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Ski Atlas: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
By Arnie Wilson

For many skiers and boarders, this exhilarating Wyoming resort is the finest in the US. As well as superb skiing, Jackson Hole has a rare mix of qualities that combine to give it a very special flavour. The resort nestles at the foot of the Rendezvous Mountain in the remote and inspirational Teton chain – perhaps the most photographed mountain range in America. These superb jagged peaks, which look like giant shark’s teeth (although not properly visible from the ski area a little to the south) dominate the spectacular valley, or ‘hole’ in the mountains where trappers like Davey Jackson, after whom the area is named, used to trade with the with Shoshone, Crow, Blackfoot and Gros Ventre Indians. (Other trappers were French, hence the preponderance of French names).
Unless thick cloud intervenes, (or you arrive at night) the main Teton Peaks – the so-called ‘cathedral group’, comprising the Grand, Upper and Middle Tetons, plus Mounts Owen, Teewinot and Nez Perce Peak – will tower above you as you arrive at the small Jackson Hole airport. The mountains create such an impression of wonder and awe as they rear skywards like a ‘frozen tidal wave of granite’ that your entire ski holiday will be enriched by this unforgettable encounter. The experience is also hugely enlivened by the town of Jackson, some 16km (10 miles) from the ski area at Teton Village. This is a genuine Old West community, with wooden sidewalks and rowdy cowboy bars. During the summer months, Jackson is also a gateway to nearby Yellowstone National Park.
Even in winter, the animals are a great attraction here. Moose, elk, coyote and eagle are not uncommon, and it is well worth taking a day off from the slopes to visit what is probably the world’s biggest elk sanctuary. If you want to be certain of seeing a moose, albeit a stuffed one, don’t miss a visit to the infamous Mangy Moose, the principal gathering spot in Teton Village at the base of Rendezvous after a day’s skiing.
The problem – and it’s a happy one – is deciding whether to base yourself in town and make a daily bus (or car) journey to the slopes, or to stay in Teton Village, and trundle into Jackson by night for the best of the valley’s après-ski. One possible solution is to stay mid-way between the two, either at the Spring Creek Ranch condominiums, or, if you can afford it, the luxurious Amangani Hotel.
The slopes are centred on two mountains: Rendezvous (Jackson’s signature peak) and Après Vous (the more mellow peak, but certainly not without its challenges). As well as these, Jackson is celebrated for its superb backcountry terrain. The Bridger-Teton National Forest offers 2,023ha (5,000 acres) of legendary backcountry terrain and is available to good holiday skiers throughout the winter. Jackson Hole was one of the first resorts in the litigious USA to reverse the trend of discouraging skiers and snowboarders from venturing outside the ski area boundaries, and possibly the first to introduce a European-style guiding service.
But don’t go alone. A sign at the top of Rendezvous tells you all you need to know about the dangerous elements you might encounter if you wander off under a rope or without local knowledge: ‘Our mountain is like nothing you have skied before’, it says. ‘It is huge, with variable terrain, from groomed slopes to dangerous cliff areas and dangerously variable weather and snow conditions. You must always exercise extreme caution. You could make a mistake and suffer personal injury or death. Give this special mountain the respect it demands.’
There is no cause for such anxieties on neighbouring Après Vous, where beginners and intermediates who find some of the Rendezvous slopes unnerving can enjoy some long, exhilarating cruising on trails like Werner and Moran, which, although steep in places, are always beautifully groomed and wide enough for most visitors to set their own agenda, with plenty of room for gentle traversing.
The Bridger Gondola, between the two mountains, is a sort of halfway house, providing links with both peaks. Until recently, Jackson Hole’s biggest icon apart from Rendezvous Mountain was its red cable car, or ‘tram’. The ski area was conceived more than 40 years ago by Paul McCollister, who loved the Alps and designed a simple Swiss-style village. The tram, a classic Alpine cable car, was the final touch. But the aging lift was retired in 2006, leaving local skiers feeling deprived of what they had come to feel was the very soul of their ski area. (A new tram – twice as big as the old one – was unveiled in December 2008).
The Rendezvous peak is the gateway to all things exhilarating in Jackson Hole, both inbounds and backcountry. It is not for beginners, or even nervous intermediates: there is no really easy way down. Even by traversing the East Ridge, sooner or later skiers and boarders are forced down Rendezvous Bowl, which in difficult conditions will unnerve the inexperienced.
The straightforward route from the top after negotiating Rendezvous Bowl is Rendezvous Trail, but even this exhilarating rollercoaster is not without its difficulties – mainly because of its steeper sections. The run also offers confident skiers and snowboarders a variety of off-piste variants on the way down – short, sharp, steep pitches like Central Chute or Bivouac. Even better, it’s the route you will need to take to reach the Hobacks – Jackson’s most famous inbounds backcountry ski area.
The resort’s most infamous challenge is Corbet’s Couloir, a rather terrifying gash in the rocks near the top of Rendezvous, which lures the brave and the bold into its jaws, and the not-so-sure to the brink from which some turn back and others leap in an act of faith. Except for rare conditions when they can half-slither and half fall in, skiers must jump at least 3m (10 ft) before they land. If they can keep their skis on at this point, all should be well – the actually couloir is steep, but not terrifyingly so. It’s that initial jump that is difficult to make.
Apart from Corbet’s, there are many rather less fearsome ‘chutes’, gullies and cirques to be found all over the mountain. Alta, Expert and Tower Three Chutes are steep, sometimes double-fall-line (when the angle of the slope conflicts with the way your skis want to run) gladed runs that are hugely enjoyable when the snow is good but unnerving when it’s not. Other testing chutes include Paint Brush, Toilet Bowl and the Headwall.
For the committed (and usually ‘local’) hard-core skier, Cody Peak (not in the ski area and not served by ski-lifts) has descents that should not be attempted by holiday skiers – and certainly not without a guide. Cody has some of the most serious challenges in the Rockies, and a guide is essential to differentiate between the merely challenging and the near-suicidal. Falling in some spots is not an option. Four Shadows and No Shadows are not hugely demanding. Once Is Enough and Twice Is Nice are potential deathtraps for inexperienced skiers.
For the adventurous who nevertheless do not relish such daunting terrain, there are numerous alternatives: Rock Springs and Green River Canyons – with steep pitches like Space Walk and Zero G – are much easier valleys below Cody Peak, which run parallel with the Hobacks. You will need a knowledgeable companion to attempt the likes of Endless Couloir, Air Force Couloirs, Mile Long Couloir and Cardiac Ridge on the opposite side of the ski area in Grand Teton National Park, where the guide service does not operate.
Don’t miss the scenic drive over the Teton Pass round to the other side of the Tetons to ski in Grand Targhee, which has some of the best powder skiing in the Rockies.

© Arnie Wilson