Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Definitions Used in Resort Guides
Other Inside Tracks Articles

Published January 2001. This article does not reflect any lift upgrades or terrain expansions since then.

Terrain Difficulty

Yellow

Black

Red

Blue

Green

Var. Index

Jackson Hole

11%

49%

20%

17%

3%

69.5

Jackson Hole well deserves its expert reputation with 4,139 vertical of consistently steep terrain on Rendezvous Mt. There is also a good variety of intermediate and advanced skiing on 2,170 vertical Apres Vous Mt. With its abundant snowfall but sunny exposure, Jackson has a wide range of unpredictable snow conditions.

 

Lift Serviced

Season

Percent

Percent

Average

Snow Conditions

Altitude

Season

Standard

High Mths

Low Mths

Maximum

Direction of Exposure

Range

Average

Deviation

GE 90 in.

LT 30 in.

Base Depth

North

East

West

South

Jackson Hole, Wyo. 8,200

6,311-10,450

373

79

31%

10%

98

10%

60%

0%

30%

Jackson Hole is perhaps the most misunderstood area in North America with regard to snow conditions. Destination skiers often fear Wyomingís cold weather, though average temperatures are only 4 degrees colder than Vail and 8 degrees colder than Aspen. Jackson gets somewhat more wind than most areas in the Rockies, but less than the more exposed areas on the West Coast (Whistler, Bachelor, Squaw, Mammoth). The Sublette and Thunder chairs are more likely to close than the tram in high winds.

The main concern for visiting skiers should be Jacksonís southeast exposure, which can turn powder to unskiable crud in just a few hours of 20+ degree sunny weather. The lower half of Rendezvous Mt. below the Sublette and Thunder chairs has outstanding powder skiing but very difficult conditions if it hasnít snowed recently. The Apres Vous lift faces directly south, so its off-piste terrain is similarly unreliable although there are several groomed runs. Fortunately Jackson gets lots of snow, so the chances for its legendary powder are excellent during the midwinter period of late December to mid-February.

It takes quite a bit of snow to get the steep terrain covered, so Jackson usually opens the first or second week of December. Snowfall is high enough that the whole mountain opens around Christmas in most seasons. January has the highest average snowfall and is also best recommended for preserving the snow. By Presidentís weekend, you will be very dependent upon fresh snow, as the conditions will become difficult in ungroomed areas below 8,000 feet within a day or two after each storm. Snow preservation is best in Rendezvous Bowl and in the areas served by the Sublette and Thunder chairs.

 

Terrain Type:

Cruising: The Apres Vous and Casper chairs have several good fall line cruisers up to 1,700 vertical. On Rendezvous, Thunder chair will have a couple of groomers but be prepared for some bumps. Most of the groomed trails on Rendezvous Mt. connect various bowls to the Thunder and Sublette lifts. Be aware that nearly all runs on Rendezvous Mt. will have some ungroomed sections.

Moguls: The main runs into Cheyenne and Laramie Bowls are usually mogulled. From the top of Thunder head for the nearest tram tower and follow the bumps to skierís left or along the tram line. When taking Gros Ventre toward the base, veer left into Slalom for some excellent moguls. There are fewer bump runs than one might expect for an expert area due to low skier density.

Steeps: While about half the terrain on Rendezvous easily meets our black definition of challenge, Jackson has a sizable collection of runs which will redefine steep to most visiting skiers. Most of these are narrow chutes with northeast exposure and Jacksonís best snow preservation. The Alta chutes cross under the Sublette chair into Laramie Bowl, Tower 3 and Paintbrush drop away from the Thunder liftline, and the Expert chutes are to skierís right of Tensleep Bowl. In big snow years like 1997 and 1999 numerous additional skiable lines can open up. From the top tram station, the north face of Rendezvous is a sheer cliff interrupted only by a single chute, Corbetís Couloir. Many skiers inspect Corbetís, but only a few launch the minimum 10-foot drop and successfully execute the first two turns required to reach the sheltered and usually powdery fall line.

Wide Open Spaces: Rendezvous Mt. is primarily open terrain, completely treeless for the top 1,000 vertical or so. Lower on Rendezvous, occasional tree outcroppings in areas such as the Hobacks help provide definition in poor weather but do not constrain skiable terrain.

Trees: The terrain under the Bridger Gondola and on much of Apres Vous is more heavily forested than on Rendezvous. Spacing is still adequate for skiing in most glades, though local guidance is helpful in finding the best fall lines. The trees open up quite a bit in the broad Moran Woods area between the Casper and Apres Vous lifts. Moran Woods is also a promising area on powder days once the long runs on Rendezvous get tracked out.

