Jackson Hole Skiing & Snowboarding Guide

Jackson Hole Ski Resorts

Jackson offers some of the toughest skiing in the U.S., but one of its secrets is that it also has great intermediate terrain and fine learning slopes. If you’re like many skiers and riders arriving in Jackson Hole Wyoming, your very bumpy plane landing is just a precursor to the adventure waiting for you on the mountain. Might as well get used to that feeling of slight jitters, because it’ll probably be with you for much of your stay.

True, Jackson Hole isn’t all about taking routes that scare the pants off you, but you’ll get the most out of the two mountain peaks if you go a bit beyond your comfort zone.

Rendezvous Mountain has some of the steepest in-bounds terrains around, with much of it swathed in well-deserved designations as black- or double-black-diamond runs. Adjacent Apres Vous Mountain and the lower elevations of Rendezvous are gentler, with fabulous intermediate slopes and a top-notch learning area. And wherever you look, the views are astonishing. Jagged peaks soar out of a narrow flat plain that’s spliced by the winding Snake River. It is with an inspiring sense of wonder that you realize Jackson and its surrounding wilderness are part of the 1.7-million-acre Bridger-Teton National Forest and adjacent to Grand Teton National Park.

Teton Village, at the base of the mountain, has grown up to be a respectable home base for your vacation. The village offers everything you need, including a grocery and liquor store. Lodging ranges from what must be the cheapest slopeside lodging in the states, at Hostel X, to several posh mountain retreats and a multitude of condos. Add restaurants serving everything from burgers to sushi to wild game, and a smattering of nightlife, and you could easily spend your vacation right here.

Town of Jackson WY

But wait. No trip to Jackson Hole is complete without visiting the town of Jackson, 12 miles down the road. The impression here of the Western frontier is authentic—Jackson is still as remote and wild as it ever was and those cowboys ambling down the street are local ranchers and ranch hands (although a few tourists think they can fake it, you’ll notice they stick out like sore thumbs). The original town of Jackson was home to mercantile stores, cafes, saloons, hotels, bordellos, and even a jail. Today, many of those buildings remain, but now house gourmet restaurants, rowdy bars, Victorian inns, upscale boutiques, art galleries, and coffeehouses. And all this revolves around one of the prettiest town squares anywhere, defined by elk antler gateway arches.

Women have always made a big impact on Jackson and in 1920, the town elected one of the first all-women town councils in the U.S., which The New York Times dubbed the “petticoat government.” Now many of Jackson’s women dominate mountain sports, ripping lines down big mountains and climbing distant peaks, carrying on the tradition of women who can do anything just as well as, or better than, a man. So, when you’re riding up the lift, look closely—many of those hot skiers and riders are women, and often they are proudly wearing feminine colors to show they’re not afraid to have someone say, “Hey, that’s a girl!” You betcha, it is!

The old aerial tram has just been retired but 100% of the mountain is still accessible, thanks in part to the new East Ridge Chair rising from the top of Sublette to just below Corbet’s Cabin on the summit. Capacity to the base of the upper mountain has been increased by adding 18 more cabins to the Bridger Gondola. Sixteen more chairs have been added to the Thunder Chair.

Another new addition is the Bridger Restaurant at the top of the Bridger Gondola (elevation: 9,095 feet). Among its various eateries is the Couloir, a 100-seat, waiter-service restaurant serving lunch and, as of mid-January, dinner (see dining section).

