13th March 2017 | Katie Bamber, Jackson Hole, WY
Last modified on August 22nd, 2021
It has the most impressive of journeys to reach it, the skiing of a lifetime and a town atmosphere that more than lives up to its reputation. Jackson Hole – just get there…
Steep & deep is how the resort is described.
I’ll vouch for that.
Jackson Hole is a mecca for freeskiers throughout the world.
It receives – if this year’s anything to go by – feet and feet of snow in mere days, has notorious backcountry, endless steeps and safe off piste, infamous couloirs and is now also developing its intermediate skiing.
“We have the snow, the vertical, the wildlife and it’s the Wild West,” JH business developer, Patrick Nelson, explained.
It sure is hard to beat.
The area is encompassed by two national parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Mountaineering, hiking, backcountry camping, fishing, wildlife watching and riding are among the other Wyoming wilderness activities if you can find the time.
Jackson Hole is the broad name for the 50-mile long, flat valley – or ‘hole’ – and the destination the rest of the world uses to mean the ski resort and town.
Teton Village is the small area at the base of the slopes on Rendezvous Mountain that has a few bars, restaurants and hotels – the Four Season’s sunny spot facing the skiing, The Handle Bar, is a popular choice.
Otherwise Teton Village mainly consists of modern glass and wood lodges for those wanting to stay next to the skiing.
It’s mainly the Aussies and a few Germans who visit that stay up at the resort. The rest, down in Jackson.
This main town is around a 20-minute drive along the Wilson Moose Road and offers an experience to match the quality of the skiing.
An authentic western town that has developed over 75-odd years (the resort opened in 1966), Jackson really is a cowboy town; some of it souped up, but otherwise a genuine working and lived-in town that serves the vast countryside surrounding.
That is, the ranches – and Jackson itself, made up of hat shops, art galleries and country music venues and bars that double the draw of the area, already on top for its big-mountain skiing.
More of the culture below…
Base elevation is 1,900m and it stretches up to nearly 3,200m, the peak that the 2008 “tram” carries skiers and snowboarders to.
“It’s steep and expert terrain up here, folks,” says the liftie on nearing the top. “Ride down with me again if you’re unsure at all. If you don’t know…” “DON’T GO!” chimed in nearly 100% of the packed cable car passengers.
It is not a busy resort.
The only lift line is for “Big Red”, that’s the tram, as it takes you right to peak and these are somewhat a source of pride in North American resorts as they’re not common.
The vertical climb out here is just not big enough to warrant such transporters.
And the reason Jackson Hole remains such a haven and not overskied is because it’s not a resort that’s local to a big city.
It doesn’t have a city in such close driving distance as Denver is to the Colorado resorts or Vancouver is to Whistler, and so it is not overrun by weekend skiers.
50% of the skiing is expert terrain, 40% intermediate and 10% is for beginners.
JH Communications Manager Anna Cole explains that the resort is trying to really expand its intermediate experience.
There have been three new lifts in five years, those serving this purpose are the Sweetwater Gondola, under which is the beginner’s area, and the Teton Lift, a quad chairlift that opens up to a variety of long groomers.
See us here on the blues:
Now I’m a solid European skier and absolutely love a long mellow groomer, or piste rather, for a cruising carve.
But my god Jackson gives a spectacular ski, draws out your best performance and really shakes up what skiing can mean.
The resort is made safe and the whole of the mountain is skiable, due to its ‘in-bounds’ policy.
There is endless tree skiing; from above on a chairlift you’ll notice people dropping in from different aspects through trees or down untouched lines on steeps.
Hoback on the far (skier’s) right of the resort is my top rated area.
The run goes on and on with endless lines to take and dropping onto the groom at the end is sheer leg relief.
If you can last it the whole way down, Bravo! You’re in shape.
For the extreme there’s Corbet’s couloir, a horseshoe shaped cornice with a 20ft drop in.
See a brave man make the drop-in on hard packed snow during a rare blue-sky day in Jackson Hole in the video below (3:27)
There is further backcountry to take the adventure even deeper into powder and off piste, some accessible just after the Falline tree run.
Get a guide… do it properly!
There’s 2,500 acres of skiing, every bit of which is better than you’d imagine.
It really is worth the pilgrimage.
Jackson town also has a local ski slope.
Snow King Ski Area, floodlit at night, opened in 1939.
JACKSON: THE TOWN, THE CULTURE, THE EXPERIENCE
The place is named after David Edward “Davey” Jackson, a beaver trapper, who was one of the first after the Native Americans to spend a winter in the Valley of the Teton Mountains, and famous due to the legacy of such fur trappers.
It sits at 1,900m below the Teton massif, Grand Teton towering in the distance at over 4,000m.
