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Video of crazy windstorm at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on 3-30-2010
Skiing JH Backcountry 1-19-2011:
Here are a few suggestions on some ways to get around the mountain. If you’ve never been here before, some of this might help you figure the place out a little quicker and allow you to best enjoy your limited time.
One thing to understand about this mountain is that there is difficult terrain accessible from almost every lift, but there are also pretty easy ways down from every lift (with the exception of the tram). This summary is geared mainly toward people who are coming here for the first time and want to get a feel for the lifts and terrain. Most of the runs I’ll describe are intermediate through advanced, and are runs that are groomed daily or fairly often. If you follow the little tour I’m suggesting, you’ll have an excellent understanding of the mountain. Then once you feel ready, you can sample the goods covered in the section on Jackson's Steeper Terrain.
First off, come prepared. JH is a huge, rugged mountain in an alpine environment. There is plenty of easy skiing here, but if you’re prepared for bad weather you’ll enjoy your visit much more. You want good goggles, waterproof/breathable shells, multiple layers of synthetic garments, good gloves, and even a neck gaiter. You may not use much of that, but you’ll be glad you have it if you need it.
Also, mid-fat and fat skis are the common choice here. If it snows during your trip (we all hope), wider skis will make life easier for you if you’re skiing the endless variety of terrain and conditions we have. I love using my slalom race skis all over this mountain, but if it snows those skis don’t come out again for a few days. There are several good ski shops in Teton Village or the town of Jackson where you can demo/rent skis that work well on this mountain.
So, let’s head for Teton Village and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Here’s a map of Teton Village, which makes up the base area of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Here's a map of "the Village".
When you first arrive at Teton Village, the most important landmark to look for is the Tram Building. It’s the building with the clock tower and it has massive cables leading ALLLLL the way up to the top of the mountain. Here’s a photo of the tram building and the clock tower on top of it:
If you come to Teton Village by bus or shuttle or from the outer parking lots, this is where you’ll be dropped off. The tram building has lift ticket windows on the ground floor facing the parking lot, and up one flight of stairs is the large wooden deck where the line for the aerial tram forms. Also adjacent to the tram loading dock is a cafeteria called Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Café.
If you’re standing on the mountain side of Nick Wilson’s looking uphill, on your left (slightly behind you and working down a slight incline) will be a building with Wildernest Sports in it. The next one down is Teton Village Sports (TVS), the one beyond that is the Mangy Moose bar/restaurant, and just beyond that is the Hostel. Slightly uphill and to your left is Pepi Stiegler Sports. Pepi’s and Wildernest also have excellent ski shops where you can buy/rent gear, get your boots worked on, or get ski tunes.
Still standing back in front of Nick Wilson’s, to your right and slightly uphill will be the Bridger Center and the loading sites for the Teewinot chairlift and the Bridger Gondola.
The Bridger Center has lift ticket windows on the ground floor and a very good ski shop, Jackson Hole Sports, on the next level up. The Bridger Center also has day lockers for rent. If you want a ski/snowboard lesson or a day with an alpine guide, this is where you go.
Now that you know where the main buildings are, it’s time to make a decision about what lifts to take.
The tram gives the fastest access to the most vertical and it’s also the most popular lift, which can mean liftlines. But the brand new (2008/2009) 100-passenger aerial tram is so big and so fast that we haven’t seen lines much over twenty minutes yet. It’s important to understand that if you ride the tram, there’s no “easy” way down. That doesn’t mean intermediates can’t comfortably negotiate it in the right conditions, but it does mean that Rendezvous Bowl, which is the main way down from the top, can throw some pretty challenging conditions at you. More on that a little later.
So let’s say you choose to do more of an orientation cruise than immediately jump into the toughest part of the mountain you can find… we’re going to start out on the Apres Vous side of the mountain.
This is the link to the online trail map for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. It has a great little feature on the website that allows you to click on a specific area to blow up that part of the map. It may help you to open another browser window and alt-tab back and forth between this guide and the online map to help understand the places I'm describing.
Here’s a photo of the base stations for both the Teewinot high-speed chairlift and the Bridger Gondola, with the tram station visible in the upper left-hand corner of the photo:
If you're REALLY concerned about the difficulty of skiing at Jackson Hole, you’ll want to load on the Teewinot Chair. It's a high-speed quad chair and it has three great little semi-flat runs underneath it which are all excellent for first day beginners. We’re going to assume for this little document that you’ve progressed beyond the beginner stage and are ready for some blue and black runs.
So, when you get off the Teewinot chair, ski to your right over to the base of the Apres Vous high-speed quad. The Apres Vous chair gives you lots of terrain and gets you up the hill very quickly.
