Trip Report – Jackson Hole (1/25/15-1/30/15)
Overview: This is a fairly verbose overview, but I hope someone finds it useful. Before my trip to JHMR I was desperate for every shred of info, so maybe others feel the same.
I scheduled this trip for myself and SO in December after extensively reviewing the guru's guides: Tony Crocker for overall snow/resort info and Bob Peters for all things Jackson Hole related. During my research I increasingly became convinced that JH was the resort to go to, and that Grand Targhee would provide a good “out” if the terrain was too difficult for my SO. I decided to go in late January for the best statistical chance for snow and cold, and mid-week to avoid crowds. The latter was not an issue, but the former did not quite work out (more on this below).
I consider myself an advanced/expert level snowboarder and my SO is an strong novice skier. I'm sure fellow Bears would have recommended a different resort based on her skill level, and the fact that she had skied a grand total of approximately 12 days before in the Midwest (which sounds ridiculous as I type this...and I really question my own judgment here), but everything worked out great. We are both young and fit, and JH ended up being perfect for her to transition to a blue/double-blue West skier.
On steepness: JH blues are really interesting and felt much steeper than Telluride blues. I had only been out west to Utah once as a kid and don't remember too much, and then to Telluride about five years ago. Part of my reasoning about going to JH was that my SO was comfortable on blacks at our local hill (Alpine Valley Resort, Wisconsin). My rough memory of Telluride blues corresponded to the blacks at Alpine Valley, so I reasoned that JH would be similar. I was wrong. If for some reason you are reading this and familiar with Alpine Valley, be aware that all the blues at Jackson Hole, with the exception of the traverses, are steeper than anything at Alpine Valley. Before leaving I was joking with my SO that if she skied JH and didn't leave me that (1) she must really love me and (2) she could ski anywhere in the U.S., which turned out to be a little truer than I would have guessed.
About a week before we were going to leave it increasingly seemed that we were in for some very warm temperatures. (You can see my worried thread here: http://www.epicski.com/t/131930/jackson-hole-warm-weather-tactics. I believe there were some high-temperature records in the 40s, and I even saw the temperature above 50 at Teewinot one morning. The JH grooming team is amazing and the snow held up better than might be expected, but after several thaw/freeze cycles conditions became challenging at times.
Finally on to the report:
Day One (Sunday-1/25/15)
We left our quiet Midwest city around 6:15AM for an 8AM flight to Chicago then directly on to Jackson Hole.
Our first flight was uneventful, but after boarding the plane in Chicago the pilot informed us that a fuel sensor was not working properly. While this was not an issue for the safety of the flight, the legal documentation was expected to take 30 minutes or so. An hour later they let people off the plane, and I was close to succumbing to desperation. IMHO when they let you off the plane it is always a bad sign (new laws aside) and I was becoming increasingly worried that the flight would be canceled. As we were planning to ski in the afternoon this was devastating to me. My SO reminded me “don't panic!” which is always a useful tip and became a sort of mantra for the trip. Thirty minutes later we were airborne and about an hour and forty-five minutes later our first view of mountains and snow in the distance appeared.
Before seeing this:
I really have to give our United pilots credit, you could tell they were frustrated by the delay as well, and despite getting unstuck 1.5 hours late we somehow managed to arrive only 30 minutes after our scheduled time. Upon touching down at the most scenic and beautiful airport I have ever been to, we scooped up our bags and hustled off to a cab.
We stayed a Teton Mountain Lodge, which is really a beautiful place with great service. We requested a regular bed rather than a Murphy. This is a tradeoff because if you take the Murphy you get a kitchen, but for us a more comfortable bed was more important. Also a tip on booking: it is possible to triangulate Teton Mountain Lodge or Hotel Terra with Hotwire's “Secret Hot Rate Hotels” deals. We were able to secure a very competitive nightly rate (around 30% cheaper than listed rates). So I would recommend playing around with that feature and doing some detective work.
Around 1:45PM we were on the slopes! We started up Teewinot to warm up on some greens. After a couple of easy runs, I asked my SO if she wanted to keep doing those while I took Apres Vous up to evaluate some of the blues. However; she was feeling really confident and decided to just come with me. This turned out to be somewhat of a shock to her (and myself as well). As I mentioned above, JH has some very interesting blues. We poked our way down Werner sticking to the less steep sides of the trail. We then did a few more blues off of Apres Vous. I stuck with my SO because these were really challenging for her. I had to issue several “don't panics!”. We were really glad to get in a half day to become acclimated to the resort steepness.
We had a nice burger at The Spur (we found these to be pretty big portions and you can split a meal for two). Then it was time to unpack and relax.
Day Two (Monday – 1/26/15)
This was our first full day, and the first big warm up. I'm not sure about the exact temperatures, but things were certainly in the 40s at the top. We started out doing the Teewinot/Apres Vous combo and I ventured off a couple of times to check out surrounding trails. St. Johns is a fun double-blue groomed run that gives you a good idea of steepness around the mountain.
