Wanted: Skiers and Boarders, Dead or Alive

Teton Village, WY – Excitement. Anticipation. Anxiety. Fear. These are the overwhelming
sensations that best describe my first encounter with the "Terror of the
Tetons." Jackson Hole is, for the most part, a hardcore skier’s mountain
that makes most of America’s ski areas seem lame by comparison.  It is
no coincidence that the most affluent professions in this area include orthopedic
surgeons, chiropractors, and undertakers.


Jackson Hole's tram rises beyond Teton Village (photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)

Jackson Hole’s tram
rises beyond Teton Village (photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)

Described as "the nation’s meanest mountain," Jackson
Hole lives up to its reputation.  I found this out the hard way on my first
day as my assigned mountain tour guide and marketing rep, Jim Robertson, a 10
year veteran of Jackson Hole, took a bit of pleasure in kicking this east coast
boy’s ass.

Although a bit apprehensive of the Jackson mystique, our first
run set me at ease as we decided to take a nice wide cruiser on Apres Vous
Mountain to warm-up.  Apres Vous is located on the eastern half of the
resort and offers a multitude of intermediate cruisers with a few tree runs
mixed in, a great place to bring the family and enough territory to ski all
day without overlapping previously skied terrain.

I kept pace with Jim in the beginning, and thought to myself,
"What am I afraid of? I can hang with this guy."

As we rode the new Bridger Gondola (one of the nicest in the country)
to the top of Casper Bowl I told him "I’m no pansy Jim, show me what all
the hype is about."  I still regret that challenge.

Our second run took us to another blue square.  This intermediate
marked run was like none that I’ve ever encountered.  Gros Ventre runs
from the Gondola summit to the base of the mountain and would most certainly
be considered a black diamond at many ski areas outside of Wyoming.  Jim
skied top to bottom. It took everything I had to keep up as the burn started
to set in.

After two or three more runs,  watching Jim put more and
more distance between us, I regrettably started with the excuses.  "I
don’t have my ski legs yet" … "These are new bindings, that’s why
they keep popping off" …  "Was I supposed to go left?"
… "I have to take a piss" …  and finally, "Please
don’t hurt me anymore!"

Near the end of the tour, and against my better judgment, I
asked Jim to take me out of bounds into Jackson’s infamous Hobacks.  Locals
have been waiting years for the powers that be to allow access to this incredible,
but verboten terrain.  This past October (1999) that wait came to an
end as the additional 2500+ acres of majestic deep powder plunges known as
the back country was finally opened to the public.  Here we found untracked
powder and a sustained pitch unequaled anywhere in the country.

It is important to note that when going out of bounds at Jackson
you should:

  1. Not ski alone.
  2. Know where you’re going (or you
    might end up on a 70 foot cliff band with no way out but to jump).
  3. Pay close attention to avalanche
    warnings, and
  4. Don’t ski past the Union Pass
    Traverse that leads to a surface lift, or you will be in for a bit of a hike.

One final thing to take into consideration when venturing into
the great unknown is that you are responsible for the cost of your own rescue.


(photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)

(photo courtesy Jackson
Hole Mountain Resort)

I must give Jim a lot of credit for his patience as he never tried
to ditch me. In all honesty, with the exception of my thighs burning like hell
fire, I enjoyed myself immensely.  I learned more about the mountains secrets
and history in those few hours than I could have learned on my own in an entire
season.  Thanks, Jim!


The next few days were filled with countless thrills and spills
as I, along with the Desperately Need to Go West, East Coast Skiers Club (a
group of my wacky imbecilic friends) attacked Jackson’s peerless array of chutes,
steeps, air-ops and tree shots.  Jackson is probably best known for its
absurd bravura of cliff dives, many of which yield more air time than the famed
cliffs of Acapulco.  They set Jackson apart from other ski areas simply
because there are just so many options to choose from.  Many of these leaps
of faith don’t require the skier or boarder to be an expert and can yield some
fantastic camera shot opportunities that can be used as braggadocio material
to family and friends.

One friend in particular, Dan "The Gullet" Boyle, never
ceases to amaze me with his fanatical, no holds barred, fearless approach to
wherever we ski.  With the belly of a nine-months-pregnant woman and a
bald head bigger than a basketball, this guy defies the laws of nature and gravity.
 Whether taking off on Jackson’s celebrated Corbet’s Couloir at the top
of the Rendezvous Mt. or charging down one of the Alta chutes left of the Sublette
Quad, Boyle’s 280lb-plus frame negotiates these extreme hazards with the ferocity
of Glen Plake mixed with the grace of  Wayne Wong (remember him?).

