Last winter season, I purchased the Mountain Collective Pass which includes a 2-day lift ticket to 6 different resorts around North America with additional days being 50% off. It was a great deal though I did not manage to complete all 6 resorts and a chance meeting with a fellow snowboarder who holds the same pass meant we started discussing resorts. He rates Jackson Hole as the best amongst the ones in the US. I was intrigued and thus made it a point to stop by Jackson Hole on my epic spring road trip.
Jackson Hole is located in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, with the base area named as Teton Village and the nearest town being Jackson. The town of Jackson is about 30 minutes drive from the ski resort so it makes is easy for skiers to stay in the town and head to the mountains for the day.
Driving took me about 6 hours from Salt Lake City, Utah, and that is probably the largest international airport. Though flyers could also reach Jackson Hole via the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC). Jackson Hole is also about 3 hours drive away from Idaho Falls in neighbouring Idaho.
CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS
If there’s anything I like, it’s resorts with trams that bring skiers from the base to the summit directly. Snowbird in Utah has that, and so does Jackson Hole. The direct aerial tram is accessed from the second floor of the clocktower that is closest to the parking lot and it does get really busy all times of the day as it brings skiers up to 3,185 metres above sea level, or a vertical ascent of 1,261 metres from the base. The other major gondola is from the Bridger Centre which heads up to a height of 2,772 metres. One thing that is similar is that both rides go up very high and it is quite a long ride. A note of caution is that from the tram, there are only black diamond runs out so skiers who are not confident yet better take the tram back down.
In the mid-mountain level, the major quad chairlifts includes the Thunder Quad, Casper Quad and Apres-Vous Quad, while a new quad chair is being built to allow skiers to access the Crags run from the Werner run. The lift system in Jackson Hole is quite good actually since the Bridger gondola rarely sees crowd and the large capacity of the Tram system means wait are not that long either to access the peak at 3,185 metres. Thus the tram is definitely the highlight of any visit to Jackson Hole, which probably means why it is always very crowded and usually the first one that skiers enthusiastically ride on!
COST & VALUE
Amongst the Mountain Collective mountains, Jackson Hole is perhaps one of the more costly ones. A day lift ticket costs $121 which includes a $5 fee for the RFID card. Additional days can be reloaded into the card for $99. It seems to be cheaper to purchase the day ticket on the RFID card and pay for additional days online, rather than get a 2-day ticket outright. Pre-purchasing the card online would lower the cost by a bit so if you do have plans to visit, do remember to purchase it online a few days before you ski. Because so much of the terrain is for advanced or expert skiers, Jackson Hole actually sells a ‘Beginners’ lift tickets for $30, and it is valid only on the Teewinot and Eagle’s Rest chairlift. Thus it still makes sense for beginners to start learning here and probably by the end of a week’s worth of lessons, they could even venture up on their own!
If you’re just learning the ropes to ski and snowboard, the only terrain available to you is probably around the Teewinot and Eagle’s Rest chairlift, both of which are located around the base of the Bridger Gondola. As I had so much fun in the intermediate and expert runs, I did not have the chance to try out these beginner runs.
Majority of the blue-marked runs are actually traverses which means they are more like ski trails meant to get skiers from one ski area to another and crosses the face of the mountain. It is thus easy for skiers to follow these traverses which are well marked to the base from the Bridger Gondola. The major intermediate runs are actually around the Bridger Gondola and the Apres Vous chairlift with the Moran and Werner run connecting to the green-marked Lower Werner to the base.
Though my personal favourite is the Amphitheater run that can be accessed from the top of Bridger Gondola or the Thunder Quad chairlift. This run resembles a chute but it is a lot less steep and reminds me of the long runs from the top of Aspen to the base. For a ski resort that can get crowded especially while queueing for the tram, the runs are actually quite empty. I never figured out where those skiers head to but sometimes the marked runs are really empty and that means it is good for the intermediate skier/snowboarder.
Advanced skiers and snowboarders would probably love Jackson Hole. This mountain has lots of very worthy terrain without even the need to go to the backcountry. As expected all the runs from the top of the tram are expert-rated since they are marked as black diamond and above. From the Rendezvous mountain summit, there is of course, the infamous Corbet’s Couloir, also probably the single run that is most associated with Jackson Hole. I was not adventurous enough to try that run on a hard packed snow day and many videos are on Youtube showing the spectacular jumps and crashes in the couloir!
Much of the terrain in the mountain is rated as black though some of the blacks are also more like versions of a difficult blue run depending on the conditions. What most of the terrain are made for was speed. The groomed runs are very nice to jump on early in the morning and the bowls are best done during a powder day or in the afternoon when the spring sun has sufficiently softened the hard packed snow.
