Page three (the easier skiing)
Bob’s Unofficial Guide to Skiing Jackson Hole:
Here are a few suggestions on some ways to get around the mountain. If you’ve never been here before, some of this might help you figure the place out a little quicker and allow you to best enjoy your limited time.
One thing to understand about this mountain is that there is difficult terrain accessible from almost every lift, but there are also pretty easy ways down from every lift (with the exception of the tram). So, if what you’re looking for is a guide to the gnarliest stuff on the mountain, this isn’t it. Just ride a lift, get off, and look for a place where the horizon disappears.
This little guide is geared mainly toward people who are coming here for the first time and want to get a feel for the lifts and terrain. Most of the runs I’ll describe are intermediate through advanced, and are runs that are groomed daily or fairly often. If you follow the little tour I’m suggesting, you’ll have an excellent understanding of the mountain and you’ll see plenty of more challenging stuff along the way (if that’s what you’re looking for).
First off, come prepared. JH is a huge, rugged mountain in an alpine environment. There is plenty of easy skiing here, but if you’re prepared for bad weather you’ll enjoy your visit much more. You want good goggles, waterproof/breathable shells, multiple layers of synthetic garments, good gloves, and even a neck gaiter. You may not use much of that, but you’ll be glad you have it if you need it.
Also, mid-fat and fat skis are the common choice here. If it snows during your trip (we all hope), wider skis will make life easier for you if you’re skiing the endless variety of terrain and conditions we have. I love skiing my slalom race skis all over this mountain, but if it snows those skis don’t come out again for days. There are several good ski shops in Teton Village or the town of Jackson where you can demo/rent skis that work well on this mountain.
So, let’s head for Teton Village and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
When you first arrive at Teton Village, the most important landmark to look for is the Tram Building. It’s the building with the clock tower and it has massive cables leading ALLLLL the way up to the top of the mountain. The tram building has lift ticket windows on the ground floor facing the parking lot, and up one flight of stairs is the large wooden deck where the line for the aerial tram forms. Also adjacent to the tram loading dock is a cafeteria called Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Café. This is where we’ll try to meet in the mornings.
If you’re standing on the mountain side of Nick Wilson’s looking uphill, on your left (slightly behind you and working down a slight incline) will be a building with Wildernest Sports in it. The next one down is Teton Village Sports (TVS), the one beyond that is the Mangy Moose bar/restaurant, and just beyond that is the Hostel. Wildernest and TVS have excellent ski shops where you can buy/rent gear, get your boots worked on, or get ski tunes.
Still standing back in front of Nick Wilson’s, to your right and slightly uphill will be the Bridger Center and the Four Seasons hotel, as well as the loading sites for the Teewinot chairlift and the Bridger Gondola. The Bridger Center has lift ticket windows on the ground floor and a very good ski shop the next level up. The Bridger Center also has day lockers for rent. Between the Bridger Center and the tram building is a small chalet that houses the Ski School offices. If you want a lesson or a guide, this is where you go.
Now that you know where the main buildings are, it’s time to make a decision about what lifts to take.
The tram gives the fastest access to the most vertical, and it’s also the most popular lift (which means liftlines). It’s important to understand that if you ride the tram, there’s no “easy” way down. That doesn’t mean intermediates can’t comfortably negotiate it in the right conditions, but it does mean that Rendezvous Bowl, which is the main way down from the top, can throw some pretty challenging conditions at you. More on that a little later.
So let’s say you choose to do more of an orientation cruise than immediately jump into the toughest part of the mountain you can find…
Let’s start out on the Apres Vous side of the mountain.http://www.jacksonhole.com/mountain/pics/apres_map.jpg
Right by the Bridger Center, load onto the Teewinot high-speed quad. This lift leads to the Apres Vous chair but also accesses three *very* easy groomed runs that are all excellent for first day beginners. Get off the Teewinot chair and ski to your right over to the base of the Apres Vous high-speed quad. This lift gives you a choice of a lot of terrain and gets you up the hill very quickly.
When you unload, you can bear left to the main runs or right to a run called St. John’s. Werner and Moran are the runs you come to if you go left. Werner and Moran (they split about 300 yards down at an island of trees, with Moran the run on skier’s right) are groomed essentially every night and offer wide, smooth cruising all the way back to the base of the chair. If you take Moran, you’ll deal with a couple of short steeper pitches, while Werner is good, solid intermediate skiing all the way down. The pitches on Moran are nothing scary and pretty short, but don’t be surprised when things drop out from under your feet a little bit.
