Updated "Unofficial Guide..."
Nice. A whole bunch of you will be here that week of Feb 12.
Sounds like a mini-Gathering is in order.
On another note, I just read that guide to steep skiing for the first time in a couple of years, and there are some references that are no longer current. I've made some corrections in bold:***********
In response to overwhelming (or perhaps just whelming) demand, here's a little guide to some of the steeper skiing at Jackson Hole. Some of this will make no sense at all until you're actually on the hill, but it it might help give you some pointers for making your way around the mountain.Bob's Extremely Unofficial, Completely Unauthorized Guide to Steeper Skiing at Jackson Hole
First off, it goes without saying that “steep” is a relative term. You have objective measurements like degrees of pitch , of course, but you also have variables like snow conditions, width of the line, visibility, consequences of a fall, etc. These variables can transform a relatively benign slope into a real sphincter-tightener.
Having said that, super-skiers will likely scoff at my definitions of steep, but I’m just describing some of the runs and lines inside the Jackson Hole Ski Resort that have a little more “sport” to them.
Also, much of the joy of skiing Jackson Hole comes from the sense of adventure you get from wandering around the mountain. This is a ski area with an almost endless variety of pitch, exposure, elevation, and wind effects. Most of the mountain is exactly the way God dropped it from the sky – no run cuts, no grading, no civilizing. It’s just mountain terrain with snow on top of it. You get whatever you get.
My favorite term for exploring a ski area is “clucking around”. You occasionally find great skiing lines and good snow, but you also often pay the price in the form of really, really bad skiing. Just because I’ll give some suggestions about good places to hit on this mountain, don’t rule out clucking around. It can provide you with some of your most memorable skiing ever, and Jackson Hole is the perfect place to do it.
So, without further ado, here are some of the places I would suggest off various lifts:Aprez Vous Chair
A real sleeper. It attracts mostly intermediate skiers, and for good reasons. It’s a high-speed chair with great groomed runs. Off to the north of the chair, however, is Saratoga Bowl. Toga used to be strictly out of bounds but is now quasi inbounds skiing. It appears that Saratoga is now essentially inbounds. There doesn't seem to be a boundary line there anymore.
The entrance is on skier's left just below the patrol shack near the unloading station of the chair. Saratoga is a wild jumble of small cliffs, rock gardens, trees, and little chutelets. There’s almost nowhere that will give you a long, sustained fall-line pitch, but part of the fun is stringing together little goofball shots. Don't traverse too far skier's left, the better skiing is to the right. Saratoga will give you lots of varied terrain. Also, you’ll be able to make laps quicker than anywhere on the mountain.
Another sort of unnamed area off Apres Vous that’s worth checking out is below the Togwotee Pass traverse that leads from Moran Run to the Casper Chair. Just after you leave Moran, you’ll pass an open gladed area below the traverse. It isn’t steep, but it’s got some fun little terrain features. You’ll only make about twenty or thirty turns before this area drops down onto another traverse leading back left toward Apres Vous, but I like it.Casper Chair
Again, this is mostly intermediate terrain, but there are some little testers scattered around. Most of the better stuff is to the rider’s right of the chair. You’ll pass Sleeping Indian run and then Wide Open. The traverse heads into the trees just on the other side of Wide Open, and then leads to Moran Woods and Moran Face. This is tree skiing with a few little airy boulders mixed in. It’s a good place on a powder day because not so many powder hounds ride the Casper Chair.
Going to the south side of the chair, you’ll need to follow the traverse left after you unload. After looping around below Upper Casper Bowl, you’ll come to a cat track intersection at a spot known as Croaky Point. There’s some fun glade skiing straight down the spine and to either side of the little ridge you’re standing on. As you ski it, you’ll come to another cat track – this one leading to the left and back toward the Casper chair. You can drop that cat track to the right and ski a more open gentle face down to the South Pass traverse, which is your last chance to go left back to Casper chair.
Another option is to the right just before the bottom of Casper chair. This gets you onto a much-ignored run call Nez Perce (pronounced Nay Per-say). About four or five turns down Nez Perce from the base of the Casper chair is a little track going left in the woods. This leads to Jackson Face. Lots of little brush and glades, rollers and terrain features in there. Explore.