Jackson Hole Ski Resort Facts

  • Summit elevation: 10,450 feet
  • Vertical drop: 4,139 feet
  • Base elevation: 6,311 feet
  • Expert: +++++
  • Advanced: +++++
  • Intermediate: ++++
  • Beginner: ++
  • First-timer: ++++
  • Ski area phone: 307-733-2292
  • Toll-free snow report: (888) 333-7766
  • Toll-free reservations: (800) 443-6931
  • Number of lifts: 12—1 eight-person gondola, 2 high-speed quads, 4 quads, 2 triples, 2 doubles, 1 moving carpet
  • Skiable acreage: 2,500 acres
  • Snowmaking: 160 acres
  • Uphill capacity: 12,096 per hour
  • Parks & pipes: 2 parks, 1 pipe
  • Bed base: 10,000 in valley; 2,500 at base
  • Nearest lodging: Slopeside
  • Resort child care: Yes, 6 months through 2 years

Jackson Hole Mountain Layout—Skiing

No mistake about it. Jackson Hole is a skier’s mountain, and it’s not for the faint of heart or the weak of quads. It’s steep, often deep, the trees are tight and most would have it no other way. The resort has two mountains—Apres Vous Mountain is best known for its groomed intermediate cruisers as well as the black Saratoga Bow, and Rendezvous Mountain has a handful of groomed runs. Most of the blues here would be blacks anywhere else.

If you’ve got a group of five or six, hire a guide, because few of the mountain’s prizes appear on the trail map. For even more thrills, head out-of-bounds, but only with the proper equipment. Remember: The trail map is only a guide to what’s available; don’t expect to find trails such as Dog Leg or Elephant Tree or areas such as the Liquor Cabinet on it. If you rely on the map, you’re going to be frustrated, and your skiing experience will be unfulfilled.

Jackson Hole Expert & Advanced Skiers

If you’re looking for steep (and often deep), Jackson is your mountain. Fully half of the resort’s 2,700 acres are marked with one or two black diamonds, and you can now reach 3,000-plus backcountry acres from on-mountain access gates.

Board the big red tram for the 12-minute trip to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. The tram unlocks the soul of Jackson, so this will set you up for the rest of the day. From the top, you have two choices. You could head down the ridge to the infamous Corbet’s Couloir, a narrow, rocky chute that requires a 10- to 20-foot airborne entry. Or take the “easier” way down, Rendezvous Bowl. Conditions here can vary from mild to intimidating. We’ve seen waist-high bumps, knee-deep powder, easy gliding, and, Egad! breakable crust and crud. It’s not groomed, so be prepared for anything. You can always ride the tram back down or take the guided tour, offered on the hour. Corbet’s Cabin, at the Summit, provides a warm, dry place to make your decisions; snacks and restrooms are available.

Below Rendezvous, drop into the Cheyenne Bowl. If it hasn’t snowed in a couple of days, try the bumps and trees on the north side of the bowl near Bivouac. Then yo-yo on the Sublette Quad until you’ve made lines down the Alta Chutes—some of the steepest marked terrain at Jackson—and the Expert Chutes below Tensleep Bowl. Don’t miss Paint Brush into the unmarked Toilet Bowl, or the narrow, stump- and rock-filled Tower Three Chute.

For an out-of-bounds experience (while remaining in-bounds), a 15- to 20-minute hike takes you to the Headwall. Look for the traverse out of Tensleep Bowl. The Crags above the Casper Lift area offers 200 acres of bowls, chutes, and trees to explore. The hike is 25–35 minutes.

If it’s a powder day, don’t miss the Hobacks—accessed off the Rendezvous Trail. The Hobacks deliver steep, continuous fall-line skiing to the mountain’s base. But don’t head here if it hasn’t snowed in a while. Unless, of course, you like crusty crud. Saratoga Bowl, off Apres Vous Mountain, is an often-overlooked playground of trees and gullies. For the ultimate in gullies, try your new-school moves in Dick’s Ditch, a natural halfpipe.

The backcountry terrain is not patrolled and requires know-how and the right equipment. The resort offers backcountry camps to teach proper skiing in the area. It’s well worth it, and participants get to ride an early tram.

If you’re a budding advanced skier before you jump aboard the tram, test your skills on the dotted-blue-line runs in ungroomed Casper Bowl—shorter versions of the stuff you’ll encounter off the tram. You can hop into Moran Woods for a run of trees. From the tram, good options to start with are Rendezvous Trail and Grand. Play with jumping off the trail and skiing what you can see.