Powder: Pray for snow, as powder is key to the ultimate Jackson ski experience. The 2,500 vertical Hobacks, plus the Colter and Lower Sublette ridges below the South Pass Traverse, offer long untracked fall lines seldom seen in lift-serviced skiing. Be aware of the low altitude and sunny exposure, as these runs can be an ordeal if the snow is not fresh. Thus hit these areas first on a powder morning, and then go for the glades near the Bridger Gondola.

Less experienced powderhounds should first try the off-piste terrain on Apres Vous. Itís still steep enough for good powder turns, but itís easier to bail out onto the groomed if you get tired or the powder turns to crud. We strongly recommend fat or midfat skis at Jackson, since many powder days will have a mixture of the light and dry with some heavier snow at low altitude or as the weather gets warmer. As Jackson has substantially longer fall lines than most areas, most skiers will appreciate the extra flotation of wider skis in the predominantly ungroomed terrain.

Hiking and Backcountry: The Tetons offer some of the finest backcountry skiing in North America. Most of this is done starting from Teton Pass at 8,400 feet on the road between Jackson and Grand Targhee. High Mountain Heliskiing also operates out of Jackson. The backcountry adjacent to Jackson Hole Ski Area has historically been off limits due to extreme terrain and avalanche hazard, thus generating ongoing controversy with the hardcore locals. In 1999-2000 management finally relented and is now allowing controlled access through 5 gates with transceivers and rescue equipment required. Visiting skiers can hire a guide ($325 per day for up to 5 guests). Besides the obvious attraction of untracked powder, some of the backcountry terrain has more northern exposure with better snow preservation.

Crowds: The tram is half the size of Squaw's or Snowbird's, so 30-45 minute lines used to be common. The new 2,700 vertical Bridger Gondola has relieved some of the pressure, though both will still be busy in the early morning, particular on powder days. The new gondola also provides more convenient access to the Thunder chair, and then in turn to Sublette. These two lifts have high capacity and are the most efficient way to ski most of the expert-oriented Rendezvous Mt. The gondola is also the most efficient way to reach Casperís groomed runs, though that access will be a challenge for inexperienced skiers. There are now 2 high-speed quads to reach Apres Vousí intermediate and advanced runs. Skier density remains much lower than at most destination resorts.

Intermediates: Low intermediates will be confined to the groomed runs on Apres Vous and Casper, but the more adventurous can sample quite a bit of Rendezvous without getting in trouble. From the top of the tram, Rendezvous Bowl is steep, but it is wide open with few obstacles or moguls and has excellent snow conditions most of the time. Groomed trails connect to the Sublette and Thunder chairs. While riding those chairs it is easy to inspect the ski terrain and choose a run within oneís comfort level. Amphitheater off Thunder and Laramie Bowl are excellent for stronger intermediates.

Novices: The Teewinot high-speed quad and Eagleís Rest double serve a 400 vertical beginner area. However, the groomed runs up higher are more toward the red rather than blue definition of intermediate. Thus new skiers will have less comfortable terrain available than at most destination resorts.

Children: Jackson is a good choice for intermediate or better children. Like many expert areas, Jackson attracts top-flight ski instructors. Kids are enthusiastic about the ski school program and usually improve their abilities substantially.

Other Considerations: Many visitors to Jackson Hole take day trips across Teton Pass to Grand Targhee or north into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Targhee is more intermediate than Jackson and also offers snowcat skiing. If some of Jacksonís runs arenít fully covered in the early season, skiers have a reliable alternative in Targhee, which has the best Christmas snow track record in North America. From December through February, the national parks are accessible by snowcoach tour or snowmobile (the Park Service is considering some restrictions on snowmobiles). Yellowstone is closed to the public in most of March, another reason (besides snow conditions) to avoid Jackson in the late season.

The Teton Village base area near the ski area was built 30 years ago. Only a few of the condos there are within walking distance to the lifts, although a free shuttle is provided. Thus many skiers preferred to stay 12 miles away in the town of Jackson, which also has shuttle service to the mountain. Accommodations in town were often newer and more competitively priced, as Jackson has more tourism in summer than winter. The town also has more restaurants and nightlife.

However, the same unified management which has upgraded mountain operations recently, is in process of giving Teton Village a major facelift. In addition to new upscale accommodations, an upcoming base area chairlift will provide more convenient access to the mountain. More luxurious facilities will be unlikely to change the rough-around-the-edges ambience of the mountain itself. You will still experience the essence of Jackson when itís time to point your skis down one of its signature runs.

Frequent Jackson visitor Gary Klassen contributed to this article.