As you can see from the trail signs, when you unload you can bear left to the main runs or you can go right to a run called St. John’s or to Saratoga Bowl. Werner and Moran are the runs you’ll ski if you go left. Werner and Moran (they split about 300 yards down at an island of trees, with Moran being the run on skier’s right) are groomed essentially every night and offer wide, smooth cruising all the way back to the base of the chair. If you take Moran, you’ll deal with a couple of short steeper pitches, while Werner is good, solid intermediate skiing all the way down. The pitches on Moran are nothing scary and they’re pretty short, but don’t be surprised when things drop out from under your feet a little bit.
Following either Moran or Werner is going to take you down about 1,800 vertical feet of nicely-pitched intermediate skiing and back to the Apres Vous chair. Here’s a photo from the top of Werner, showing where Werner trends left and Moran trends right:
Back over on the north side of the chair (looker’s right as you’re riding up the chair), St. John’s offers a long run that may or may not have been groomed recently. Between St. John’s and Werner is an ungroomed, fairly open area called Teewinot Face. The “Face” part might be a bit misleading because it really isn’t all that steep, but it IS right underneath the chair. This is a great place to test out your off-piste skills because it’s usually a combination of crud, a few bumps, a little shrubbery, rocks, and some wind drifts – plus, you’re skiing it with the critical eyes of all the lift riders on you. (If you’ve skied that and it felt pretty good, look closely at your trail map and see if you can find something interesting to skier’s left and below you. If you cross lower St. John’s and poke around in the trees a little, you might be rewarded for your adventurous spirit. That’s all I’ll say.)
One additional option off the Apres Vous chair is Saratoga Bowl. This used to be an out-of-bounds area (and does definitely avalanche in extreme conditions) but is now permanently open through a gate just below the patrol shack near the top of the chair. As you’re nearing the top as you ride the chair, see if you can spot a suspicious-looking“tree” off to the right a little bit. That “tree” is actually a cell phone tower and the entrance to Saratoga Bowl is just below the tree on the skier’s left side of St. John’s. Here’s a photo of the cell tree:
Saratoga is a fascinating natural terrain park. There are tons of rock gardens, gullies, trees, small cliffs, etc. The skiing here can be great, especially if there’s been some new snow. It’s definitely *not* easy skiing, however. If you choose to ski it, be very mindful of tracks. After about a thousand vertical feet, you must start traversing to skier’s right to get back to the ski area. If you spy some untracked snow way low on Saratoga Bowl and go down to ski it, you may find yourself on the valley floor about a mile from the base of the ski area. That’s a long way to walk. Just watch other skiers and make sure you’re trending right as your dropping down Saratoga.
Okay – we’ve sampled the Apres Vous side of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and now we’re ready to try another part of the mountain. This time, when you unload from the Apres Vous chair, go left off the chair and head down Moran run. Stay right at the tree island where Werner (left) and Moran (right) split. You’ll cross a bit of a flat and then work your way down a little steeper section. Just at the base of that steeper section will be a cat track leading to the right. It’s called the Togwotee Traverse (pronounced TOW-guh-tee). Get on that and follow it quite a ways and you’ll come out at the base of the Casper triple chair.
The Casper area has some of the best low-to-mid intermediate skiing on the mountain. As you ride up, you’ll see Easy Does It off to your left (looking up). Here’s a photo taken from the middle of Easy Does It looking down toward the base of the Casper lift:
Just turn left at the top of the Casper Chair and follow the road a couple hundred yards until you come out on a wide, glorious, user-friendly run. That’s EDI. This is a great place to just relax and enjoy the grooming. There are also a couple of little runs to skier’s right of Easy Does It called Campground and Timbered Island. This is wonderful, easy skiing, just like the name implies.
Sleeping Indian and Wide Open may or may not have been groomed recently. If they haven’t been, they’ll have lots of moguls. Just beyond Wide Open is a gladed area known as Moran Woods and Moran Face. If you’re feeling pretty good about your skiing, you can just poke around in there and work your way back to the Togwotee traverse that brought you from Apres Vous to the Casper chair.
If you’re ready to try somewhere else, you have a couple of choices; you can ski right from lower Easy Does It onto a run called Blacktail, which eventually joins Sundance Gully (known locally as Dilly Dally Alley). This route leads back to the base of the ski area and is one of the most popular ways down from the Casper area. This would lead you to the base of the Bridger Gondola, which I’ll describe in a couple of minutes.
Another choice from the top of the Casper chair would be to traverse over to the Thunder chairlift. To do this, exit the chair left onto the cat track and just keep following it. You’ll eventually come out onto a very wide, easy run known as Amphitheater. Once on that, trend down and to the right until you see the base of the Thunder chair. Here’s a photo of Amphitheater, and the base of the Thunder chair is just to the right of the trees in the lower part of this photo:
So now let’s ride to the top of the Thunder chair, where you’ll have lots of choices ranging from easy-going to hairball. At the top of the Thunder chair, you’ll have a choice of going straight ahead or turning left to head back down toward the chair.