Jackson Hole Intermediate Skiers

This is the kind of mountain that makes carrying a trail map and consulting it regularly, a good idea. Having said that, 50 percent of its 2,700 acres is not a black diamond and most of the tough stuff is completely separate from the easier runs, so intermediates seldom have to worry about getting in over their heads.

You will want to concentrate on the runs skier’s left of the tram, using the gondola and the Apres Vous Quad to access the wide-open groomers like Gros Ventre, Werner, and Moran. The shorter runs down Casper Bowl—like Sleeping Indian and Wide Open—provide plenty of opportunities to try your luck in the trees. You can follow the fast, yet meandering cat tracks down from the gondola summit. Be forewarned that the Amphitheater, a major trail merge zone, would earn a black diamond on most other mountains. Ditto for Rendezvous Trail, off the Sublette Quad, which gets dicey when it’s icy.

The Sweetwater triple chair makes it easy to access the Casper Bowl area of lower-intermediate terrain from the top of the beginner lifts.

Follow the solid blue lines for groomed terrain and the broken blue lines for ungroomed powder or bumps. As long as you’re willing to ski ungroomed stuff, you’ll run out of gas before you run out of the terrain.

Complimentary orientation tours for intermediate-level skiers depart the Mountain Host building daily at 9:30 a.m.

Jackson Hole Beginner, First-time Skiers

Jackson Hole’s easiest terrain is served by two dedicated lifts, the Eagle’s Rest double and the Teewinot Quad. The green-rated runs are appropriately gentle, and some present interesting meanders among the trees. Kids will love the informal single-tracks that squiggle into the woods. But the number of beginner runs is limited, advanced-beginners will grow bored rather quickly, and it’s a big step from those gently undulating slopes to Jackson Hole’s blues. Even the wide, groomed slopes of Apres Vous and Casper Bowl have a much steeper pitch than blues at other resorts and can be intimidating for advanced-beginners.

The Sweetwater triple chair makes it easy to access the Casper Bowl area of lower-intermediate terrain. But if you’re leaning toward the advanced-beginner category, our advice is to take a lesson or two. The resort has a program just for you.

Jackson Hole’s excellent learning terrain surprises most people. At the base of Apres Vous mountain, along the Eagle’s Rest trail, stands a fenced-in area that’s served by a moving carpet. Faster skiers can’t get in, so those just learning won’t get nervous. The transition to the adjacent green runs is made easy by dedicated beginner lifts. Parents should take note that Jackson Hole’s “Rough Riders” kids’ offering combines day care and children’s instruction in one of the most innovative programs for young first-timers we have seen.

Jackson Hole Snowboarding

If you’re a strong intermediate snowboarder or better, you’ll drool when you get a load of Jackson Hole’s terrain and massive proportions. Fully half of Jackson Hole’s 2,500 acres is marked with one or two black diamonds, and with the mountain’s no-rope-out-of-bounds clause, you can add the best off-resort backcountry riding available anywhere in the continental U.S. The terrain out there is for real, and if you’re not prepared, or experienced, there is an enormous probability of getting seriously hurt or killed, so be careful.

At Rendezvous Mountain, chutes, bowls and steeps await you, but there is often a groomed alternative way down. For jumpers, there’s Corbet’s Couloir, a narrow, rocky passage that requires a 5- to 20-foot airborne entry into a usually tracked, steep mogul field. No way? Then consider the even more infamous S & S Chute (check out the video, “Subjekt Haakenson,” to see Terje drop this line) or take the “easier” way down—Rendezvous Bowl, a huge face littered with gigantic moguls, bushes, rocks and, if you’re lucky, powder. Follow that down to the Sublette chair and continue on to Dick’s Ditch, or go to The Hobacks, where the local throng chases powder after every snowstorm. If you’ve made it down on your first run without any fear, burning legs or slough slides, then move to Jackson Hole now. You’ll never be happy riding anywhere else—except maybe Alaska.