Back over on the north side of the chair, St. John’s offers a long run that may or may not have been groomed recently. Between St. John’s and Werner is an ungroomed, fairly open area called Teewinot Face. The “Face” part might be a bit misleading because it really isn’t all that steep, but it *is* right underneath the chair. This is a great place to test out your off-piste skills because it’s usually a combination of crud, a few bumps, a little shrubbery, and some wind drifts – and you’re skiing it with the critical eyes of all the lift riders following you. If that felt pretty good, look closely at your trail map and see if you can find something interesting to skier’s left and below you. If you cross lower St. John’s and poke around in the trees a little, you might be rewarded for your adventurous spirit. That’s all I’ll say.
One last option off the Apres Vous chair is Saratoga Bowl. This used to be an out-of-bounds area (and does definitely avalanche in extreme conditions) but is now permanently open through a gate just below the patrol shack near the top of the chair. Saratoga is a fascinating natural terrain park. There are tons of rock gardens, gullies, trees, small cliffs, etc. The skiing here can be great, especially if there’s been some new snow. It’s definitely *not* easy skiing, however. If you choose to ski it, be very mindful of tracks. After about a thousand vertical feet, you must start traversing right to get back to the ski area. If you spy some untracked snow way low on Saratoga Bowl and go down to ski it, you may find yourself on the valley floor about a mile from the base of the ski area. That’s a long way to walk. Just watch other skiers and make sure you’re trending right as your dropping down Saratoga.
Now we’re ready to try another part of the mountain. When you unload from the Apres Vous chair, go left and head down Moran run. Stay right at the tree island where Werner (left) and Moran (right) split. You’ll cross a bit of a flat and then work your way down a bit steeper section. Just at the base of that section will be a cat track leading to the right. Get on that and follow it quite a ways and you’ll come out at the base of the Casper triple chair.http://www.jacksonhole.com/mountain/...ondola_map.jpg
The Casper area has some of the best low-to-mid intermediate skiing on the mountain. As you ride up, you’ll see Easy Does It off to your left (looking up). This is a great place to just relax and enjoy the grooming. There are also a couple of little runs to skier’s right of Easy Does It called Campground and Timbered Island. This is just friendly, easy skiing. To looker’s right of the chair are a couple of runs called Sleeping Indian and Wide Open. Both are excellent upper-intermediate to advanced runs. They may or may not have been groomed recently. If they haven’t been, they’ll have lots of moguls. Just beyond Wide Open is a gladed area known as Moran Woods and Moran Face. If you’re feeling pretty good about your skiing, you can just poke around in there and work your way back to the traverse that brought you from Apres Vous to the Casper chair.
If you’re ready to try somewhere else, you have a couple of choices; you can ski right from lower Easy Does It onto a run called Blacktail, which eventually joins Sundance Gully (known locally as Dilly Dally Alley). This route leads back to the base of the ski area and is one of the most popular ways down from the Casper area. This would lead you to the base of the Bridger Gondola, which I’ll describe in a couple of minutes.
Another choice from the top of the Casper chair would be to traverse over to the Thunder quad. To do this, exit the chair left onto the cat track and just keep following it. You’ll eventually come out onto a very wide, easy run known as Amphitheater. Once on that, trend down and to the right until you see the base of the Thunder chair.
From the top of Thunder, you have lots of choices ranging from easy-going to hairball.http://www.jacksonhole.com/mountain/pics/upper_map.jpg
In the easy-going department, come back down under the chair for about a hundred yards toward the huge tram tower. Just above the tram tower, you can turn left onto a wide cat track. This route will lead you to upper Amphitheater, which is usually groomed every night and offers wide open cruising all the way back to the base of the chair. This run has a delightful variety of gentle slopes, slightly steeper sections, and little shoulders and rollers.
If you choose to keep going downhill from the tram tower, you’ll negotiate a little steep section known as the Egg Carton and then you can bear slightly right onto Grand. Grand is, well, Grand. It’s wide, a little steeper than Amphitheater, and sunny (if the sun’s shining). It’s just a delightful run. At the bottom of Grand, you can either ski right the Sublette Quad or turn left onto the catwalk (South Pass Traverse) and ski back to the base of the Thunder chair.
Those of you looking for some serious challenges will also find it from the Thunder chair. Really sporty runs like Tower 3 Chute, Mushroom Chutes, Hoop’s Gap, and the Gold Mine Chutes are all reached from Thunder. Thunder Run, Jackson’s most famous bump run, goes right under the chair, and Riverton Bowl runs directly beneath the tram cables.
