Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jackson Hole Ski Resort

After dismal skiing the last couple of years, and not knowing whether the 2015-2016 winter was going to be a “La Nina” or an “El Nino”, we decided to go to Jackson Hole for our ski trip this season. We figured, since Jackson Hole is known to receive an average of 400 inches of annual snow, it was probably as safe a bet as we could get. Fortunately, mother nature did not disappoint us. Jackson Hole received 407 inches of snow during the 2015-2016 winter season and another 40 some inches after the season finished.  We skied during our spring break, the week of March 25th thru March 30th. 

The last week in March usually is usually the last week of skiing permitted at Jackson Hole. One of the reasons mentioned was that Wyoming shuts down all skiing at Jackson Hole since animals (Elk, Bison and others) start their migration in the Grand Tetons shortly after. Another reason was that ski resort staff is greatly augmented by seasonal exchange students and workers from Australia, New Zealand and South America. A typical U.S. ski resort hires anywhere from 8000 - 9000 season staff that include ski instructors, ski patrol, lift operators, restaurant servers, and so forth. The visa for most of these seasonal workers is tightly controlled and expires after 4 months. Therefore, most ski resorts usually close by the end of March.

Regardless, while we were at Jackson Hole, the snow could not have been more perfect!! The crowds none. Ski runs wide open and groomed. The only visible lines were people waiting for the aerial tram, but no lines for the gondola nor for any of the other lifts. Skiing could not have been more perfect.

Jackson Hole is known for its challenging terrain and one of the highest vertical drops in North America at approximately 4,140 ft, is on every skier’s bucket list. (Snowmass has the highest vertical drop at just over 4,400 ft.)

Situated in the Teton Mountain Range, Jackson Hole Resort is approximately 12 miles from the town of Jackson in Teton Village, Wyoming. The mountain has 116 ski trails, spread over 2500 acres of inbound skiable area and over 3000 acres of backcountry terrain.  The runs are rated 50% expert, 40% intermediate, and 10% beginner. The resort has 1 -100 passenger aerial tram, 1 gondola, and 11 chairlifts (in addition to the magic carpet and rope tow). The ski resort is home to one of the most well known expert ski runs in the world, Corbet's Couloir.

The mountain goes from easy to difficult as you go from right to left. The right side of the mountain being easier and the left side mostly expert terrain. As mentioned earlier, only approx 10% of the mountain is beginner, so most of the runs were either blues, double diamond blues, blacks or double diamond blacks. The intermediate terrain is primarily on Apres Vous Mountain (middle section of the mountain). The more advanced terrain that includes bowls, glades, and chutes on the Rendezvous Mountain (left section of the mountain). The greens were very few towards the lower right side of the mountain.

Personally, I am an intermediate skier and stick to mostly the blue runs. At Jackson Hole, the blues were fairly challenging and might have been labeled as a black run at other places. My three favorites runs were:
1. Bridger Gondola and ski down Lupine Way and various blues off this run. Bridger gondola and Lupine Way is right in the middle of the mountain (Apres Vous mountain) and have several blue trail options such as Nez Perce Traverse, Solitude Traverse, Sundance and many more.
2. Apres Vous quad chair and ski down Werner or Teewinot. This is towards the right side of the mountain and good blue runs to warm up for the trip.
3. Teton quad chair and ski down Wide Open. Wide Open was a nice wide but a more challenging blue.

Corbet's Couloir
  (couloir  is a French word meaning "passage" or "corridor",
a narrow gully with a steep gradient in a mountainous terrain.)
My kids who ski expert terrain loved the many bowls and chutes on the Rendezvous side of the mountain. While the lines were long, the Tram is the best and probably the only way to get up Rendezvous Mountain and ski down one of its many black trails. To ski blacks in Apres Vous Mountain, it was best to take the gondola up and ski down any of the black trails off Casper. After 3 days of expert skiing with the ski instructors and training on similar chutes and glades, on the fourth day my son thought he was comfortable enough to try Corbet Couloir. Despite his mental and physical preparations with ski instructors, he felt challenged by the chute. Not sure if he will be able to summon the courage to ski Corbet’s chute again, but he was thrilled and completely pumped up by the time he skied down to the base.  According to him, it was THE highlight of his trip and the biggest thrill he ever had thus far.