Most of the tough stuff is completely separate from the easier runs—intermediates seldom have to worry about getting in over their heads, which in this case is a very, very good thing. Intermediate riders will want to ride Apres Vous. You’ll find plenty of “let it rip” terrain here and lots to stretch your abilities. Keep in mind that the mountain has aspects that provide a variety of conditions with weathered sunny sides and protected sides serving up completely different riding. Two weeks of no snow and pretty-boy, soft untracked snow could be found below the Secret Slope in the lower Saratoga Bowl area. Apres Vous—or, as the locals refer to it, AV—is definitely easier terrain both on the groomed slopes and off-piste.

Under the mountain’s slowest chair, the Casper Bowl triple, the runs are exceedingly spacious and most of the ungroomed terrain is forgiving. The next stop for intermediates will be the terrain off the gondola, where you’ll find jaw-dropping views of the valley below.

One surprise at Jackson Hole is its excellent learning terrain. The base of Apres Vous has a fenced-in area, called Fort Wyoming, below the East’s Rest Cutoff and the base area. It’s served by a moving carpet. Faster boarders can’t get in, so those just learning won’t get nervous.

The mountain is swathed in traverses that allow a snowboarder with any momentum an easy way down. And riders have the advantage over skiers when it comes to hoof up to the hike-to terrain. That said, in Saratoga Bowl veer rider’s right as you head down or you’ll have an awful traverse, perhaps even a hike, out.

Parks and pipes

Apres Vous on it’s own could hold itself as a very strong freeriding mountain, and this is where the superpipe is, along with various hits and kickers built by the locals. We don’t recommend building your own kickers; if you’re busted, they’ll pull your ticket. Luckily there are natural booters and kickers all over the place; try following some local riders around for the inside line. And don’t miss Upper Dick’s Ditch, where you’ll find a natural quarterpipe and halfpipe.

The superpipe has a surface lift, so it’s easy to get back to the top. The terrain park, served by the Apres Vous Quad, is next to the superpipe and has 10 components including jumps, rails, bumps and a small quarterpipe. Just like Jackson Hole’s natural terrain, the park features are intended for those with some experience and are not really designed for first-timers. Take care and pay attention to the signs. There is a dedicated park and pipe staff always on hand to give advice, so make sure to check out conditions with them before you launch any air.

Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing

Jackson Hole has some of the most beautiful natural surroundings in North America. Nordic skiers can strike out for marked trails in Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks, or try one of the three touring centers in the Jackson valley.

The Saddlehorn Activities Center (800-443-6139; 739-2629), also called the Jackson Hole Nordic Center, has 17 km. of groomed track in Teton Village, next to the Snake River Lodge. The majority of trails are on the North Meadow, mostly flat with hills on the outer edge. The resort’s bucking bronco logo is carved into the meadow and forms part of the trail system. It’s a lot of fun—mostly for downhill skiers, who can see the logo from various places up on the mountain. Nordic skiers will have no idea what part of the logo they’re on, because there are no “you are here” signs. The South Meadow has 7 km. of trails where dogs are permitted. Rentals and lessons are available, as are guided excursions into Grand Teton National Park. This center has incredible instructors with long pedigrees. Ask for Naheed Ahmed, especially if you’re a beginner. You can exchange your Alpine lift ticket for a Nordic trail pass on the same day of purchase, so you can Alpine ski in the morning and cross-country or snowshoe in the afternoon. The center also offers telemark lessons, snowshoe rentals, and dogsled rides.