That will take you down to the base of the Bridger Gondola.Bridger Gondola
Many choices here. If it’s around lunchtime, you *might* want to walk over to the patrol shack and see if A J DeRosa or one of the other patrollers is grilling dogs and sausages. If he is, it’s the best deal on the hill. Fresh-grilled hot dogs for only a buck or sausages for only $3. Another dollar contribution to the patrollers is always appreciated, but it’s a deal you can’t beat. Sorry, the Ski Patrol is no longer doing this.
So, from the Gondie…
One choice is to start back down under the gondola and traverse quickly left. This will lead you on a rutty, bumpy traverse to Upper Casper Bowl. There are lots of terrain features in Casper Bowl, and it may not be open if there’s been new snow, but it’s a fun little ride. When you get to the cat track after skiing the Bowl, you can head right toward Croaky Point. If you ski past Croaky Point and past the obvious run known as Sundance, you can ski the trees between Sundance and Gros Ventre (pronounced Grow Vont). Depending on which way you trend, you’ll either end up in the Sundance Gully drainage or the Slalom/Gros Ventre drainage. There are many little slots/faces in this whole area that can reward those who explore.
What if you head slightly right and down from the top of the Gondola? You’ll have several options here as well. The rocky, stunted-tree section between Upper Gros Ventre and Amphitheater offers some pretty challenging stuff. Lots of boulders and dropoffs in here, and *all* of it is avalanche terrain (that’s why all the trees are so small). Just head down Lupine Way and drop off left shortly after passing Upper Gros Ventre.
That area also eventually funnels down into a drainage known as Dick’s Ditch. Dick’s officially starts at the Sunnyside Traverse (which leads left from Amphitheater over to Lower Gros Ventre). You can ski down Dick’s through the gully or you can ski along the sides and drop in almost anywhere along either side. Dropping from the sides has some of the steepest skiing on the mountain (for a half dozen turns or so). Lower Dick’s Ditch is a classic natural half pipe/terrain park and leads all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
If you took Lupine Way to Amphitheater and then just followed the run, you found yourself at the bottom of the Thunder Chair.Thunder Chair
This is the "money" chair as far as more challenging skiing at Jackson Hole. Thunder goes up a ridgeline with routes coming down the ridge itself and both flanks. As you board the chair, check out the rocky, relatively steep bowl area just above you on your left. This is Riverton Bowl and the tram runs directly over it. We'll be back to that one in a minute.
Also riding up Thunder, you'll cross Thunder Run (coming from above you on the left and dropping down to the right). This is Jackson's best-known mogul run. As you near the top of the Thunder Chair, you'll start to see an orange fencing barricade just right of the chair. The fencing is meant to "discourage" skiers from mistakenly dropping down into Tower 3 Chute. There's an entrance gate near the top of the chute, just adjacent to the great big tram tower (coincidentally known as, ta da, Tower 3). Keep all of these in mind as you go back down.
As you unload, take a little 180-degree left turn around the chair station and you'll be pointed back down toward the valley. The tram cables will be directly above you as well. Start down toward the valley and about a hundred feet above Tower 3, you'll see an obvious road going left. Following that road is the easiest way down to Amphitheater and back to the bottom of the Thunder Chair.
Following the road about fifty yards takes you to the top of a run on the right called Indian Paintbrush. This is a great, steep, north-facing bump run that holds good snow long after a snowstorm. A little way down on Paintbrush, you'll come to a flattish little chokepoint in some trees. This is where Toilet Bowl starts. The central gully (if you just followed the most obvious fall-line from that chokepoint) leads down some stair-steppy boulders and faces, through Toilet Bowl, and finally down onto Amphitheater. Going right at the chokepoint brings you out onto the more open - but still pretty steep and bumpy - portion of TB near the bottom of Tower 3 Chute. Going left at the chokepoint gets you out onto Toilet Face. This area includes some very steep slabs and ledges and small dropoffs. It's great fun to ski, but be VERY careful if the light is flat - if you don't know the area, you could easily ski into or off of something nasty.