Above: a beautiful morning at the top of Apres Vous.
As an aside: if you are not sure of your ski/ride level at Jackson Hole, I would suggest the following progression to gauge your comfort level:
A green off of Teewinot to get warmed up
Moran/Werner blue sections – learn about blues at JH, which are a decent step up from the greens
Moran/Werner double-blue – first taste of steeper terrain
St. Johns – a fairly steep run, if you are confident on this and can do bumps, you should be fine on Rendezvous Bowl
Rendezvous Bowl – I learned this can be easy-peasy or dicey depending on conditions (of course you say...)
Bivouac/Wally World – felt a little steeper than Rendezvous to me. Also good practice to play in the trees here
Hoback/front face areas – combo of steeper slopes and terrain features
Double black runs (Paintbrush, etc.) - Paintbrush seemed easiest. These can be challenging! I really would not want to fall on one.
I am somewhat biased as this is my actual progression over the trip, but it felt roughly right in terms of increasing difficulty.
Back to the day: we then took the gondola and wound our way around and down, eventually ending up on Sundance. We had a quick lunch before meeting up with Bob Peters! I had reached out several weeks ago and he graciously informed us of a mountain tour program he led. Unfortunately the program had been canceled shortly after that, but by some miracle he was able to spare a few hours with my SO. I was thrilled to meet the legend, and so unbelievably grateful that Bob spent some time with my SO. As a snowboarder I understand some things related to skiing, but can't adequately teach her everything because I have never skied...so to have an expert, a former Midwesterner I'll add, kindly and patiently offer her a few tips was unreal. We didn't have enough in our budget to get a lesson (they are really pricey), so we were so grateful that Bob somehow was able/willing to take some of his time to ski with her. Thank you!
As you all know Bob is just an amazing guy so this probably won't surprise you but instead of accepting a tip he directed us to an organization that supports poor and disadvantaged people in Jackson Hole, the Community Resource Center (http://crcjh.org). We donated and would encourage anyone who has been touched by Bob's kindness to support their mission and his work with this organization.
While Bob and my SO skied (I briefly met up with them, but she was more comfortable without me for the time being) I took a trip up the tram on Bob's recommendation. Rendezvous was warm and spring-like. It was a real joy to ride. A nice woman from New York showed me her favorite way down, which I appreciated. The short of it is just keep going right for the easiest way down. I then continued onto Bivouac which was in excellent condition. I took Sublette up and did Bivouac again and then proceeded to follow a couple of very good skiers.
Above: the ride up Sublette is stunning and really shows you some of the mountain's features.
I've always found that following people who look like they know where to go can be really useful (sorry if this drives others crazy – if you see a lone snowboarder trailing you, know that he means no harm!). The caveat with this strategy is to not lose them...
As I dove after these skiers into Cheyenne Gully I was initially warmly rewarded – the snow was excellent, the trees great fun, and everything was going swimmingly. Zipping through the trees with a fresh pine scent I couldn't help but be in pure ecstasy.
However, all of a sudden there was a steep traverse up and to the right, and then I lost them. Now my memory of the mountain was that I was near the Hobacks, and I figured I would just proceed down. If I was smarter I would have spent 30 seconds looking at the trail map and have seen that you are supposed to go right or left at this juncture of Cheyenne Gully. Instead I continued straight down the gully. Eventually I arrived at a nice little vista, and had a good view as contemplated my options with cliff drops surrounding me.
Above: the section in question...best to go right or left as the map suggests.
I really didn't want to get out of my bindings because I had no idea how I would climb down the rock faces and I didn't want to accidentally drop my board and cause a hazard to someone below me, and finally, I felt that I would be worse off if I had to hike all the way down. So in the end I sat, did the inglorious snowboard butt shimmer down a little while holding a bush, and then dropped in the remaining 8-12 feet off the cliff and continued on. Not stylish, but no one was foolish enough to have taken the same path and seen me. The follow-the-good-skiers technique is useful, but from now on I will make sure I can actually follow them all the way. Of course I took the tram up again and played around in Laramie Bowl and Wally World for the afternoon which was amazing.
At the end of the day I was firmly in love with Jackson Hole and greatly encouraged that despite the warm temperatures, the snow would be fine.
Day Three (Tuesday – 1/27/15) Grand Targhee: The “Easy” Day
We went to GT on Tuesday, which was supposed to be the warmest day of the week. I also thought that it would be a good rest day for the SO. We took the Targhee Express and our wonderful driver Jessie gave a great and informative history lesson as we zoomed over the pass.