Teton Pines Country Club (733-1005) has 14 km. of groomed skating and classic lanes on a gentle golf course with more ups and downs than you’d expect. The town of Jackson grooms about 30 km. each week in Game Creek Canyon, Cache Creek Canyon, and the Snake River Dike. Call 739-6789 for the current grooming conditions. Also, Grand Teton National Park grooms a 32-km. the trail between the Bradley-Taggart Lakes parking area and the Signal Mountain parking area once a week, usually on Thursdays. The Nordic Center at Spring Creek Ranch (733-8833) plans to open cross-country trails for the 2004/05 season.

The Hole Hiking Experience (690-4453) provides half-day and longer, naturalist- or wildlife-biologist-guided snowshoe tours in the Bridger-Teton National Forest or Grand Teton National Park. You’ll be picked up at your lodging, and tours are planned based on your fitness level and desires. You might take a heart-pumping trek up a mountain or spend a leisurely few hours learning how to identify animal tracks and native flora and fauna. Full-moon and cross-country ski tours also are offered. You’ll need to provide warm, waterproof boots and layered clothing.

The town of Jackson has a dedicated cross-country shop called Skinny Skis close to Town Square. While you’re there, pick up a copy of “Trailhead,” a detailed guide to Nordic opportunities in Jackson Hole and the two national parks.

Jackson Hole Lodging Guide

Choose from three locations: Teton Village at the base of the slopes, with fewer restaurants and nightlife options; the town of Jackson, with lots of eating, shopping and partying but 12 miles from skiing; or hotels, condos and some fine resorts between the two. Bus transportation between Jackson and the ski area is readily available. We haven’t listed all of the available lodging, so call Jackson Hole Central Reservations (800-443-6931) for more information. This agency can book your entire trip, from airline tickets to activities. Too many hotels here have combined “Jackson Hole” with “Inn,” “Lodge” or “Hotel.” Another popular name is “Teton.” If you book one, pay attention to the exact name and the location, or your ground transportation could easily drop you and your luggage in the wrong place.

Teton Village Lodging

The following properties in Teton Village are all within steps of the slopes and each other, so the choice is on facilities or price rather than location. Most of these properties have ski packages.

The luxurious, ski-in/ski-out Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole (800-295-5281; 734-5040; $$$$; right) opened its doors in time for the winter 2003/04 season. Rooms and suites, with natural wood, stone and local art, reflect the region’s Western and Native American influences and include fireplaces, private balconies, down duvets and pillows. The hotel has an outdoor heated pool, three outdoor hot-spring-style hot tubs, a restaurant (see Dining), two lounges, shops, and a full-service spa. Children younger than 18 stay free if they’re in the same room with parents; discounted prices are available for children staying in a separate room.

One hotel that has changed names seemingly every other year has been completely renovated and morphed into the luxurious Snake River Lodge & Spa (800-445-4655; $$$–$$$$). Just steps from the tram and gondola, the lodge has double rooms to three-bedroom suites. There’s also an excellent restaurant (see Dining) and a comfy lobby lounge. See Other Activities for information about its spa.

The Bavarian-style Alpenhof (800-732-3244; 733-3242; $$–$$$$; left) is the closest lodging to the lifts and a classic benchmark in Teton Village. It has an outstanding dining room (see Dining). The casual Bistro, open for lunch and dinner, is also popular for apres-ski; snag an outdoor table in spring. Some of the 42 guest rooms have fireplaces. The hotel has a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna, masseuse, ski shop, valet ski tuning, laundry and game room.

Extreme skier Rob DesLauriers opened a swanky condo-hotel on the edge of Teton Village in 2002. Teton Mountain Lodge (800-801-6615; 734-7111; $$$$; below right) is appointed in the classic Western-style featuring stone fireplaces, elegant but chunky furniture, kitchens and jetted tubs. High-end amenities include indoor/outdoor pools, fitness facilities, and spa, and a very good restaurant (see Dining).