Back up near Tower 3, instead of turning left to go to Paintbrush, go straight down the line of the chairlift. You'll cross a little rollover and then you should be looking for that orange fencing I was talking about. This is the entrance to Tower 3 Chute and you want to find the gate into it. T3 starts out pretty wide, steeper on skier's left and shallower on skier's right along the bottom side of the fencing. There are some small trees and a couple of rocks in the chute, so a slide can take you into some unpleasant obstacles. For your first time, most people choose the right side (which is where the main part of the gully is) and stay pretty much in the fall-line. The left side is a bit sportier, as it's steeper and involves a couple of narrow chokepoints. The two sides converge about midway down the chute, and then you just follow the bump line. Before long, it'll open out into the wide section of Toilet Bowl and you've successfully skied T3. One note - if you decide to stop as you're skiing down the chute, it's considered good eitquette to pull as far to one side of the gully as you can so you're out of the traffic zone. Not only does it clear the way for other skiers, it MIGHT keep you from getting clocked by a falling/sliding skier from above.
So let's say T3 wasn't challenging enough for you. Instead of skiing Tower 3, continue on below the T3 entrance gate, following the fencing on your left shoulder. Just past the end of the fencing, pick a likely-looking opening and drop left down into those thick trees in front of you. This is a fairly wide area known as the Mushroom Chutes. There's no single run or line here, just a bunch of narrow slots through trees and giant boulders. The tops of the boulders build up huge pillows of snow that eventually look like - viola! - mushrooms. This is a pretty steep section of the mountain with some very tight quarters, but it can be lots of fun to poke around in here. Just be careful.
A little further down the chair line from the Mushroom Chutes is another little opening in the trees on the left. This leads to Hoop's Gap. This is a short but quite steep sidehill dropping through trees and down onto Amphitheater. If you kept going down the chairlift line past Hoop's, you'll come out onto Thunder Run itself. Lots of bumps and a great pitch make this a classic mogul run.
Back up at Tower 3, you still have many other choices. You can ski down under the tram cables and eventually come out at the top of Riverton Bowl. It gradually widens as it drops down to the bottom of the Thunder Chair. To skier's right of Riverton Bowl is Gannett run. This is a little mellower than Riverton but has some very fun glade skiing along the right-hand side of the run, between Gannett and Grand. Grand is a great intermediate-to-advanced run that goes all the way from Tower Three to the bottom of the Sublette Chair. To skier's right of Grand is the area known as Grand Woods, which again is nice glade skiing opening out into some fun little aspen groves. If you work skier's right from the top of Grand Woods, you'll find yourself in the Gold Mine Chutes. These are kind of ratty little slots through the rocks down onto the main part of Laramie Bowl. Gold Mines are fun, but they almost never get real good snow coverage and they face south. That means that the snow in there is often hard and icy, and if it's powder you won't know where the rocks are until you do core shots on your skis. Sounds fun, doesn't it?
So, that's it for the Thunder Chair. There's lots more, but you'll have to discover it on your own.Sublette Chair
So you went down Gold Mine Chutes anyway (after I warned you not to) and you came out on Laramie Bowl. Head on down to the bottom of the Sublette Chair and hop on. As you ride, you'll go through some fairly thick trees on both sides of the chair. When those trees stop, you're coming toward the Alta Chutes on your left. They're numbered from the top down, so the first one you're going to pass as you're riding the chair is Alta 3. It's fairly open and a little less steep, and is the easiest of the Alta Chutes. Just past a rock outcropping will be two little insignificant slots in the trees and rocks - those are Alta 2.5 and Alta 2a. Then you'll see a very obvious chute dropping all the way down from the ridgeline above you on the left. It starts out kind of wide and then chokes down to about 1.5 ski lengths just above where it crosses under the chair. This is Alta 1 and is the most-skied of the Alta Chutes. All of the Alta Chutes face north and the snow quality will stay good for some time after a storm. They tend to be chalky, edgy snow most of the time. They are quite steep, however, so be very mindful of sliding if you happen to go down. Also, you get to have a built-in audience when you ski them - you're in full view of all the lift riders.
After you pass Alta 1, you next ride up past the Alta Zero chutes. These are usually closed but it's just a jumbled rock/cliff/tree face that
*occasionally* is open. This area is generally just for looks, not for skiing.