Here’s some of what you’ll see at the top of Thunder. If you go straight from the chair and then angle right, you come to Upper Amphitheater. This photo shows the way, with the Expert Chutes cliffs up above (those are discussed in the steeper-skiing section):
For now, though, we’re skiing in the easy-going department, so turn left off the chair and you’ll see this sign:
Go past the sign and down under the chair for about a hundred yards toward the huge tram tower. Just above the tram tower, you can turn left onto a wide cat track. This route will lead you to upper Amphitheater, which is usually groomed every night and offers wide open cruising all the way back to the base of the chair. This run has a delightful variety of gentle slopes, slightly steeper sections, and little shoulders and rollers. Here’s Upper Amphitheater as viewed from over near the Bridger Gondola, showing the top of the Thunder chair:
If you keep going downhill from the tram tower instead of turning left onto Upper Amphitheater, you’ll negotiate a little steep section known as the Egg Carton and then you can bear slightly right onto Grand. Grand is, well, grand. It’s very wide, a little steeper than Amphitheater, and sunny (if the sun’s shining). It’s just a delightful run. At the bottom of Grand, you can either ski right the Sublette Quad or turn left onto the catwalk (South Pass Traverse) and ski back to the base of the Thunder chair. Here’s a photo of Grand and the base of the Sublette chairlift:
Those of you looking for some serious challenges will also find it from the Thunder chair. Really sporty runs like Tower 3 Chute, Mushroom Chutes, Hoop’s Gap, and the Gold Mine Chutes are all reached from Thunder. Thunder Run, Jackson’s most famous bump run, goes right under the chair, and Riverton Bowl runs directly beneath the tram cables. More on all of those options in the steeper skiing guide.
So let’s continue our tour by taking Grand run down to the base of the Sublette Quad. This chair rises up through the area known as Laramie Bowl (the big area to your right as you’re riding up). Directly to your left as you ride will be the Alta Chutes. These are expert terrain and you’ll see plenty of skiers making their way down them as you ride up. The chutes are numbered from the top down, so the first one you’ll pass as you’re riding the chair is Alta Chute 3. You’ll then cross a little rock outcropping and pass a couple of narrow, ominous-looking slots through the trees and rocks – those are Alta 2.5 and 2. Then you’ll pass a very obvious chute coming all the way down from the high ridgeline on the left. This is Alta 1 and it’s the most popular of the Alta Chutes. Just uphill of that is a roped-off cliff-and-rock area known as Alta Zero. This area is usually closed but occasionally opens. See if you can pick out the lines through here. Once you pass the Alta Chutes, you’ll soon ride over an obvious cat-track leading from left to right. This is the Laramie Traverse. The spot almost below you where the cat-track makes an abrupt left is known as Flip Point. Pepi Stiegler, former Olympic ski racing champion and original Ski School Director at JH, used to fly down the cat-track and do flips from that dropoff - hence the name Flip Point. That was 30 years ago, by the way.
Here’s a photo of Laramie Bowl looking back down from the chair just above Flip Point:
When you get to the top of the Sublette Chair, you can either unload left or right. Going right leads you to Tensleep Bowl, the Cirque, and the Expert Chutes. None of that terrain is groomed and on average it’s pretty difficult skiing, so if you’re still looking to get oriented, let’s turn left. You’ll angle down a cat-track and soon find yourself at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl. The Bowl above you is the primary way down from the top of the aerial tram. You can take a look at the pitch and conditions of Rendezvous Bowl and decide whether you want to ride the tram a little later.
Here’s a photo of Rendezvous Bowl from the road leading to Rendezvous Trail, with Cheyenne Bowl dropping off the right edge of the road in this photo:
From the trail sign at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl, you’ve got two general choices. Going skier’s left will put you on the Laramie Traverse, which winds back past Flip Point, under the Sublette Chair, around the top of Laramie Bowl, and ends at the saddle at the top of the Thunder Chair. If you follow the road right from the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl, you’ll be on Rendezvous Trail. This is usually groomed nightly and offers an excellent way back down to the bottom of the Sublette Chair.
As you start down Rendezvous Trail, you’ll see many options for dropping down into the basin on your left. This is Cheyenne Bowl and Bivouac Run, which are pretty steep and often very mogulled, but they’re north-facing and the snow usually is very high quality. If you stay on Rendezvous Trail, however, you’ll cross a bit of a flat and a short, steeper section. At the base of that section is another rollover going left as well as a cat-track going skier’s right. That cat-track leads to the top of North and South Hoback. Here’s the sign leading to the Hobacks:
The Hobacks can be pretty challenging depending on conditions, and once you’ve started down that cat-track there’s nowhere to go but down almost 3,000 vertical feet to the bottom, so make sure you’re feeling good about your skiing before heading off to the Hobacks.
