Jackson Hole is probably not the first place considered when anyone thinks of recommending a place to learn to ski. Then again it would look good on the bio notes of any pro racer five years on, “He/she strapped on skis for the first time in Jackson Hole.” Very cool. But whether you’re planning to turn pro or not, Jackson Hole has some good nursery slopes served by the Teewinot chair down at the base of the mountain and some excellent ski school lessons to get you turning and stopping. These guarantee you’ll learn the basics after your first day on the slopes, otherwise you can repeat the lesson for free. There are not many very easy green circle runs to progress on to outside the beginner area, but you should be able to get on to some of the dozens of blue runs that criss-cross the entire mountain.
With half the mountain graded easy to intermediate (and in fact most of that blue –intermediate) and great long runs up to 11.2km (7 miles) long, most regular recreational skiers will find Jackson Hole offers them much more than they might have feared from its tough-guy image, with 30 blue square runs to cruise along. Some of the blacks can be tackled by confident intermediates too; take local advice if you plan this during your stay, as the easiest vary, depending on local conditions (what’s been groomed, how fresh is the snow and so on).
You could also consider joining Jackson’s trademarked Vertical Foot Club which rewards those who clock up the most vertical feet, with certificates and a special Western belt buckle. 100,000 vertical feet in a week is one level of achievement, lifetime tallys of a million vertical feet are perhaps something to consider in the longer term.
If there were a higher maximum than five stars for advanced ski ratings, Jackson Hole would be well past six or seven. Despite the attempt to broaden its appeal, 50% of the terrain remains advanced category. Although the atmosphere on the slopes and the après ski bars is very relaxed, it’s now rare that you see any serious skiers not wearing a helmet. The most famous descent is Corbet’s Couloir which has risen to global iconic status with a vertical jump-in on to a 50 degree slope below. Its opening is now strictly controlled following the numbers of broken limbs and worse. But if you can get Corbett’s out of your head (hopefully it won’t be open when you visit so you won’t be tempted to try it) there is a vast choice of all types of steep terrain both on the trails, groomed or otherwise. Then there’s the 3,000 acres of ‘back country’ only to be accessed when the official gates are open and you’re in the company of a local guide. There’s also cat-skiing, heli-skiing and a thriving Telemark scene in the area, as well as lots of excellent steep and deep terrain camps run by the ski school to help you improve your technique. It is, quite simply, unique.
Snowboard / Freestyle Skiing
Most boarders, like skiers, come to Jackson Hole for the freeriding opportunities on steep and deep powder, however the resort does operate snowparks as well as giving the unusual opportunity of Snow Kite Boarding. There’s also heli-boarding and cat-boarding, so there’s plenty of choice.
Although the freeride terrain is the main draw, there is, however, a superpipe served by its own rope tow providing good facilities for freestylers too, as well as a beginner and an expert level terrain park.
Snow Kite Boarding (+1 (307) 690 8726; jhparagliding.com) is the snowboarding equivalent of what has become know as ski flying in the Alps, basically descending the slopes with a small parasail strapped to your bag in order to gain some really big air (“no prior experience is necessary”).
Cross country skiing is quite big in and around Jackson hole with both classic and skating-style trails available.
There are 17km of groomed trails at the nearby Saddlehorn Activity Center (+1 (307) 739 2629) which are groomed every day with a Bombadier piste basher equipped with Dual Track Setters which creates excellent tracks. These pass through snow covered sagebrush ranch land with great views of the Teton mountain range beyond, and offer easy skiing with the option of steeper hill trails for those needing a greater challenge.
The Jackson Hole Nordic Center based here offers equipment rentals and tuition as well as the sale of passes which you’ll need to be able to use the trails.
Average Snow and Weather Conditions
Jackson Hole has a fairly good record for snowfall, after all its reputation is based on great snow, not just steep slopes. On average it receives 459 inches (about 11.5m) of snow each winter which puts it ‘up there’ with the snowiest places on earth. Despite this about a fifth of the runs have snowmaking too.
As with most North American ski areas it is wise to be prepared for double-digit below-zero temperatures here at any time of the season, although of course with a greater likelihood in mid-Winter. You’ll need multiple thin thermal layers, good gloves with liners and maybe a face mask.
Very low temperatures are not guaranteed to occur but it’s best to be prepared. Sometimes the resort has a temperature inversion with warmer temperatures on the top of the mountain than at the base, again quite a common occurrence in the western North American mountains.