After you top out of Alta Zero, the lift follows a ridgeline. Below you and to your right is the north-facing side of Laramie Bowl. You'll cross a cat track coming from left to right, and the little elbow in the cat track right there is known as "Flip Point" because Pepi Stiegler used to do flips off that cat track about thirty years ago. The skiing below Flip Point can be great. Again, it's north-facing so the snow stays good. You just pick a line and drop down into Laramie Bowl.
Once you're at the top of Sublette, you can turn left or right. Let's talk about right for a moment, because going that way means that you *won't* be able to come back to the base of the Sublette chair.
When you traverse right from the chair, you'll cross a little ridge and a large, gentle bowl will come into view. This is Tensleep Bowl. The spot where you come across the ridge is where Jackson Hole's World Cup Downhill course started. More on that in a minute. From that point, you can ski directly down the bowl or keep traversing hard left. Doing that will bring you underneath Corbet's Couloir and you can look up and see what the thing looks like from below. The area skier's left from the Corbet's apron is known as "Left Field" and is a low-angle jumble of rocks and wind-drifts that funnels back down to the right. This can be a very fun area to ski, but the wind is very capricious up here and the rocks aren't always covered. They can have ten feet of snow over them one day and be wind-scoured down to the ground the next. If you choose to ski Left Field, don't blame me for any damage you do to your skis.
Back at the start of Tensleep, let's drop down the obvious run, cross a bit of a flat, a rollover, another little flat and rollover, and then watch for a traverse going into the trees on the right. This is the entrance to the Expert Chutes. They are what their name implies. It's a wide scree slope with a cliff wall above you on the right and a rock band crossing the slope below you. You have to ski through the slots in the rock band, so this also isn't a place to go in poor visibility. As you approach the Expert Chutes, you'll be following a rutty traverse right going out along the base of the cliff. Most everyone skis either the first obvious chute or the second, but there are actually about eight or ten well-defined chutes. They all have names, all of which are the names of psychological disorders. The last one on the traverse is my favorite run at Jackson Hole. It's called Insomnia. You have to traverse AS FAR AS YOU CAN GO along the base of the cliff, with a fair amount of sidestepping to get to the top of it. It starts out wide for a few turns, narrows to a very tight hourglass, and then widens out again. I have no idea why I like it so much - it's too short to really be worth all the effort it takes to get there. I must have some sort of psychological disorder.
Anyway, all of the Expert Chutes drop down into Amphitheater, which leads back to the Thunder Chair or on down to the bottom of the mountain.
If you pass by the Expert Chutes turnoff, you'll come to a little knoll where you either go kind of left to the Cirque Traverse or right to the Downhill Chute, Lonnie's Chute, or Broadway Chute. On one of your runs, head for the Downhill Chute. You trend slightly right along a sidehill, watching for a big rock outcropping roughly in front of you. The skier's left side of that rock is the Downhill Chute. When you get there, imagine coming into that drop with about 70mph of speed. That's what the racers were doing when they skied the World Cup downhill. Broadway is to the right of the same rock and will test your ability to control your speed in a short, steep, tight little slot.
If you go left back at the knoll, you're going to come out on the Cirque Traverse. There's a little flat and then some fencing to mark a big (very big) rock on the right of the traverse. Just *before* that fencing is a little tiny slot between rocks on the left and a tree/rock wall on the right. This isn't even a ski-width wide, and is known as Meet Your Maker. You basically just point 'em and bail out with a right turn when you clear the rocks. Some people use this as a little practice spot for doing Corbet's. If you do, be very careful of flying out into cross traffic coming from skier's right and headed toward the Downhill Chute.
If you traverse past Meet Your Maker, you come out onto the full expanse of the Cirque. You can traverse as far (skier's left) as you want until you run into a rock wall wayyyy across the face. The far left area gives you a longer, straighter shot in the fall-line. The Cirque faces south, which can be good or bad. The sun will screw up the snow here earlier than a lot of other places on the mountain, but it also will soften up hard snow and make for some great afternoon skiing if you time it right. It's all luck and local knowledge.
All of this side of the mountain (Tensleep, Expert Chutes, Cirque) drop down into Amphitheater, so in order to get back to the Sublette Chair you would have to ride the Thunder Chair and ski back down to Sublette.