So let’s continue our tour by taking Grand run down to the base of the Sublette Quad. This chair rises up through the area known as Laramie Bowl (the big area to your right as you’re riding up). Directly to your left as you ride will be the Alta Chutes. These are expert terrain and you’ll see plenty of skiers making their way down them as you ride up. The chutes are numbered from the top down, so the first one you’ll pass as you’re riding the chair is Alta Chute 3. You’ll then cross a little rock outcropping and pass a couple of narrow, ominous-looking slots through the trees and rocks – those are Alta 2.5 and 2. Then you’ll pass a very obvious chute coming all the way down from the high ridgeline on the left. This is Alta 1 and it’s the most popular of the Alta Chutes. Just uphill of that is a roped-off cliff-and-rock area known as Alta Zero. This area is usually closed but occasionally opens. See if you can pick out the lines through here. Once you pass the Alta Chutes, you’ll soon ride over an obvious cat-track leading from left to right. This is the Laramie Traverse. The spot almost below you where the cat-track makes an abrupt left is known as Flip Point. Pepi Stiegler, former Olympic ski racing champion and original Ski School Director at JH, used to fly down the cat-track and do flips off that dropoff. Hence the name Flip Point. That was 30 years ago, by the way.
When you get to the top of the Sublette Chair, you can either unload left or right. Going right leads you to Tensleep Bowl, the Cirque, and the Expert Chutes. None of that terrain is groomed and on average it’s pretty difficult skiing, so if you’re still looking to get oriented, let’s turn left. You’ll angle down a cat-track and soon find yourself at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl. The Bowl above you is the primary way down from the top of the aerial tram. You can take a look at the pitch and conditions of Rendezvous Bowl and decide whether you want to ride the tram a little later.
From the trail sign at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl, you’ve got two general choices. Going skier’s left will put you on the Laramie Traverse, which winds back past Flip Point, under the Sublette Chair, around the top of Laramie Bowl, and ends at the saddle at the top of the Thunder Chair. If you go mostly straight and slightly right from the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl, you’ll be on Rendezvous Trail. This is usually groomed nightly and offers an excellent way back down to the bottom of the Sublette Chair. As you start down Rendezvous Trail, you’ll see many options for dropping down into the basin on your left. This is Cheyenne Bowl and Bivouac Run, which are pretty steep and often very mogulled, but they’re north-facing and the snow usually is very high quality. If you stay on Rendezvous Trail, however, you’ll cross a bit of a flat and a short, steeper section. At the base of that section is another rollover going left as well as a cat-track going skier’s right. That cat-track leads to the top of North and South Hoback. The Hobacks can be pretty challenging depending on conditions, and once you’ve started down that cat-track there’s nowhere to go but down all 3,000 vertical feet to the bottom, so make sure you’re feeling good about your skiing before heading off to the Hobacks.
If you stay on Rendezvous Trail, you’ll wind up back at the bottom of the Sublette Chair.
So let’s say it’s time to head back down to the bottom of the mountain from here. The South Pass traverse leads north from the base of the Sublette Chair. Follow it to the base of the Thunder Chair and just pass by that chair. After a bit more time on the cat-track, you’ll come out onto a wide run leading down to the right. This is Gros Ventre (pronounced GROW-vont) and it will take you all the way to the base of the mountain. Gros Ventre is one of my favorite runs at Jackson Hole. It’s very wide with a moderate pitch and just a couple of nearly imperceptible rollers along the way. Early in the morning when there’s no traffic, you can REALLY let your skis fly down here. Once you’re on the flat near the bottom, look for an intersection on the left. Bearing left will take you back to the base of the Teewinot Chair and the Bridger Gondola, while staying right (straight) takes you to the tram building.
So rather than stopping for lunch just yet, let’s take a quick drink from the Camelbak, wolf down a Power Bar, and board the Bridger Gondola. This lift whisks you and seven of your friends uphill in total enclosed comfort. About halfway up, you’ll see the Casper Chair area off to your right. Higher up, you’ll go over some of the gladed skiing available in upper Sundance Gully.
When you unload from the gondola, you’ll be looking south. You’ll see the top of the Thunder Chair over on the other side of Amphitheater Run, and you’ll see the tram towers and maybe one of the tram cars climbing to the top. From the top of the gondola, you can angle down and left on Sundance Run and wind up back over at the Casper Chair. You can angle down and right on Lupine Way and come out in the middle of Amphitheater. That, if you remember, will take you back to the bottom of the Thunder Chair.
Instead of either of those choices, let’s head for upper Gros Ventre run. Start down Lupine Way for a couple hundred yards and then drop down when the cat track heads off to the right. This is Upper Gros Ventre and it’s a playful series of steeper and flatter sections. A couple of cat-tracks cross the run in places, so pay attention or you might find yourself getting launched a little when you didn’t expect it. This run eventually comes down onto the lower section of Gros Ventre that you did just a little earlier.
