Wyoming may be a state more associated with cowboys than ski bums, but it is also home to Jackson Hole, one of the premier ski destinations in the world, and a mecca for fanatics of extreme skiing. It is considered to have some of the most challenging terrain in North America, and it is not for nothing that various extreme ski film makers (such as Teton Gravity Research) are based here.
The name “Jackson Hole” actually refers to the valley between the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges in which the town of Jackson is situated. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort 12 miles northwest of the town – about a 20 minute drive. Arranged along the eastern face of the Teton Range, the resort looks down on the Snake River valley. The famous “Tram” takes skiers from the base area straight up to the 10,450 ft summit, and from there much of the mountain’s spectacular terrain becomes available. While there are sufficient pisted runs to satisfy intermediate skiers (especially off the Après Vous lift to the northern end of the ridge) the faithful don’t flock to Wyoming to ski groomers. Instead, they head south to the glades, chutes and bowls of Rendezvous Mountain which give access to some of the steepest terrain in North America, together with the greatest continual vertical in North America – 4,100 ft. After a dump, it is powder heaven here, though you’ll have the be fast to make fresh tracks – the number of truly great skiers based here means the line for the tram starts well before dawn. An unwritten rule says that if you arrive before 7am, you can leave your skis in line to buy breakfast in the restaurant!
No article on Jackson Hole would be compete with mentioning Corbet’s Couloir, which regularly tops lists of the world’s most extreme ski runs. Suffice to say, the epic drop in (up to 30 feet vertically depending on snow conditions) on to a 50 degree slope and immediately followed by a sharp turn to avoid a rock face means that plenty of plucky contenders end up riding out the slope horizontally and without their skis (as numerous YouTube videos will attest!) If you do survive the Couloir then bragging rights at the bar are a certainty.
Image courtesy of jacksonhole.com
Beyond the awesome skiing, another reason to visit Jackson Hole is the town of Jackson itself. This is a proper western town which wears its cowboy heritage proudly, from the elk antler archway in the town square to the (un-ironic) fingers-in-beltloops line dancing which takes place in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar every night. Suffice to say, it’s like no other ski town. In recent years, amenities at Teton Village at the base of the resort have been improved, with several upscale hotels now based there, so you can choose the convenience of slope side accommodation or the charm of Jackson itself – or, ideally, have a few days in each.
Overall, skiing at Jackson Hole is a unique experience, and one that tends to linger in the memory long after you’ve come back from the Wyoming badlands. It should definitely be on any keen skier’s ‘must ski’ list!