If you stay on Rendezvous Trail, you’ll wind up back at the bottom of the Sublette Chair.
So let’s say it’s time to head back down to the bottom of the mountain from here. The South Pass traverse is the road leading away from the base of the Sublette Chair. Here’s a photo:
Follow this road to the base of the Thunder Chair and then just go right on by that chair. A little bit past the Thunder Chair, you’ll come out onto a wide run leading down to the right. This is Gros Ventre (pronounced GROW-vont) and it'll take you all the way to the base of the mountain. Gros Ventre is one of my favorite runs at Jackson Hole. It’s wide with a moderate pitch and just a couple of nearly imperceptible rollers along the way. Early in the morning when there’s no traffic, you can REALLY let your skis fly down here. Once you’re on the flat almost at the bottom of the mountain, look for an intersection on the left. Bearing left will take you back to the base of the Teewinot Chair and the Bridger Gondola. Staying right (straight) takes you to the tram.
So rather than stopping for lunch just yet, let’s take a quick drink from the Camelback, wolf down a Power Bar, and board the Bridger Gondola. This lift whisks you and seven of your friends uphill in total enclosed comfort. About halfway up, you’ll see the Casper Chair area off to your right. Higher up, you’ll go over some of the gladed skiing available in upper Sundance Gully.
When you unload from the gondola, you’ll be looking south. You’ll see the top of the Thunder Chair over on the other side of Amphitheater Run, and you’ll see the tram towers and maybe one of the tram cars climbing to the top. From the top of the gondola, you can angle down and left on Sundance Run and wind up back over at the Casper Chair or follow Sundance Bowl and Sundance Gully all the way back to the bottom of the gondola. Here’s the sign you would look for if you want to go that direction:
From the top of the gondola you can also angle down and right on Lupine Way and come out in the middle of Amphitheater. That, if you remember, will take you back to the bottom of the Thunder Chair. Instead of either of those choices, let’s do upper Gros Ventre run. Ski down Lupine Way for a couple hundred yards and then go straight when the cat track heads off to the right. Here’s a photo from that junction:
If you go down at that sign (rather than turning right on Lupine Way), you’ll find yourself on Upper Gros Ventre and it’s a playful series of steeper and flatter sections. A couple of cat-tracks cross the run in places, so pay attention or you might find yourself getting launched when you didn’t expect it. This run eventually comes down onto the lower section of Gros Ventre that you did just a little earlier.
THIS time when we get almost to the very bottom of the mountain, let’s go straight on Gros Ventre and ski to the tram building. It’s time for a bit of rest and some fuel before we head up the aerial tram. Some of the choices nearby are Nick Wilson’s in the tram building (cafeteria-style food), the Village Café in the Wildernest Building just to skier’s right of the tram dock, the Mangy Moose a couple more buildings down, or the Alpenhof Bistro, which is upstairs in the Alpenhof Hotel just skier’s left of the tram.
If you’re looking for a bit more leisurely, civilized lunch, the Alpenhof dining room (ground floor of the hotel) is excellent, Cascade in the Teton Mountain Lodge (the big building to the south and west of the skating rink) is a nice, quiet place, and the two restaurants in the Four Seasons are excellent.
Okay, we’ve refueled and we’re going up the tram. Head into the maze at the corner of the tram building and work your way through the line. It’s impossible to say how long the line might be, because it just depends on conditions. If you get to the dock and find that the maze is full with people spilling off the deck and onto the snow, that means it’s probably a two-car wait to get on the tram.
A full car goes about every ten minutes, so you would have a twenty-minute wait if the maze is full to the end of the deck. That’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds. Keep in mind that the tram is going to take you up 4,139 vertical feet. That’s two, three, or even four times more vertical than most of the lifts you’ll ride in the U S, so a little extra wait isn’t such a horrible thing.
Each tram car holds 100 people, and it might feel cramped. Unless you’re a madman gunner who has to be first out of the tram at the top, I think it’s best to be among the first people to load when they open the doors at the bottom. That way, you can get into one of the front or back corners and you won’t get jammed by all the people laying back trying to be the last ones on (and therefore the first ones off).
If you happen to be near a left-side (looking up) window on the way up, keep an eye out for Corbet’s Couloir near the top. It will come into view after you cross over Tensleep Bowl, and you can have a bird’s eye look at Jackson’s most famous ski run.