So going back to the top of the Sublette Chair, let's turn left instead of right. You have a ton of choices from here. The most direct way to tougher skiing is to head back down just to skier's right of the chairlift line. This area is known as Mudslide Traverse and it can have some of the worst skiing on the hill
It eventually leads (after sun-hardened, miserable, big, sidehill moguls), onto the cat track at Flip Point. From that cat track, you have four immediate choices. Going from skier's left to right, you have Flip Point, which drops into Laramie Bowl, Pepi's Run (which leads to all the Alta Chutes), Bird in the Hand, and Bernie's Bowl. For Flip Point, you just pick a spot to your left and drop in. For Pepi's, head down sort of under the chair cables and trend slightly to your right. In a short distance, you'll be at the top of Alta 1. If you skirt that and keep going, you'll pass Alta 2 and then Alta 3. You can stay on Pepi's all the way back to the Sublette Chair loading point, or you can drop off right as well.
Also from that same cat track, Bird in the Hand is a fun run that faces south and can have extremely variable conditions. An offshoot of Bird in the Hand (just where is narrows and turns right) is to go left through some trees and come out on Two in the Bush, which is steep and rocky. Another little side-excursion from Bird in the Hand is to turn left a little below the narrows and go through about 50 feet of trees. Where it opens out again, there's an open area dropping down to your right, which then bends around a rock on skier's left and drops steeply down to a flat at the bottom of Cheyenne Bowl. This bend is known as the Dogleg Chute and it's another of my favorite places.
Finally, from that same spot on the cat track near Flip Point, you can cut hard right
just below the cat track out into an area known as Bernie's Bowl. Just follow the right-leading traverse. If you drop left shortly after leaving Bird in the Hand, you'll be skiing an area known as Sherry's Slide. Further out on the traverse is the main part of Bernie's. All of this area faces generally south and can get warm and soft or hard and frozen, depending on the day, the time, the temp, and the sun. It can be some pretty bad skiing or it can be great. You never know until you go.
Suppose you chose to go rider's left down the cat track from the top of Sublette instead of back down Mudslide. If you do, you'll traverse in a southerly direction until the road comes out at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl. I'll describe that when we get to the skiing accessed from the tram. From the bottom of the bowl, you can follow the main cat track toward Rendezvous Trail or you can head slightly left of the main Rendezvous Trail and find yourself at the top of Cheyenne Chutes. This is a double stairstep kind of steep shot that drops into Cheyenne Bowl. The first chute is fairly wide and often kind of rocky. Once through it, you can continue straight in the fall-line to a second little chute (narrow) or cut left about thirty yards and drop down a somewhat wider but also bumpier chute. Both lead into Cheyenne Bowl proper, and there's a lot of options in this little area.
If you started down Rendezvous Trail, you're going to be skiing down a cat track with an obvious drop-off left. This area all leads down into Cheyenne Bowl. There are little cliff bands and rocky areas to watch out for, so most people ski a bit further along until they come to a big pine tree along the left edge of the cat track. Going down from here gets you into the bowl/woods area known as Bivouac Woods. This is steep, usually bumpy, and north-facing, so the snow is often good quality. This is also one of my prime destinations on a flat-light powder day. The trees help with visibility and there is often more snow funnelled into this area by the wind. Just down the cat track a little further is the top of Bivouac Run, which is an obvious run cut through the trees. This gets groomed occasionally but it's a pretty steep little mother and builds up huge bumps over time. Still on Rendezvous Trail, beyond Bivouac is Cheyenne Woods, which is a bunch of steep, narrow lines through the trees. This can be a great place in powder and pretty fun in just bumps.
If you kept going on Rendezvous Trail, you'll drop down a little steeper section and then come to a cat track going right into some trees. This is the entrance to the Hobacks. The Hobacks can be some of the sweetest skiing real estate on the planet if you hit them at the right time. Very long (almost 3,000 vertical feet) and with nearly constant pitch, the Hobacks are famous throughout all of skiing. One caveat - if the conditions are tough, which they often can be on the Hobacks, there's nowhere for you to bail out. Once you get to the top of the Hobacks, the only escape is down. This is the truest form of ski-what-the-mountain-gives-you. I decided maybe I didn't give the Hobacks enough credit in my first edition. North and South Hoback Ridges are simply enormous. There are literally hundreds of lines. They fan out to both sides as you drop in elevation, so there are often untracked lines toward the bottom of the Hobacks even when the top entrance area is a bumped-out mess. It's still true, however, that if the conditions are BAD on the Hobacks (which they can often be, particularly in the spring), you're in for a very long trip down.