THIS time, let’s keep going straight at the very bottom of Gros Ventre and ski on down to the tram building. It’s probably time for a bit of rest and some fuel before we head up the aerial tram. Some of the choices nearby are Nick Wilson’s in the tram building (cafeteria-style food), the Village Café in the Wildernest Building just to skier’s right of the tram building, the Mangy Moose a couple more buildings to the right, or the Alpenhof Bistro, which is upstairs in the Alpenhof Hotel just to skier’s left of the tram building.
If you’re looking for a bit more leisurely, civilized lunch, the Alpenhof dining room (ground floor of the hotel) is excellent, the Cascade in the Teton Mountain Lodge (the big building to the south and west of the skate rink) is a very nice, quiet place, and the restaurant in the Four Seasons is also excellent.
Okay, we’ve refueled and we’re going up the tram.
Head into the maze on the parking lot side of the tram building and work your way through the line. It’s impossible to say how long the line might be, because it just depends on conditions. If you get to the dock and find that the maze is full, that means it’s probably a three-car wait to get on the tram. If the maze if half-full, your odds of getting on the next car are about fifty-fifty. Trams depart every twelve minutes, so if the maze is full, you’ll probably be waiting 24 to 36 minutes.
That’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds. Keep in mind that the tram is going to take you up 4,139 vertical feet. That’s two, three, or even four times more vertical than most of the lifts you’ll ride in the U S, so a little extra wait isn’t such a horrible thing.
Each tram car holds 55 people, and it’s going to feel cramped. Unless you’re a madman gunner who has to be first out of the tram at the top, I think it’s best to be among the first people to load when they open the doors at the bottom. That way, you can get into one of the front or back corners and you won’t get jammed by all the people lying back trying to be the last ones on (and therefore the first ones off).
If you happen to be near a left-side (looking up) window on the way up, keep an eye out for Corbet’s Couloir near the top. It will come into view after you cross over Tensleep Bowl, and you can have a bird’s eye look at Jackson’s most famous ski run.
When you unload at the top, it’ll be interesting to see what the weather is doing. It’s not unusual for the wind to be blowing *hard* up there, and it might be pretty cold. It also might be so foggy you can’t see a thing. It also might be sunny, in which case you’ll see some of the most amazing scenery anywhere in the world.
There’s a small restaurant in the building at the top if you’re looking to sit for a minute, but let’s go skiing.
The tram unloads essentially at the top of Rendezvous Bowl, which is nearly half a mile wide with about 800 vertical feet. From the top of the tram, most people ski past the little patrol shack/restaurant and angle skier’s right across the top of the Bowl.
Before we do that, I’ll just mention that if you want (for some sick reason) to go look at Corbet’s, you would head straight down and slightly left from the building. You’ll go through some scattered, stunted spruce trees (you’re right at timberline here) and watch for all the fencing and caution signs. That’s Corbet’s. You can duck under the ropes (unless Corbet’s is closed) and slink up to the edge to get a TRUE feel for what the run is like. Then, if you’re like me most of the time, you’ll back away and ski back out skier’s right onto Rendezvous Bowl.
So, we’re back along the top of the Bowl. There are literally unlimited choices on the Bowl because it’s so huge and open. If the weather is really bad, most people work their way down the left side of the bowl because there are a lot of trees along there to help provide definition.
There is also a set of poles with green markers going skier’s right along the top of the bowl. These lead to another set of poles with black markers. This set of poles goes straight down the middle of the bowl. In really bad visibility, I’ll use that set of markers to provide a landmark.
If the visibility is good, you can just look around and pick whatever line you like. The Bowl is high, exposed, and faces southeast, so conditions can be all over the map. It can be one of the most amazing powder experiences anywhere, or it can truly suck. If it’s good, just pick a line and ski to the big trail map at the bottom of the Bowl. If it’s bad, you can do huge long traverses punctuated by a gorilla turn and get yourself to the bottom of the Bowl without too much trepidation.
Once you’re at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl, you’re back where I described when we came off the Sublette Chair. You can follow Rendezvous Trail toward the Hobacks or the bottom of the Sublette quad, you can take the Laramie Traverse toward the Thunder area, or you can launch yourself down into Cheyenne Bowl (the big basin below you) in a bunch of different places.
So, that’s our tour. If you’re not tired and battered by the time you get to the bottom, head back up the tram and ski one of the Lower Faces (a topic for another essay).http://www.jacksonhole.com/mountain/pics/faces_map.jpg
If you’re worn out, save a little energy for tomorrow. Go have a beer at the Mangy Moose or the Bistro or the Peak Bar at the Four Seasons.