And here’s what the top station looks like:
There’s a small restaurant in the building at the top if you’re looking to sit for a minute (they have a great waffle maker), but let’s go skiing. When you unload at the top, it’ll be interesting to see what the weather is doing. It’s not unusual for the wind to be blowing *hard* up there, and it might be pretty cold. It also might be so foggy you can’t see a thing. It also might be sunny, in which case you’ll see some of the most amazing scenery anywhere in the world.
The tram unloads essentially at the top of Rendezvous Bowl, which is nearly half a mile wide with about 800 vertical feet. From the top of the tram, most people ski past the little patrol shack/restaurant and angle skier’s right across the top of the Bowl. That’s what you’re seeing in the photo above.
Before we do that, I’ll just mention that if you want (for some twisted reason) to go look at Corbet’s, you would head straight down and slightly left from the building. You’ll go through some scattered, stunted spruce trees (you’re right at timberline here) and watch for all the fencing and caution signs. That’s Corbet’s. You can duck under the ropes (unless Corbet’s is closed) and slink up to the edge to get a TRUE feel for what the run is like. Here’s what it looks like:
Then, if you’re like me most of the time, you’ll back away and ski out to your right right onto Rendezvous Bowl.
So, now we’re back along the top of the Bowl. There are literally unlimited choices on the Bowl because it’s so huge and open. If the weather is really bad, most people work their way down the left side of the bowl because there are a lot of trees along there to help provide definition.
There is also a set of poles with green markers going skier’s right along the top of the bowl. These lead to another set of poles with black markers. This set of poles goes straight down the middle of the bowl. In really bad visibility, I’ll use that set of markers to provide a landmark.
If the visibility is good, you can just look around and pick whatever line you like. The Bowl is high, exposed, and faces southeast, so conditions can be all over the map. It can be one of the most amazing powder experiences anywhere, or it can truly suck. If it’s good, just pick a line and ski to the big trail map at the bottom of the Bowl. If it’s bad, you can do huge long traverses punctuated by a gorilla turn and get yourself to the bottom of the Bowl without too much trepidation.
Once you’re at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl, you’re back where I described when we came off the Sublette Chair. You can follow Rendezvous Trail toward the Hobacks or the bottom of the Sublette quad, you can take the Laramie Traverse toward the Thunder area, or you can launch yourself down into Cheyenne Bowl (the big basin below you) in a bunch of different places.
So, that’s our tour. If you’re not tired and battered by the time you get to the bottom, head back up the tram and ski one of the Lower Faces (a topic for another essay). If you’re worn out, save a little energy for tomorrow. Go have a beer at the Mangy Moose or the Alpenhof Bistro or the Peak Bar at the Four Seasons.
First off, it goes without saying that “steep” is a relative term. You have objective measurements like degrees of pitch, of course, but you also have variables like snow conditions, width of the line, visibility, consequences of a fall, etc. These variables can transform a relatively benign slope into a real sphincter-tightener.
Having said that, a few of our super-skiers will likely scoff at my definitions of steep, but I’m just describing some of the runs and lines inside the Jackson Hole Ski Resort that have a little more “sport” to them.
I've been asked why I don't include some directions to the out-of-bounds skiing at our resort. I don't add any because skiing outside the boundaries is a completely different undertaking when compared with inbounds skiing. There are avalanches, cliffs, confusing drainages, blind dropoffs, etc. There are no ski patrollers and no snow safety work is done out of bounds. Skiing out of bounds here (or anywhere else for that matter) is something that should not be taken lightly. If you have the training and the gear and the partners to safely go out of bounds, we have some of the best anywhere. If you lack those prerequisites, we have an outstanding Alpine Guide program that can introduce you to backcountry skiing.
Finally, much of the joy of skiing Jackson Hole comes from the sense of adventure you get from wandering around our mountain. This is a ski area with an almost endless variety of pitch, exposure, elevation, and wind effects. Most of the mountain is exactly the way God dropped it from the sky – no run cuts, no grading, very little summer grooming, no civilizing. It’s just mountain terrain with snow on top of it. You get whatever you get.
My favorite term for exploring a ski area is “clucking around”. You occasionally find great skiing lines and good snow, but you also often pay the price in the form of really, really bad skiing. Just because I’ll give some suggestions about good places to hit on this mountain, don’t rule out clucking around. It can provide you with some of your most memorable skiing ever and Jackson Hole is the perfect place to do it.
So, without further ado, here are some of the places I would suggest off various lifts. First of all, here's the Jackson Home Mountain Resort trail map:
Here's the online version of the trail map from the JHMR official website. If you experiment with clicks and double clicks, you'll find that you can enlarge specific spots and trails.
And here's a map of the base area at Teton Village.
The three most important landmarks for you to look for are the base of the aerial tram (aka the Tram Building or the Clock Tower), the base of the Bridger Gondola, and the base of the Teewinot Chair.