If you passed on the Hobacks, you'll continue to follow Rendezvous Trail down some steeps, flats, bends, and so forth until you come back to the bottom of the Sublette Chair. And that concludes the rundown on skiing off the Sublette Chair.Aerial Tram
Next (finally!) we'll go up the aerial tram. There are really only a couple of things to ski from the tram that we haven't covered already. Rendezvous Bowl is the "easy" way down. It's big, wide, moderately steep, and subject to all kinds of wind, sun, snow, and weather conditions. It can be powder, smooth skier-pack, rock-hard frozen bumps, creamy corn, or ankle-deep slush. It can have horrible white-out conditions or it can be one of the most gorgeous places you've ever been.
There's a line of markers down the fall-line to skier's right as you traverse across the bowl. Use these or the trees on the left side of the bowl to pick your way down if the clouds roll in.
Another option, of course, is Corbet's Couloir. From the little cabin at the top of the tram, trend down and slightly left through some scrubby trees and you will come to the heavily-barricaded entrance to Corbet's. Duck under/through the gates and take a look. Sometimes it's "relatively" easy, sometimes it's suicidal, but it's always a rush. See what you think. Of course, if you do Corbet's and that was too wussy for you, the next time up you can go ask the ski patrol for permission to do S&S Couloir. That's just down-mountain from Corbet's, around the big rock outcropping. S&S is pretty scary.
If Corbet's looked a little intimidating, you can ski down the left side of Rendezvous Bowl for a few turns and then look for the East Ridge Traverse. This is kind of an exposed, slightly airy traverse above the top of the Sublette Chair. It leads to the top of Tensleep Bowl (discussed earlier) and also to a seldom-open area called Hanging Snowfield. The Hanger, as it's known, is very steep and drops through some rocks into Tensleep Bowl. To get to it, you would stay as high as possible on the East Ridge Traverse, keep going until you come to the obvious kinfe-edge ridge, and then see if the closed signs are up or down. It's almost always closed, but if it's open it's one of the steepest pitches inside the Jackson Hole ski area's boundaries. Don't duck the rope (in case you're wondering, I don't *ever* duck ropes) because if it's closed there's a good reason.
Those are really your only choices from the tram, and all lead to areas that we've already described that can be accessed from the Sublette Chair or the Thunder Chair.
The only other area, which is actually huge, that I'll describe is the Lower Faces. These are made up, from skier's right to skier's left, of Sublette Ridge, Rawlins Bowl, South Colter Ridge, Buffalo Bowl, North Colter, Lander Bowl, and Tramline. All of these are accessed by the South Pass Traverse. You just ski along, look for a line that appeals to you, and drop down. All of these eventually lead to a collector road coming from the bottom of the Hobacks. You follow that road to a small chairlift (Union Pass Chairlift)
that takes you diagonally over to where you can ski back down to the base at Teton Village. The Lower Faces, by themselves, are bigger than most ski areas. There is an endless variety of pitch, elevation, exposure, trees, boulders, cliffs, etc. You can find incredibly good snow, incredibly bad snow, and everything in between. Skiing the Lower Faces (like the Hobacks) is often the essence of big-mountain alpine skiing. With the occasional exception of Tramline, the groomers don't ever go here. They can't - it's too steep. If it's not a powder day, you'll often find yourself almost completely alone on much of the Lower Faces - most people can't (or don't choose to) handle the Lower Faces in crud. But if you ski them in junk, they *will* make you stronger as a skier.Summary
That pretty much concludes the tour. What's so fun about this mountain is the variety. At times, the conditions are so good you'll want to cry. At other times, they're so bad you can only laugh. It's not uncommon to have both of those going at some point on the mountain on the same day and at the same time. If you're adventurous and love poking around, there are tremendous rewards all over the mountain. Just get out there and give it a shot.
Have fun and stay safe.