“I spent a season there one week!” That’s always been my canned response when anyone asks me if I’ve skied Jackson Hole. On my first ski trip to Jackson in 1971, it was raining when we arrived which actually led to a couple days of spring skiing. Then the temperature dropped, freezing everything up. Grooming hadn’t been invented yet so we had to tough out the conditions primarily skiing the crust in the woods. Then it got really cold with windchill reaching -70F. Finally we got some snow although not enough to rate as a real powder day. In those days the lift structure was the aerial tram which fed the full 4135’ vertical and two chairlifts on the far right of the mountain with only about half that vertical. But there was a lot of skiing to be had off those chairs when the weather prevented the tram from running.
I also went to Jackson Hole in 1974. I’ve written about that 1974 trip before where 10 of us in a van skied Alta, Snowbird, Sun Valley, and Jackson Hole over a two week period. I still don’t know how we got 10 of us, our luggage, and our ski equipment into one van, but somehow we made it work. For the couple of days we skied Jackson it snowed the whole time and produced some fantastic skiing! It also produced one of the great weather forecasts from a Jackson Hole lift operator. When asked about the weather forecast he responded, “Clear and still! Clear up to your ass and still snowing!”
Due to the weather, the tram couldn’t run to the top for our whole time there, but it did run part way to Tower 4 or something like that. From there you could ski the Thunder chair which had been added since our 1971 visit. To facilitate this approach the tram rides were scheduled so you could get your ticket punched for a certain tram time rather than wait in a long line. This allowed you to ski the other chairs until your tram time came up. We got a lot of powder runs on those chairs!
This year my wife and I decided to take our ski trip to Jackson Hole. Meg had never been and I wanted to see how it had changed in 50 years! And boy, it has changed!
First, they’ve added so many lifts! This reduces the dependency on the tram and allows access to a lot of terrain that was difficult to get to in the old days! In our case since the weather produced bad visibility we could explore a lot of terrain below the tree line. Plus with the new lift structure the area can handle a lot more skiers and riders. There were no lift lines except for our last day when the sun finally came out. And even then, the lines were short except for the tram.
They’ve also added on-mountain amenities so you don’t have to return to the village for lunch or a break. Back in the 70s, there were none. Also, on my first run I saw more “Warning Cliff Area” signs than they had on the whole mountain back in the 70s.
On all my Jackson Hole trips I’ve stayed in Jackson rather than Teton Village. Lodging prices are more reasonable and to some degree there was always more going on. Of course Jackson is still primarily a summer destination as the gateway to Yellowstone and other National Parks. A waiter was telling us that the town hosts an average of 45,000 tourists a day in the summer. Back in the 70s a lot of the places weren’t open in the winter, but now the town is hopping. Granted it’s not all about the skiing as snowmobiling and winter visits to the parks bring additional visitors.
Staying in Jackson means driving about 10 miles to the resort. Consider it their Mountain Road and sure enough we were in about an hour backup due to an accident on our first day! They also charge to park at the resort and that’s every day not just weekends. However there is a free lot about 5 miles from the resort with free shuttle service which we used.
So what is the same as 50 years ago? Jackson offers a big mountain experience with plenty of challenging terrain. Steeps, bumps, tree skiing, bowl skiing, pick your poison, but there is also plenty of intermediate, groomed terrain to rest your legs a little. There’s also Corbet’s Couloir and I’m proud to announce that my record is intact! Corbet’s has never been open when I’ve been to Jackson Hole so I’ll never know if I had the cohones to ski it! Due to the conditions, they had to cancel the scheduled Kings and Queens of Corbets event this year where contestants launch themselves into the couloir!
Oh, the Mangy Moose is also still there in Teton Village and while I may not do Corbet’s, I made it to the Moose!