Let's start at the right side of our mountain as you stand at the base looking up. That right-hand boundary is known as Apres Vous mountain.
Apres Vous Chair
You ride up the Teewinot Chair and exit right at the top. Just below you will be the loading station for the Apres Vous chair. This is a real sleeper. It attracts mostly intermediate skiers, and for good reasons. It’s a high-speed chair that accesses great groomed runs. Off to the north of the chair, however, is Saratoga Bowl. “Toga” used to be strictly out of bounds but is now quasi-inbounds skiing.
To ski Saratoga, you'll exit right at the top of the chair. The entrance is to Saratoga is just below and to the skier's left of the patrol shack near the unloading station of the chair. If you watch for the cell phone tree to the right as you're nearing the top of the chair, you'll have a good idea where to go. The main entrance to Saratoga is just below the cell phone "tree".
Saratoga is a wild jumble of small cliffs, rock gardens, trees, and little chutelets. There’s almost nowhere that will give you a long, sustained fall-line pitch but part of the fun is stringing together little goofball shots. You can traverse a long ways skier’s left, but as you do you’re giving up vertical and you’ll have to start traversing back to the right to make it back to the base of the Apres Vous chair. I prefer to stay kind of along the boundary between St. John’s run (just north of the chair) and Saratoga Bowl.
Saratoga will give you lots of varied terrain. Also, you’ll be able to make laps quicker than just about anywhere on the mountain. Give it a shot.
Another sort of unnamed area off Apres Vous that’s worth checking out is below the Togwotee Pass traverse that leads from Moran Run to the Casper Chair. Just after you leave Moran run, you’ll pass an open gladed area below the traverse. It isn’t steep, but it’s got some fun little terrain features. You’ll only make about thirty or forty turns before this area drops down onto another traverse leading back left toward Apres Vous, but I think it’s lots of fun.
Again, this is mostly intermediate terrain, but there are some little testers scattered around. Most of the better stuff is to the rider’s right of the chair. You’ll pass Sleeping Indian run and then Wide Open.
Look for this sign at the top of the Casper chair, turn right as you exit the chair, and then follow the traverse as it heads into the trees at the far side of the run called Wide Open:
The traverse heads into the trees just on the other side of Wide Open, and then leads to Moran Woods and Moran Face. This is tree skiing with a few little airy boulders mixed in. It’s a good place on a powder day because not so many powder hounds ride the Casper Chair. Also, the gully area between Sleeping Indian and Wide Open can be great if you’re one of the first skiers in there after a dump.
After skiing Moran Woods or Face, you'll drop down onto a cat track leading skier's right and back to the bottom of the Casper chair. At the top of the chair, you can also exit left (south) as you’re riding up. Follow that cat track and after looping around below a big rocky area above you called Upper Casper Bowl, you’ll come to a cat track intersection at a spot known as Croaky Point. There’s some fun glade skiing straight down the spine and to either side of the little ridge you’re standing on. If you ski down that ridgeline, you’ll come to another cat track – this one leading to the left and back toward the Casper chair. You can drop off that cat track to the right and ski a more open gentle face down to the South Pass traverse, which is your last chance to go left back to Casper chair.
Another option (instead of riding back up the Casper chair) from the South Pass traverse is to turn right just before you reach the bottom of the chair. This gets you onto a much-ignored run call Nez Perce (pronounced Nay Per-say), which drops down into Sundance Gully. About four or five turns down Nez Perce from the base of the Casper chair is a little track leading left into the woods. This leads to Jackson Face. Lots of little brush and glades, rollers and terrain features in there. Explore.
That will take you down to the base of the Bridger Gondola, which is our next uphill conveyance. Here's a shot of the base of the gondola:
Lots of choices here. First off, if it’s around lunchtime, you might want to stop in at the deli on the main floor of the Bridger Gondola top station. There are also restrooms and a ski shop (with lots of demos) in that building.
So, let’s ski from the Gondie…
One choice is to start back down directly under the gondola and traverse left almost immediately. I believe the traverse is marked as the Casper Traverse, and it's the little slot through the trees between the second and third towers (from the left) in this photo:
This will lead you (after a rutty, bumpy traverse) into Upper Casper Bowl. This little traverse is known locally as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and it can definitely be a wild ride. You'll soon come out into a big open bowl, however. There are lots of terrain features in Casper Bowl, and it may not be open if there’s been new snow, but it’s a great spot. When you get to the cat track after skiing the Bowl, you can head right toward Croaky Point, or…
If you ski on past Croaky Point and past the obvious run known as Sundance, you can ski the trees between Sundance and Gros Ventre (pronounced Grow Vont). Depending on which way you trend, you’ll either end up in the Sundance Gully drainage or the Slalom/Gros Ventre drainage. There are a bunch of little slots and faces in this whole area that can reward those with an expeditionary spirit.