But I did find pushing myself harder in Jackson Hole as I ventured down Rendezvous and Laramie bowl. What I can say is that this is one resort I look forward to returning since the runs are really great and makes for a nice challenge! I have to say though, I am not at that level yet to try out all of the black runs and some of them were closed due to the construction of the new chairlift. For those who are good enough though, I cannot emphasize how much you should head down to Jackson Hole!
The resort also has a neat terrain park for skiers who like to have a little fun. I think the details like an ‘O’ shaped snow-hole for skiers to glide across and an old tram in the park made for a very appealing terrain park. The location of the terrain park beneath the Bridger gondola also provides skiers with entertainment while taking the gondola up!
Most skiers would want to head to the top of Bridger gondola for their extensive facilities. There are washrooms, information counters and a small store selling souvenirs and such. It is also home to a deli and a full service restaurant. Inside this lodge, there is also a ski/snowboard rental area but since I did not rent equipments, I did not check out the area. This lodge is not bad at all really and feels quite new unlike many traditional ski lodges that have wooden construction.
The other main lodge is Corbet’s Cabin in the top of the famous tram. All trails leading out from this Cabin are black diamonds and other more difficult trails. Though skiers visiting this lodge could always head back down via the tram. Corset’s Cabin is most famous for their aptly-named ‘Top of the World’ waffles as that was also the main food of choice, and where I enjoyed a peanut butter and bacon waffle for lunch.
FOOD & BEVERAGES
The food in Jackson Hole are quite good as I enjoyed the waffles. There are also a couple of neat restaurants at the top of Bridger Gondola. Otherwise I am pretty sure the Four Seasons resort would have some good restaurants. Prices on the mountains are on par with other ski resorts in this calibre and because I did not spend much time dining here, that is all I could say. I only had 2 days and wanted to maximize the time snowboarding so I brought along some granola bars to keep me on the slopes.
For those looking for a quick bite, there is a Headwall Deli at the top of the Bridger Gondola where they serve ‘Nosh boxes’ and pizzas. A casual dining restaurant is also located in the station where they sell some Asian noodle soups, burgers and the usual ski resort food.
Back when I was planning this trip, I looked at the available accomodation options and it would be expensive to stay in Teton Village where most of the luxury choices are located at. Four Seasons is perhaps the best place to stay in the village with direct ski access right by the doorstep. But it sure is expensive! There are a few other full-service resorts in Teton Village and condo rentals around the area. For those on a budget, they can stay in the nearby town of Jackson which makes more sense as there are more dining options at the end of the day and even shops and other activities to do after skiing since the ski lifts would have already closed by 4pm. Hotels in Jackson could usually be about 30% cheaper than lodging in Teton Village though it does sure make it more difficult to be the first one on the slopes during a powder day. But the proximity of the town to the base village means there are a lot more choices for skiers and snowboarders.
While there was a village at the bottom of the chairlift, it can get quite crowded though there are some really comfortable lounges in the lobby of the Four Seasons and there are also some cafes and pubs in the village proper. But unlike other ski resorts, the vibe is just slightly different as a good bunch of skiers tend to be waiting for shuttles to bring them back to their lodging in town and the most famous pub is probably the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar along Cache Street beside the Jackson Town Square. Thus life after the ski slopes begins in the town, making it worthwhile to stay in town if one wants to spend time to enjoy the activities at night.
For the best views, both the Bridger Gondola and the top of the Aerial Tram are great to take a couple of snaps. For those not seeking to go down the black rated Rendezvous Bowl, they could still take the tram down, and it is really awesome to be able to see the peaks around the Teton Range at the top of Rendezvous Mountain.
Amongst many of the ski resorts I have been to, the summit view at Jackson Hole is still rewarding. The steep cliffs and bowls around the mountain also make it somewhat nerving to soak in the view while making the mountain more magnificent at the same time.
For the average beginner into winter sports, Jackson Hole might not be the place to go to. However for aspiring skiers and snowboarders, this is one resort I would place on my top places to head to for winter sports. Amongst the mountain resorts, I rate Jackson Hole probably near the top. While it might not win in terms of size, it wowed me for the breadth of its terrain and I really enjoy the challenge that this mountain brings forward and somehow going through these tiring runs make it even somewhat satisfaction.
After snowboarding at Jackson Hole, I think I did go beyond what I was comfortable from and that is what I think makes Jackson Hole so fascinating. The mountain constantly eggs you on to do more and the crowd here is just so enthusiastic, while the runs are not that busy with waits for most chairlifts non-existent. All these makes Jackson Hole one of the best ski resorts in North America!