Secret Steeps: Jackson Hole

By Dave Scoppa
Published January 2006

Welcome to the first in a new series of Secret Steeps which take us to some of the best ski and snowboard destinations for advanced riders, that are just outside of the mainstream the radar.

Getting lost in the J-hole stratosphere

Our first stop in our Secret Steep articles takes us to an amazing destination in the American state of Wyoming:  Jackson Hole. These two words send eerie thoughts through the minds of any snow-rider. It is a mystery for everyone who has not been, a never-ending challenge for those who ride there, and is one of the craziest mountains I have ever ridden.

With only 10% of runs for beginners, Teton Village sends a clear message to those who are planning on visiting: this is not for the faint hearted nor for the weekend warrior. No families please. Come prepared.  

Located near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Teton Village is better known as "Jackson Hole", which actually refers to the 50 mile long valley surrounded by enormous mountain ranges. With no major cities for hundreds of miles, Jackson Hole is not your typical mountain that has become so standard in today's world-class ski resort brochures.

The lack of infrastructure, fancy bars, restaurants, 5 star hotels,  super parks and millions of dollars of corporate investment characterises this quiet, laid back, community-centred village. This place has a unique feeling, offering incredible terrain that challenges every other destination in North America!  

Jackson Hole averages 460"(40 ft/11.5m) of snow a year and boasts over 4,100 vertical feet with 2,500 acres of inbound terrain and backcountry gates that open up another 3000 acres. With only 10% of trails considered beginner (50% expert, 40% intermediate) this place is a freeriders dream. It has endless riding options ranging from steeps, to wide-open bowls, to cliffs, couloirs, chutes, trees and groomers - all this and over 4000 vertical feet are on offer from the top of the tram. There is even a terrain park with decent features and a superpipe to keep the park rats happy.  

My first trip to Jackson Hole was unbelievable. It snowed 3 feet in 3 days. The 10-hour drive from Colorado with 6 mates in an RV was well worth it - it was to be a dream introduction which warranted a similar trip the following season - one trip to Jackson is not enough!. Arriving at 2am we had no idea of what to expect in the morning. We parked the RV in the free parking lot and waited. No mountains could be seen, but the excitement was there and so were the nerves.  

Come sun rise we headed straight to the Aerial Tram. The warning sign at the base of the tram only builds your expectations. The view from the tram is sensational. There are endless options on either side. The reason for the warning sign becomes more apparent as you continue further up to the top. If you are lucky enough to ride on the left side of the tram, you pass right over the infamous Corbet's Couloir. The view from the top gives an insight to the backcountry options and explains why so many film crews travel to Jackson year in year out.

J-Hole is like no other resort in North America…it is an untouched secret that will soon be unleashed. At the moment it lacks the development that many of the other big mountain resorts in North America boast, but it makes up for this with its terrain. It's steep, long, open and has an abundance of cliffs and chutes and an easily accessible backcountry, although the in-bounds terrain is so good that departing through the backcountry gates is not essential.  

The most famous run is Corbet's Couloir. The run, accessible only from the top of the tram, (unfortunately after 50 years of service the tram is retiring and no replacement has been organised) is a gutsy 20-30 ft drop into a steep and narrow chute, depending on the time of year and snowfall. Not for the faint-hearted.

Other options that will keep you entertained include hiking the Headwall to access (only via gates) Casper Bowl and Crags. For those who like trees, ride skier's left off the Thunder Quad Chair (just watch out for poorly marked cliffs). The groomers everywhere are awesome - wide, uncrowded and most importantly - steep!

For those who are jibbers at heart but don't want to be caught in the park at Jackson Hole, the best run is Dick's Ditch. This run, is, well, a ditch, but with a natural boardercross feel to it so plenty of hits and banks and you can even clear a cat-track if you're keen. It is also home to the annual Dick Ditch Banked Slalom. Hit the trees off the Thunder Quad, carve out a few giant slalom turns on the groomers and then drop into Dicks Ditch for a memorable run. 

There is terrain for everyone here. Best of all there is no attitude, just friendly skiers and snowboarders who are here for the same reason. The mountain simply speaks for itself - it's a no bullsh*t destination that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Words really cannot describe what J-Hole has to offer - you'll just have to check it out for yourself!

Dave Scoppa is a Australian snowboard instructor and columnist for SnowSphere Magazine. He is currently spending the winter in Italy.