So let's ride back up the gondola and see what happens if you head slightly right and down from the top of the Gondola. You’ll have several options here as well. About 100 yards below the top station, you'll come to this sign marking the junction of Lupine Way (which leads off to the right) and Upper Gros Ventre (straight down the mountain). Here's a photo of that sign:
Just as you drop off the road onto Upper Gros Ventre, there is an area to your right that's marked with caution signs. This is a rocky, stunted-tree section called Granny Chutes that's between Upper Gros Ventre and Amphitheater and it offers some pretty challenging stuff. Lots of boulders and dropoffs in here, and *all* of it is avalanche terrain (that’s why all the trees are so small). Just head down Lupine Way and trend right as you enter Upper Gros Ventre run.
There’s also a main run called Cascade that's JUST to the right as you start down Upper Gros Ventre. Cascade is a well-defined run with a little chokepoint between rock outcroppings shortly after you drop into it. To skier’s right of Cascade is an area known as Granny Rocks. There are some very fun lines in here but there are lots of rocks, too, so take it easy (or even skip it) if the visibility is poor.
Here's a shot of the Granny Rocks/Chutes area from over on the Thunder Chair:
Looking at these photos, I want to mention something at this point. Most of these photos were taken with a wide-angle lens in order to show as much of the terrain as possible. That lens "flattens" the perspective of the mountain and makes pitches look much less steep than they'll feel when you ski them. Much of the terrain in this guide is pretty serious stuff, particularly when compared with terrain at other ski resorts in the US. Don't take these runs lightly just because the photo may not make them look intimidating.
The whole Cascade/Granny area also eventually funnels down into a drainage known as Dick’s Ditch. Dick’s sort of officially starts at the Sunnyside Traverse (which leads left from Amphitheater over to Lower Gros Ventre). You can ski down Dick’s through the gully or you can ski along the sides and drop in almost anywhere along either side. Dropping in from the sides provides some of the steepest skiing on the mountain, for a half dozen turns or so. Lower Dick’s Ditch is the classic natural half pipe/terrain park and leads all the way to the bottom of the mountain.
Let’s say that instead of going down Cascade or Granny’s, you followed Lupine Way down to Amphitheater and then just followed Amphitheater run. You would have found yourself at the bottom of the Thunder Chair.
This is the "money" chair as far as more challenging skiing at Jackson Hole. Thunder goes up a ridgeline with routes coming down the ridge itself and both flanks. As you board the chair, check out the rocky, relatively steep bowl area just above you on your left. This is Riverton Bowl and the tram runs directly over it. We'll come back to that one in a minute.
Also as you're riding up Thunder, you'll cross Thunder Run (coming from above you on the left and dropping down to the right). This is Jackson's best-known mogul run. Here's a photo looking down Thunder run from the chair:
As you near the top of the Thunder Chair, you'll start to see a barricade made of orange fencing almost directly under the chair. That fencing is meant to "discourage" skiers from mistakenly dropping down into Tower 3 Chute. There's an entrance gate near the top of the chute, about thirty yards across from the great big tram tower (coincidentally known as, ta da, Tower 3). Keep all of these in mind as you ski back down.
When you unload the chair, you can go straight, which will take you to the dividing saddle between Amphitheater (right at the saddle) and Laramie Bowl (left at the saddle). Both of those are "easier" than what we're about to ski, so I'm just telling you about them so you'll understand the lay of the land a little better.
As you unload, take a little 180-degree left turn around the chair station and you'll be pointed back down toward the valley. The tram cables will be directly above you as well. Start down toward the valley and about a hundred feet above Tower 3, you'll see a very obvious road going left. Following that all the way leads to the easiest way down to Amphitheater and back to the bottom of the Thunder Chair.
Following that road about fifty yards will take you to the top of a run on the right called Paintbrush. This is a great, steep little bump run that faces north and holds good snow long after a snowstorm. After dropping a ways on Paintbrush, you'll come to a kind of flat little chokepoint in some trees. This is where Toilet Bowl starts. The central gully (if you just followed the most obvious fall-line from that chokepoint) leads down some stair-steppy boulders and faces, through Toilet Bowl, and finally down onto Amphitheater. Going right at the chokepoint brings you out onto the more open (but still pretty steep and bumpy) portion of TB near the bottom of Tower 3 Chute. Going left at the chokepoint gets you out onto Toilet Face. This area includes some very steep slabs and ledges and small dropoffs. If it tells you anything, this is where climbing guides teach beginning rock climbing during the summer – it’s steep! It's great fun to ski, but be VERY careful if the light is flat - if you don't know the area, you could easily ski into or off of something nasty.
