the Four Seasons hotel serving regionally sourced bar fare, and Il Villagio Osteria, serving traditional Italian cuisine in the Hotel Terra. And for those wishing for some Southeast Asian fare, head over to the nearby town of Jackson and Teton Thai restaurant.