Jackson Hole - chase the storm

snow action team 24.11.2014

God bless America’s weather channel! It was showing a serious storm headed towards Jackson Hole, and if I left Colorado the next day, I’d arrive late the same night and could be on the first lift in the morning to coincide with the best of what was coming says Bronwen Gora

if you want to take your skiing to another level it’s likely time you took on the tetons © jackson hole

if you want to take your skiing to another level it’s likely time you took on the tetons © jackson hole

I wasn’t the only one with that plan. Cars and vans packed with people and skis made up most of my companions on the road. Word of this phenomenal storm had spread far and wide.
The nine hour-plus drive from Colorado left me shaking with exhaustion, but by the time I rolled into Jackson late that night, snow flakes were falling thick and fast on the town. Lord only knew how deep it was building on the mountain.
Next morning we were all let in on the secret: at least 16 inches of fresh was lying all over Jackson Hole’s legendary ski field, and more of the light fluffy stuff would fall from the sky all day.
Long and winding lift queues finally gave way to what was expected – snow that truly needed a snorkel in which to ski. At one stage skiing the Headwall I was raking my arms above my head trying to jump up to get my head above the snow, not only to breathe but to see – which would have been awfully handy given the steepness of the slope. I had to concentrate fully on keeping my body square to the hill – there was no way falling in this kind of snow would have been a wise idea. I would have either drowned (so it seemed) or simply floated around in it for ages trying to become upright. No matter how much I zipped up my ski suit the snow managed to find its way in, making my skin damp. It was an aquatic and mountain experience all in one. Leaping off any rock or lip was possible, the Jackson Air Force (the area’s extreme skiers who huck off anything) were out in, well, force, and each tram ride was absolutely jam-packed.
A subsequent visit to Jackson saw a couple of us paired up with one of the area’s most famed mountain guides, Thomas Turiano. He guided us into the back country and up one side of Cody Peak to ski a couloir just shy of the truly extreme reaches of the rocky summit. This time the weather was sunny and still, yet the snow in the couloir was still thigh deep, perfect and consistent.
The hike up was also quite breathtaking, not only because of the exposure on one side (yikes), but also what we were actually trampling over – rocks filled with fossils of sea creatures. The Tetons were formed millions of years ago after the earth’s crust cracked and pushed the rocky slabs into the sky. The tallest in the range, the Grand Teton, rises to 13,770 feet above sea level and 12 other summits in the range peak at over 12,000 feet. Their jagged razor sharp edges jutting into the blue sky are something to behold.

there’s only one corbett’s couloir; there’s only one you; do the math.. © jackson hole

there’s only one corbett’s couloir; there’s only one you; do the math.. © jackson hole

In the last decade Jackson Hole has made damn sure it offers far more than just a cowboy town with the Wild West attributes that saw it used as a backdrop for many a Western movie, including most of those starring the late John Wayne. Nowadays a fancy Four Seasons resort complete with a landscaped pool area of waterfalls and boulders sits right at the base of the ski field, along with several upscale hotels including the Hotel Terra and its excellent Il Villaggio Osteria restaurant. Highly recommended is making the trip up the Bridger Gondola one evening for dinner at Couloir, the 9095 foot high restaurant at the top. The food is exquisite and the chef ensures it comes from within a 300km radius of town, so diners are definitely receiving the real American deal on their plates.
The best institutions remain, including the famed Mangy Moose Saloon, with its kitsch memorabilia, furniture and old-fashioned posters.
Like many resorts with reputations for having some of the best extreme terrain, Jackson Hole has put enormous effort into building up its offerings for beginners and intermediates. In the last three years the Casper area has been transformed into an intermediate playground, and a new high-speed detachable chair lift has made it all the more fun.
The extreme terrain is still ripe for the picking, too, from Corbett’s Couloir to the Alta Chutes.

Many of these places will be steeper than the average Australian is used to.

Yours truly unwisely chose the Alta Chutes for the last run one sunny spring day and got more than I bargained for. At the point of no return I realized this was a place where I could not put a foot wrong. If I had, it would have ended with a plunge down a seriously steep, icy chute of bumps and most likely being carted off by the ski patrol at the bottom.
Jackson is unique in that visiting here is also as good as making a trip to a wildlife park. Enormous bison sit quietly by the side of the road, huge herds of elk wander through the surrounding valleys, coyotes abound and eagles soar. It is a visually stunning landscape, completely different to any other found in Colorado or California.
As the song says, I’ll be going back to Jackson – when I get the next chance.

Jackson Hole: The Ticket
Jackson Airport is only 40 minutes from the resort village; new direct flights from LA
will be the most convenient option for most visitors from Australasia www.united.com
resort www.jacksonhole.com packages www.travelplan.com.au