Swapping January Blues for Jackson Hole Blacks
After a record-breaking December in Jackson Hole (deepest snowpack in 42 seasons recorded at the bottom on Rendezvous Bowl), I enjoyed a flying visit with fellow North America sales consultant Luke Dorking to find out just how 'steep and deep' the resort really is.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary as a ski resort last year, Jackson Hole has come a long way from its fur-trapping roots in the 1800s. With a new terminal at Jackson Hole Airport, and improved connecting flights (now only one-stop from London Heathrow with Delta Air Lines), increasing numbers of skiers and boarders are travelling to the authentic cowboy town.
Flying through Salt Lake City, a quick connecting flight (just 30 minutes) to Jackson Hole Airport and a short 10 minute transfer to town lodging make it a desirable winter destination away from the crowds.
USA's Biggest Vertical - Not Just for Experts
Jackson Hole is thought of by many as an advanced-only mountain, largely due to being regularly featured in iconic snowboarding films, attracting big powder skiers and boarders taking the pilgrimage to tackle the ‘steepest and deepest’ mountain in North America.
For the most part you’d be correct. However, Jackson Hole owners the Kemmerer family are continually investing in the mountain ($175 million dollars in recent years), building new chair lifts and opening up more intermediate terrain to appeal to a wider audience. The construction of the ‘Sweetwater Gondola’ this season provides access to a new enhanced ski school facility located in the Solitude mid station area. Novice skiers can experience a full ‘mountain’ experience with gentle terrain.
Top Tips for Powder Days
With over 11 metres of snow each year and most of the terrain sitting above 2,000 metres, Jackson Hole is a safe bet for excellent ski conditions from December through to early April. December 2016 saw an all-time record breaking snowfall, recording the deepest base in over 40 years!
Unfortunately, as we were only in Jackson for a few nights we weren't lucky enough to experience the famous Jackson Hole pow. The previous storm ended three days before we arrived and the next one turned up the day after we left! However, the speedy lift system, including last year's new Teton Lift, and the immaculate grooming enabled us to move around the mountain at high speeds, covering large numbers of steep runs in a day.
Although runs are clearly marked, the mountain feels like a boundaryless play area of steeps, chutes and powder bowls. If you’re lucky to visit during their ‘monster' storm cycles, take the iconic Jackson Hole Aerial Tram (known as 'Big Red' by locals) to the top of Rendezvous Bowl for endless powders laps. The exposed bowl is often faced with winds, this means fresh lines all day as powder blows in covering your tracks. The Hoback area's wide gladed tree runs are another local favourite for powder mornings.
What makes Jackson so special for experts is that the mountain has the steepest off-piste in North America, but it's still inbound terrain so it's safe and avalanche patrolled. All needs are catered for, whether you prefer groomed slopes, tree skiing, or even want to face the famous ‘Corbet's Couloir’ or the 'Tower Three Chute'. Unfortunately (secretly relieved), Corbet’s was closed while we were in town. The run is often closed (or so our previous colleagues visiting have told us!) as it's exposed and relies on fresh powder to fill in the 20 foot incline drop at the top! I have to say from the top it looks a lot more terrifying than stood at the bottom. While few people attempt Corbet's, many go to the top to peer down and enjoy the panoramic views of the Teton Mountain range.
What struck me the most was just how quiet the mountain was. On Saturday it was busier but still a very small crowd compared to resorts closer to major city hubs. We were never queuing for more than five minutes! Over Christmas and New Year when the main gondola base can see a queue of 15 to 20 minute, a live band sets up to perform and entertain everyone - so you don’t even notice the wait.
Jackson Town vs Teton Village
Jackson Hole has two main lodging areas, Jackson town and Teton Village, and there are pros and cons to each.
Teton Village, located at the base of the mountain, has easy ski access to a number of gondolas taking you quickly up the mountain each morning. There is a good selection of restaurants and the famous Mangy Moose saloon, a locals' favourite après bar to sip a beer after a thigh-burning day on the slopes. There is a good selection of high-end hotels, including the luxurious 5*+ Four Seasons Resort and the environmentally-minded boutique 4*+ Hotel Terra.
Jackson town has the majority of the more affordable accommodation so is more suited to the budget conscious traveller. It does require a 15-20 minute shuttle from town to the base area, but buses run frequently and only cost a couple of dollars and some hotels have their own shuttle. Travelling to the slopes via the scenic Moose-Wilson Road, it’s not uncommon to see a moose crossing and you're treated to 20 minutes of mountain views so it's certainly not a chore.
The town of Jackson has a large selection of independent restaurants, from steakhouses through to sushi spots and Thai cuisine. For lunch check out Cafe Genevieve for the town's best eggs Benedict - we both had 'Cajun' style but Luke opted for a side of pork belly!
The nightlife has an authentic vibe, where you can rub shoulders with friendly locals who are passionate about skiing, with good beer prices too. We were lucky enough to catch a local favourite country band (One Tonne Pig) at the Silver Dollar bar within the historic Wort Hotel. Million Dollar Cowboy is another popular local spot, with real cowboy seating at the bar. Saddle up and enjoy a whisky or two! If you really want to experience an authentic night, travel 12 miles outside of town to the Virginian Saloon on their 'Whisky Wednesday' night and sing karaoke country songs (or Oasis!) into the early hours.
If you’re a group of friends or a couple and you aren’t discouraged by the 20 minute shuttle ride each morning, then staying in town offers greater access to Jackson's unique nightlife. However, if time on the slopes or luxury accommodation is your highest priority you may be better suited to Teton Village.
If the world-class bluebird powder days aren't enough to entice you to Jackson Hole, the location should be. Jackson Hole sits at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. For those winter travellers who are looking to enhance their winter experience, I would recommend travelling into Yellowstone National Park during the winter months. As the road access is closed, in order to visit the untouched park you need to take a snowmobiling tour or a horse drawn sleigh ride into the wilderness. At the edge of town, the Elk refuge is another favourite for wildlife spotting. Read more about the National Parks and wildlife in our customer Jan Clifford's blog last season.
In summary, if you’re looking to ski hard, party harder or enjoy relaxed ‘cowboy’ style music and cuisine in a resort that’s off the beaten track, Jackson Hole is your place!
Experience it Yourself
Call our North America ski specialists on 01273 224060 or request a quotation online for more advice on skiing in the USA.
For an easy twin-centre ski holiday, you can combine Jackson Hole with Utah, driving five hours to Park City, flying into Jackson and out of Salt Lake City.