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 and 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” (or cable car as we call it in Europe) 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 99% of the packed cable car passengers.
The Big Red tram line being dug out by lifties from 2017’s heavy snow
It is not a busy resort. The only lift line is for “Big Red” as it takes you right to peak. While our cable cars in Europe fill us with claustrophobic dread, trams are source of pride in North American resorts as they’re not common, bringing riders high, fast. The vertical climb out here is just not big enough to warrant such transporters in many places.
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 warriors. 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, ones is the Sweetwater Gondola under which is the beginner’s area, and another, 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. The Snow King Ski Area that opened in 1939 is floodlit at night.
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, 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. Hanging out is the local custom hat shop owner, the Wyoming Whisky owners, a local famed country dancer who has spun Pippa Middleton, and local gallery owners. 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. By 10pm it was awash with young couples taking over. Staying in the Wort Hotel has got to be one of the best experiences in town.
Walking into reception enormous local 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.
Jackson Town Square has four large arches made out of a tangle of elk antlers. Each year was 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 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 with 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, who sized me up, exclaiming I needed “a hat with a Western flair, with a touch of feminine.” I was rather hoping for the real snake rimmed hat above.
Otherwise in town there are numerous galleries. Each bursting with paintings of cowboys, cowboys and their girls, in romantic poses or on the job. I had no idea that Western art was such a thing, but am totally sold.
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. It has probably become quite gimmicky, but as a European feels wonderfully authentic. The true locals might go to the nearby towns of Victor or Driggs for a normal post-work drink.
But the Million Dollar bar is a Jackson must-do. The front is full of pool tables with Australians drinking Fireball but you know they’ll be first up the mountain in the morning getting the most of the nightlife and the fresh lines.
For a night, or a weekend if you’re taking it chilled, stay in the modern little wood cabins of Fireside Resorts. It feels like you’re sleeping in luxury in the middle of the sticks. On my way to get coffee first thing, I even spotted a moose keeping his feet warm in a burned out fire pit.
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 rest of the road between Jackson and Teton road is littered with dude ranches.
These are not what I initially thought they’d be, an American name for ranches run by or just for dudes, but instead are ranches orientated towards visitors and tourism.
On the 2016/17 season’s snow:
An American roadtrip has been a dream trip since I can remember. But combining it with a tour of North American ski resorts, criss-crossing states, giving it a purpose, it was ideal. The landscape changes dramatically every 30 miles and is, in a word, vast. The colours of the sky and land are unlike anything I’ve seen and when did you think you’d ever have such a good excuse to travel through this part of America through Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming?
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 headed east into Wyoming. As soon as 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 that moment I didn’t stop seeing all kinds these kinds of wildlife and more.
There’s so much more to do in Jackson, but the draw of world class steeps and snow held us off. I’ll be back for the rest.
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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