(Views from the window on the way to Grand Targhee)
I had initially thought that Targhee would be our favorite resort of the two because it was supposed to have milder terrain and better snow, but my SO found Targhee really challenging. To start, she was not a fan of the traverses. The blue runs were narrower, and while nominally less steep, where not to her liking. The snow never really loosened up, despite it being really warm. After a number of falls on Wild Willie my SO was very discouraged. She ended up having a good time regaining her confidence on the green terrain off of the Shoshone lift, but was firmly in favor of JH by the end of the day despite the subjectively more “difficult” terrain.
The views from GT are amazing, and it really is hard to say whether it is prettier than JH. The Grand Teton is breath-taking, and on this clear day there where many great vistas. In the morning I spent some time in Wachabe Woods. I progressed all the way to the left and got an excellent untracked powder run. Mind you it had not snowed in around 10 days...if that is not a vote in favor of Targhee I don't know what is. I hiked back up to the Sacajawea lift from the call box and proceeded to have a few more good runs in those wooded areas. Later in the afternoon I had fun in Middle Earth and then headed back over to the Wachabe Woods area, but by then the snow was too heavy for me to get my turns around the trees quick enough for it to be fun. As I mentioned, the groomed snow stayed pretty hard, and I started yearning for some extra long Jackson Hole runs. I'm sure I was biased due to tough conditions, but I only moderately enjoyed Targhee and my SO was against the place by the end of the day.
Later we took the efficient public bus to Albertsons to stock up on food to save some extra cash.
Day Four (Wednesday – 1/28/15)
Opensnow.com had been predicting 5-9”, which I got myself excited for, but as always seems to be the case, NOAA's more conservative estimate played out with snow levels hovering around 6000-6500 feet. It rained at the base all night and the upper mountain received 2”. I myself was hovering somewhere between glumness and desperation as sunlight broke through the morning fog. I dourly bid my SO farewell as I boarded the gondola (to cries of “don’t panic!” naturally) and steeled myself for a day of rainy/icy weather...I couldn't have been more wrong.
The gondola chugged up the mountain and progressively things started to look more and more like winter. By the top we could see fresh tracks, it was snowing a bit, and I was positively excited. I practically ran off the gondola and proceeded down Sundance/Ranger. Oh my God! BEST 2 INCHES OF MY LIFE. I swear it was more than just 2 inches in places. I got some turns where snow hit my face and thought “this is it!” I seriously had a huge smile on my face. I cut over towards Casper with the plan of going to the Moran Woods.
Above: fresh tracks off of Casper and my thumb as a grapple with the phone while attempting to multi-task.
However, on the chair I started thinking to myself that this was the ideal time to head over to Thunder and try some of the more difficult terrain, so I went back along the Amphitheater traverse and headed up Thunder. I saw people at Paintbrush so I went over to talk with them and discuss conditions. They said things were a little thin, but okay. I dropped in and had a great time with this steeper terrain. A minute or so later, when I was paused in the middle for a moment to check my line (pulled to the side as Bob recommends) one of them zoomed by me and I was glad I asked such expert skiers if things were good. Chest pounding, smile on my face, I cruised back up to Thunder and spent a pleasant morning poking around.
It continued to warm up in the afternoon, but conditions did not seem as tough as they had been in Grand Targhee. I met up with my SO and we did St. Johns which was a good challenge for her. Each day her skiing improved by leaps and bounds and I was really proud that she was skiing this steeper terrain in control and well.
Day Five (Thursday – 1/29/15)
Our last skiing day, another warm one, we spent the morning together and split up in the afternoon.
I was hoping that Bivouac/Wally World/Rendezvous Bowl would be in the same excellent shape as Monday, but I found all to be in challenging conditions in the afternoon. A better snowboarder than I could have managed it better, but I just wasn't able to put together good turns in these icy/hard conditions. I was also discouraged enough about my handling of the conditions to not try additional difficult terrain off of Thunder (which I had been planning to do in the afternoon when things softened up). I headed back over to the Gondola and rounded out the day in that area where things were a bit better.
We shared a take out pizza from Il Villaggio Osteria and sadly packed up.
Day Six (Friday – 1/30/15)
Our flight left a bit after noon so we walked around the village in the morning. I actually had a tear in my eye. I wasn't ready to leave.
Goodbye for now tram.
We had smooth flights all the way back and a nice tail wind that got us into to Chicago 30 minutes early.
Summary: I am completely addicted to Jackson Hole and can't wait to go back. If it was in the budget I would go back this year...this week...tomorrow if I could! As I mentioned, conditions did become difficult with the thaw/freeze cycles, but in a way it just whet my appetite as I imagined what this place would be like if it was cold and we had fresh snow. Lift lines were always short with my only wait of 2-3 chairs at the Thunder lift on the snow day. The scenery is incredible – pictures really don't do it justice. I am happy to answer any of your questions and thanks to the EpicSki community for being a great resource.
I would also like to thank Bob Peters, every single JHMR employee, and all of the locals we met. You all were uniformly kind, funny, helpful, and welcoming. Thanks for sharing Jackson Hole and helping make it special for us as well.