The Best Western Inn at Jackson Hole (800-842-7666; 733-2311; $$–$$$$) is about 100 yards from the tram, but despite updating in 2000/2001, it’s showing its age. Rooms are spacious, and many have kitchenettes, fireplaces and/or lofts. Two drawbacks: Soundproofing between rooms is minimal, allowing you to eavesdrop on conversations in the rooms next door, and exterior corridors mean that every time you leave your room, you step outside. It has two very good restaurants (see Dining), a sauna, a heated outdoor pool and hot tub.

Village Center Inn (800-443-8613; 733-3990; $$), next to the tram, has 16 one- and two-bedroom units, some with lofts. Crystal Springs Lodge (800-443-8613; $$$) is a newly remodeled luxury condo property in Teton Village just 50 yards from the aerial tram. Condos have master bedroom suites with jetted tubs, gourmet kitchens, fireplaces and washer/dryer.

The Hostel X (733-3415; $) is family-owned and -operated and has some of the most inexpensive slopeside lodgings in the United States. Rooms are spartan, but have private baths and maid service; amenities include a large lounge, outdoor grill, ping pong and pool tables, game area and laundry facilities.

Condominiums and private homes are available through Jackson Hole Resort Lodging (800-443-8613) and Jackson Hole Central Reservations (800-443-6931; 733-4005). Rates are about $115–$850 per night.

Between downtown Jackson and the ski area

The Wyoming Inn of Jackson (800-844-0035; 734-0035; $$–$$$$; right) and The Best Western Lodge at Jackson Hole (800-458-3866; 739-9703; $–$$$) are across the street from one another on Broadway (Hwy. 89) heading toward Teton Village from downtown. Red Lion Wyoming Inn is decorated with antique reproduction furniture but has no pool or hot tub (though some rooms have jetted tubs). It serves a continental breakfast, but there is no restaurant. The Best Western Lodge at Jackson Hole (there also is a Jackson Hole Lodge, which is quite different) is a delight for children because its exterior is decorated with carved, painted bears and raccoons that hang from poles and peek from behind benches. It has a swimming pool and hot tub, and the Gun Barrel Steak House is next door.

Spring Creek Ranch (800-443-6139; 733-8833; $$$–$$$$; below left) is distinguished by jaw-dropping views, primo service, one of the area’s best restaurants (see Dining) and a secluded location atop the East Gros Ventre Butte. Choose from hotel rooms, condos, and luxurious executive homes. The decor is understated elegance with a Western flair. Despite the seclusion and amenities, it’s not stuffy or pretentious. Also on site are a spa (see Other Activities), Nordic center and stables. Free airport, town and ski shuttles provided. Hotel rates include breakfast.

Next door is the ultra-exclusive Amangani (877-734-7666; 734-7333; $$$$). If you’ve got megabucks, stay here; it has everything you could imagine wanting and then some, but if you have to ask, fuggedaboudit.

On Teton Village Road a few miles from the ski area and town is Teton Pines Resort (800-238-2223; 733-1005; $$$–$$$$). Though it is better known for its summer activities, including a stunning 18-hole golf course, it is open in winter and has ski packages. The amenities list goes on and on: free pick up from the airport, shuttle service to and from both Jackson and Teton Village, free indoor tennis, use of a neighboring athletic club, daily continental breakfast, an excellent gourmet restaurant, 14 km. of cross-country trails, pool, and hot tub.

The Jackson Hole Racquet Club (800-443-8613; $$–$$$$) is a popular and relatively inexpensive condo cluster. It’s just 4 miles to Teton Village, and there’s a grocery store on the premises as well as a restaurant, bar and liquor store. The resort runs a free shuttle to the mountain.

Just below Teton Village is the log-cabin-style Wildflower Inn Bed & Breakfast (733-4710; $$–$$$$), with in-room fireplaces, a shared hot tub and fitness area, and fabulous breakfasts. Recognized as one of the top romantic inns in the nation, it’s just five minutes from the ski area and Grand Teton National Park.

 

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