Here's a photo of most of Toilet Bowl, with Tower 3 chute angling down on the left side of the photo, and Paintbrush run (pretty much invisible in because of the trees on the upper right) coming in from the right:
Back up near Tower 3, instead of turning left to go to Paintbrush, go straight down the line of the chairlift. You'll cross a little rollover and then you should be looking for that orange fencing I was talking about. This is the entrance to Tower 3 Chute and you want to find the gate into it. Here's a ski patroller doing a ski-cut for avalanche control almost right under the chair and at the top of Tower 3 Chute:
And here's a shot of the chute on a nice, sunny morning with a fresh coat of snow covering up the moguls and rocks:
T3 starts out pretty wide, steeper on skier's left and slightly shallower on skier's right along the bottom side of the fencing. There are several small trees and a couple of rocks in the chute, so a slide can take you into some unpleasant obstacles. For your first time, most people choose the right side (which is where the main part of the gully is) and stay pretty much in the fall-line. The left side is a bit sportier, as it's somewhat steeper and involves a couple of fairly narrow chokepoints. The two sides converge about midway down the chute, and then you just follow the bump line. Before long, it'll open out into the wide section of Toilet Bowl and you've successfully skied T3. One note - if you decide to stop as you're skiing down the chute, it's considered good eitquette to pull as far to one side of the gully as you can so you're out of the traffic zone. Not only does it clear the way for other skiers, it MIGHT keep you from getting clocked by a falling/sliding skier from above.
So let's say T3 wasn't challenging enough for you. Instead of skiing Tower 3, continue on below the T3 entrance gate, following the fencing on your left shoulder. Just past the end of the fencing, pick a likely-looking opening and drop left down into those thick trees in front of you. This is a fairly wide area known as the Mushroom Chutes. There's no single run or line here, just a bunch of narrow slots through trees and giant boulders. The tops of the boulders build up huge pillows of snow that eventually look like - viola! - mushrooms. This is a pretty steep section of the mountain with some very tight quarters, but it can be lots of fun to poke around in here. Just be careful.
A little further down the chair line from the Mushroom Chutes is another little opening in the trees on the left. This leads to Hoop's Gap. This is a short but quite steep sidehill dropping through trees and down onto Amphitheater. If you kept going down the chairlift line past Hoop's, you'll come out onto Thunder Run itself. Lots of bumps and a great pitch make this a classic mogul run.
Let's ride the chair back up and check out some of the other skiing off the Thunder chair. Back up at Tower 3, you still have many other choices. You can ski down under the tram cables and eventually come out at the top of Riverton Bowl. It gradually widens as it drops down to the bottom of the Thunder Chair. To skier's right of Riverton Bowl is Gannett run. This is a little mellower than Riverton but has some very fun glade skiing along the right-hand side of the run, between Gannett and Grand. Grand is a great intermediate-to-advanced run that goes all the way from Tower Three to the bottom of the Sublette Chair. To skier's right of Grand is the area known as Grand Woods, which again is nice glade skiing opening out into some fun little aspen groves.
If you work skier's right from the top of Grand Woods, you'll find yourself in the Gold Mine Chutes. These are kind of ratty little slots through the rocks down onto the main part of Laramie Bowl. Here's a shot of the Gold Mine chutes from the top of Laramie Bowl.
The Gold Mines comprise the area to the right and down from the big cliff face in the left-center of this photo. The Gold Mines are fun, but they almost never get real good snow coverage and they face south. That means that the snow in there is often hard and icy, and if it's powder you won't know where the rocks are until you do core shots on your skis. Sounds great, doesn't it?
So, that's it for the Thunder Chair. There's a lot more, but you'll have to discover it on your own.
Okay... so you went down Gold Mine Chutes anyway (after I warned you not to) and you came out on Laramie Bowl. Follow the bowl to the bottom of the Sublette Chair and hop on. Interestingly enough, the Sublette Chair is also known in local-speak as "the quad". Now it's a four-person chair, which makes it a quad, but we also have four other chairs that can carry four passengers. So, go figure. But if someone just says "meet me at the quad", it's almost certain they're talking about the Sublette chair.
As you ride "the quad", you'll go through some fairly thick trees on both sides of the chair. As those trees thin out, you're coming to the Alta Chutes on your left. The chutes are numbered from the top down, so the first one you're going to pass as you're riding up the chair is Alta 3. It's fairly open and a little less steep, and it’s the easiest of the Alta Chutes. Just past a big rock outcropping (popular with the huckers) will be two little insignificant slots in the trees and rocks - those are Alta 2.5 and Alta 2.
Here's Alta 2 from the Sublette chair:
Shortly beyond Alta 2, you'll see a very obv