Story by Jill Adler Photos by Ryan Freitas Two days of tearing up Jackson and I'm wasted. Today was epic. Not because there was waist-deep untracked, walk-on trams or everyone was friendly, but because it's Jackson Hole, Wyo. The employees could be rude (they're not of course) and the food could suck (it doesn't except at Nick Wilson's) and I would still love Jackson.
When I arrived for my Steeps Camp you could feel the buzz in the air. The groomed runs were wicked hard (translation- you could ice skate on them) and there were moguls on all of the off-piste sweet spots (i.e. Expert Chutes, Alta 3, Toilet Bowl) yet still we couldn't wait to get out there.
I need to ski Jackson. It's like an annual itch that needs scratching. I've skied every resort in the west and despite having an abundance of world-class resorts right in my Utah backyard, it's worth the five-hour drive north for the rodeo. Jackson Hole has some of the steepest, most consistent vertical in North America; in fact, the JH Tram presents more skiable vert than any other single lift in the entire Western Hemisphere- 4,139 feet.
In 2003, Snowbird challenged Jackson to a "tram off" for bragging rights. A four-woman team skied and snowboarded a record 30 Snowbird Trams, 348,000 vertical feet, in a single day; beating Jackson by a mere 324 vertical feet. But those ladies lapped GS turns on the groomed Chip's Run. Jackson's bad-ass team ran a course that included (off-piste) Rendezvous Bowl, Corbet's Couloir and Downhill Chute to Amphitheater then Gros Ventre. Plus, they rode the old tram.
Jackson retired 'Big Red' and installed a state-of-the-art, $31 million tram that now carries twice as many riders to the top of Rendezvous Bowl in 9 minutes and can withstand winds up to 60 mph. I wonder what would happen in a 2013 Tram Off. Just sayin'…
I don't want to scare you. Jackson may have aggressive lines but just as resorts like the Four Seasons Hotel have opened on the mountain to cater to families so has the mountain itself. The entire Bridger Gondola area and the new high-speed Casper lift have addressed the need for intermediate and beginner skiing.
The mountain, however, is a whopping 2,500 acres of in-bound terrain and cliffs so, when you're an expert skier, taking a class like this steeps camp electroshocks the experience. A guide helps you to ski Jackson "right". A backcountry guide, a ski instructor, a local buddy; they live and breathe this mountain from November to early April. They know where the skiing's good – even when you feel like packing it in.
Our first run on Sundance at 9:30 a.m. tore up the corduroy for all that followed. Our eyes teared from wind and twin-tip back spray as a gang of about 40 warmed up with deep arcs before dividing into smaller groups.
I shook my head to fend off brain freeze, got to the front and prayed that whoever was my leader better know where to go because my Dynastars haven't been sharpened since last season. And he did. Brian - our PSIA clinic leader- may hail from Deer Valley but he's no Deer Valley skier. Like a deer (hehe) prancing through a thick forest, though, Brian sure-footedly navigated us to the same places a regular Jackson Hole instructor might. I know because I've been attending this camp for six years and he's the first 'foreigner' I've cared to follow. (Not to mention, we had three Jackson Hole instructors taking the camp so they could confer.) Ten-Sleep, Expert Chutes, Paintbrush, Riverton, Rendezvous, Bivouac Trees, Alta Chutes and more. Everything north facing offered chalky, packed powder bumps. We skied until 4:15 p.m. with only a 45-minute lunch break. Oooch.
Having a soft place to land at the end of a day like this doesn't hurt. The White Buffalo Club in downtown Jackson and only a few blocks away from everything, opened its doors to Ryan, Sage and me. From the moment we stepped into the palatial suite decked with four flatscreen TVs, a horseshoe-shaped granite bar/kitchen, slate-tiled bathrooms, washer/dryer and soft, king sheets we could care less that it had snowed a foot back home and only an inch in Wyoming. Give it time, we thought, and, in the meantime, we got cozy.
The White Buffalo has an intimate front desk with a single attendant who greets, stores skis, calls for the free morning shuttle to the resort or issues free resort bus vouchers, and books reservations. Downstairs there's a gym and yoga studio so sweet locals purchase memberships and use it year round. Although there's no pool or hottub the 17-room Buffalo has a reciprocal agreement with the Homewood Suites across the street to share the gym and pool. Personally, I'd rather grab a mocha from the downstairs free cappuccino machine and soak in my room's jetted tub.
We ran the dog at Sophie's Park before dinner. Jackson as a whole is extremely dog friendly but the WB is not. So it was a good thing Takoda digs his crate and the hotel garage is heated.
We opted to dine in the less-expensive, more kid friendly Brew Pub rather than the onsite Cellars restaurant but later wondered if it was worth saving $50 to have a mediocre meal in an obnoxiously loud room, served by a waitress who rolled her eyes constantly and couldn't wait to leave our table. We had a much better experience at the Mangy Moose the following night. I think the waitress was flattered when my daughter loudly commented on how pretty she was.
We crashed hard before the clock struck 11. I woke up in the morning, sprawled across the bed, wondering where I was. Oh, yeah, Jackson! The shuttle rushed me to Teton Village with plenty of time to meet the group. It was more of the same today but different. A surprise squall dropped five inches of new snow overnight but it felt like a foot in some mid-mountain places. The groomers were still a bit scary but we were in the steeps camp. We don't 'do' groomers (except to get back to a lift). Run after run in the soft, cold smoke (it had finally warmed from -7 to 30 degrees) left us jolly and satisfied.
The snow continued to fly as I popped into the Four Seasons for après. Three-dollar beers and $5 apps in the brand new Handle Bar and live acoustic tunes in the lobby. Anyone can attend.
Day three was for Sage; my little rock star. I had two days of aggressive turns therefore easy paced pies on blue groomers had its appeal. Who knew that after two days with Dad, Sage would be challenging bumps as tall as her above Casper, paralleling Sundance and lapping the Burton Stash Park? (She caught about 6" of air on the jumps, smiling all the way.)
There's no question that skiing Jackson Hole makes you a better skier. The mountain shakes you to attention whether you are 6 or 60 or beginner or expert. Some folks would rather cruise a couple of groomers, go in to eat, take another run and call it good. That's not Jackson and that's why I love it.
The newly built, boutiquey White Buffalo Club has everything from generously sized single hotel rooms to three-bedroom suites with prices starting at $129/nt depending on the season; a steal if you've got two couples or a family. (307) 734-4900.