Jackson Hole trail map - click on image to open a full-size version in a separate browser window

Jackson Hole trail map
– click on image to open a full-size version in a separate browser window

Jackson proudly boasts of the tallest continuous vertical rise
in North America and an annual snowfall of over 400 inches.  In the past
three years the Tetons have received more snow than any other mountain range
in the nation.  The lift capacity at Jackson is quite impressive, carrying
over 12,000 people an hour to ski the mountain’s 80 or so established trails.
 I don’t think that I ever waited more than five minutes in any lift line,
even on the weekend.

About 50% of Jackson Hole’s 2500 acres are marked as advanced
or expert terrain. Much of this expert topography is located on the middle to
western side of the mountain and includes Headwall, Tensleep Bowl, Rendezvous
bowl, the Cirque and Riverton Bowl.  Also included within the gut of Jackson
is a succession of hairy chutes and declivitous dives such as Paint Brush, Hoops
Gap and a snowboarder’s paradise known as Dick’s Ditch (one of the most astounding
natural pipes that I’ve ever seen).  For those who enjoy the bumps, ride
the Thunder Quad to either Laramie Bowl or down low to Rawlins and Buffalo Bowls.

Locals prefer to ride the Sublette Quad which leads to the really
scary stuff.  The Alta Chutes,  Pepi’s Run (named after local legend
and Olympic champ Pepi Stiegler) and the slightly more mellow Cheyenne Bowl
and Gully.  On the far western boundary of  the mountain I ducked
into some pulse-quickening tree shots to the right of a trail called Bivouac.
 This was personally my favorite section of Jackson and I highly recommend
searching for these extraordinary glade runs, as they are truly inspiring and
seemingly infinite in number.  Snow depth and quality far surpass that
on the designated trails and remain protected from the sun and wind.  They’re
a secluded and soundless solitude you won’t want to share.   

The aerial tram reaches Jackson Hole's summit (photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)

The aerial tram reaches
Jackson Hole’s summit (photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort)

The Tram at Jackson was built in 1965 and, if you’re not claustrophobic,
it’s the best way to the peak of Rendezvous Mountain and offers the most options.
 Access to the out-of-bounds Rock Springs and Green River Bowls and a multitude
of tree runs are easily reached by the Tram. Both skiers and boarders can often
be seen hiking over to the enticing Cody Bowl (reminiscent of Vail’s China Bowl).

Helicopter skiing in this area is readily available but, in my
opinion, would be a waste of money as Jackson Hole offers some of the most challenging,
unscathed, rip-roarin’, off-piste terrain on the planet.

All of that being said, it would be unfair to Jackson Hole without
mentioning the millions of dollars that the resort has spent to make this mountain
accessible to children and families.   The Cody House, which opened
last year, provides affordable daycare and ski school facilities.  With
the addition of new lifts and traverses, intermediate skiers and boarders can
ride any of the mountain’s 11 lifts and find a safe route to the bottom.  


Skiing at Jackson Hole is comparable to great sex.  After
you’re done, all you want to do is fall asleep.  In my case, an hour in
the hot tub followed by a short nap proved to be sufficient enough rest to head
out and enjoy Jackson’s famous western hospitality.

The après-ski scene in Jackson should always be kick-started
at the Mangy Moose, located at the base of Jackson Hole in Teton Village.  Voted
the "Best Ski Bar in America," the Moose attracts a variety of musical
artists from all over the country – everything from reggae to blues to Irish
bands and, of course, rock-and-roll.

At the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar (photo Michael Egan)

At the Million Dollar
Cowboy Bar (photo Michael Egan)

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, located in the heart of Jackson’s
town square, is a great place for the party animal.  Perhaps the most famous
of the many watering holes within the city limits, the Cowboy offers live country
and western music nightly and sports authentic saddles as barstools.  A
bit hokey and considered a tourist bar by the locals, the Cowboy is still loads
of fun and nowhere in town can you find better revelry, dancing and merriment.

Just around the corner from the Cowboy is the Silver Dollar Bar
(located in the lobby of the famous Wort Hotel) where I found Jackson’s best
mixologist.  Steve Firch is the man to see If your looking for a stiff
drink accompanied by some great music.  The folky acoustic sounds of local
musicians Todd Link and Dan Thomasma can be heard playing some wonderful renditions
of tunes by Jimmy Buffet, the Grateful Dead and Eric Clapton.   

The Log Cabin located near the town square and The Rancher Spirits
and Billiards, comprised of 10 pool tables and a hip little bar, are exceedingly
popular with the locals.  The Stagecoach, located about five miles west
of town in Wilson has, believe it or not, an extremely popular disco night on
Thursdays and a bigtime dance every Sunday featuring the country western music
of the legendary Stagecoach Band.

Jackson Hole has much to offer to all, regardless of your ability,
but at the same time is extremely unforgiving at times and should be considered
armed and dangerous.  If you have a propensity for intensity, then Jackson
Hole is the place to go.

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