Jackson’s boardwalk is “cowboy and cosmopolitan” with its contemporary Western architecture and locally owned boutiques, galleries, cowboy saloon bars and less true versions of those, as well as a good array of cuisine and restaurants in an American resort.
Start with the best: Silver Dollar Bar, part of The Wort Hotel.
The centre of local life drinking and eating in the centre of Jackson.
There hang the local custom hat shop owner, the Wyoming Whisky owners, a local famed dancer who has turned with Pippa Middleton, and local gallery owner.
The One Ton Pig band played and the joint was rammed early on by the older half of the town who filled the dance floor and by 10pm it was awash with young couples taking over.
The Wort Hotel is one of the best experiences in town, too.
Walking into reception enormous bison, deer and elk heads stare at you from the wall and there are fires, sofas, plates of cookies and smiling staff everywhere to welcome.
But it’s the rooms that really kick it. Wood carved doors of bucking cowboys, a dozen sculptures and paintings in the room and a cowboy themed bathroom – if there ever could be.
Town Square has four large arches made out of a tangle of elk antlers.
Each year is a fair in May where they are sold, having been collected by boy scouts in the national parks, to Asian buyers who believed them to contain some aphrodisiac.
That is, before Viagra came about.
The town was originally a place for hunting and fishing camps.
The Wort was there when it was just dust roads and made its money to pay off its construction by bringing in gambling during the Great Depression.
The music scene in the town is great, especially if you get on board with the country music, and live bands play everywhere, all night, avoiding the usual growling covers most ski resort bands get by on.
A main feature in town is the Jackson Hole Hat Company, that custom finishes each of its hats that are made out of rabbit or beaver fur, or a blend.
I was styled by the store keeper’s own: “”One with a Western flair, with a touch of feminine.”
And otherwise, a surprise, there are numerous galleries. Each full with paintings of cowboys, cowboys and their girls, in romantic poses or on the job. Who knew Western art was such a thing?!
The Center for Arts is a Jackson pride, where the New York Ballet has performed, as well as Bob Dylan and a plethora of other artists.
Also worth a mention is the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar that has saddles for bar stools and a live band at the back, that rather feels like a village hall.
The front, however, is full of pool tables and Australians; not an authentic Jackson experience, I feel, but a necessary one to do.
For a night, or a weekend if you’re taking it chilled, stay in the modern little wood cabins of Fireside Resorts.
There is a fantastic pub in walking distance with craft beer and a floor covered in monkey nut shells: The Q Roadhouse and Brewing Co.
It has top notch food and is the perfect welcome from being on the road, as, I guess, is intended.
The road is then littered with dude ranches.
They’re not what I initially thought, named by Americans as what they are, but instead are just those orientated towards visitors and tourism.
On the 2016/17 season’s snow:
An American roadtrip has been a dream trip.
Honestly, combining it with a tour of North American resorts, criss-crossing states through landscape that changes dramatically every 30 miles and, in a word, is just vast.
The colours of the sky and land are unlike anything I’ve seen and when will you ever get the excuse to travel through Utah, Idaho and Wyoming with more of a purpose?
A roadtrip visiting resorts that are so very different from each other is the perfect ticket, especially when you’re crossing the pond for what’s hopefully 10 days or more.
I took the route from Salt Lake City, up through Utah into the flat plains of Idaho, then heading east into Wyoming.
When you hit Wyoming you follow Snake Creek up to the resort.
“Be careful of the moose, elk and deer on the road, Hon,” said a lady in a gas station somewhere in Swan Valley.
And from there you don’t stop seeing all kinds of wildlife.
More to do there but the draw of world class steeps and snow held us off.
JH Tapped is the app for the resort: see more and download here.
Ski North Hoback – and a challenge: try to make it no stopping top to bottom.
Drive up north over the Teton Pass and spend a day (and a night, ideally) in Grand Targhee. Transfers and more information available here for Grand Targhee. Check back in for more on here – It’ll be worth it!
See the parks – the largest elk preserve in all of NA is close by, into which trips on a sledge go daily to look at the animals up close.
In the parks there are over 60 species of mammals, more than 100 species of birds and a half-a-dozen game fish that can be found in the Jackson Hole/Yellowstone area.
The big game is elk, moose, bison, deer, antelope, mountain lion, grizzly and black bears, coyote; rare birds such as the bald eagle, trumpeter swan, blue heron, osprey, and native game fish such as the Snake River cutthroat trout and mackinaw lake trout.
If it’s a remote thought in your head to actually make it to Jackson this year, do it. March Madness is in play: notoriously good late snow, as if it needed more…
For PlanetSKI’s big roadtrip around North America, taking in various states in America and extending to Canada, with a multitude of resorts, see here for a start: Setting off on leg 3, Jackson Hole.
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.
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