While the mountain is not as wide and spread out as some of the other U.S. ski resorts, Jackson Hole was probably the most challenging (I thought Aspen was challenging too). The elevation, and the steepness is very exhausting. The first two days were critical to stay hydrated to keep the headache at bay. The lodge bartender offered a concoction of water and cranberry juice, and it worked like a charm for me. For our family, mornings around 9 am was the best time for us to head out and by 2 pm we were completely beat. The mountain closes by 4pm and there is no night skiing (even if there was, there is no way we would have the energy to ski nights after a full day of skiing).

As for lodging, we stayed at Snake Riverlodge, a comfortable and cozy hotel without the price tag of a Four Seasons. The lodge was centrally located. Close to the tram, close to the gondola and close to the ski school. Compared to some of the other ski resorts such as Steamboat, Snowmass, Park City, Jackson Hole is a small resort. You could walk from one end of the base area to another in 10 minutes or less. While we were primarily interested in a ski in ski out property, Snake River Lodge was only a ski in. There is no ski out. The inconvenience was that you had to walk up 2 flights of stairs carrying your equipment to get to the Tram and Gondola and another flight of steps to get to the ski school and Apres Vous chair.

We had the double queen room which was nice for a hotel room but lacked any real space to store bags, lay out clothing to dry and relax in the room besides the bed. The presence of the ski rental shop & valet service was very convenient. We could leave our skis and boots with the valet at the end of our skiing, and the staff would store the equipment at the end of the day and bring it out first thing in the morning. Upon request, they also tuned and waxed our skis. While we were carrying our own skies, we did rent snowboard from the ski rental shop. One of the nicer amenities was the spa and pool. The snaking indoor-outdoor heated swimming pool with two hot tubs was very popular at the end of the day. Other spa amenities included bathroom facilities, showers, Jacuzzi tub, lounge area, the sauna and others.

Corbet's Cabin
In terms of food, the lodge, served tea, coffee and hot cocoa every morning, and every day apres ski appetizers from 4-5 pm. The cost of these was included in the daily lodge fee. There was a daily breakfast buffet for an additional $25 per person per day. For lunch and dinner, there was a bar in the lobby with a limited menu. We generally ate lunch on the mountain either at Rendezvous or Casper restaurants. Corbet's cabin (at the top of the Tram) serves fresh made waffles. While the waffles were nothing special (well, they are freshly made and warm), but a trip the top of the Tram is totally worth it. And if you are not skiing down the many black trails on that side of the mountain, might as well grab some warm waffles. The scenery at the top of Rendezvous is very striking though the wind makes it hard to stand out there for more than a few minutes. The only way to come down if you are not skiing is to take the Tram down. Once the Tram starts closing its doors, the operator cannot stop the process and if you miss squeezing through the closing Tram doors, well, you just have to wait another 10 minutes until the next Tram trip. The only way to see Corbet Couloir if you are not skiing Rendezvous Mountain is from the Tram itself. You will have to ask the locals or the operator to point it out.

Some of the other popular restaurants at Jackson Hole resort are Spur Restaurant, Il Villaggio restaurant, Teton Thai, Westbank Grill and the Handle bar. It is best to make advance reservations at any of these places but especially at the Thai restaurant. Thai restaurant is very small and a popular hangout, so there is always a long wait. I love Thai food, and particularly in the cold winters the spiciness of Thai food is always very welcome, but my kids felt that their food was a little too heavy on the ginger. So, if you are not a ginger root fan, you may want to reconsider. As for me I love ginger and we loved skiing Jackson Hole.  The coziness of this ski resort unlike the other other large ski resorts is a great treat. Jackson Hole rightfully belongs on every skier's bucket list.