For the Love of Mountains
|A skier's sense of snow: The Teton's southern ridge as seen from the Thunder Quad Lift (Nathan Borchelt)|
First, a disclaimer: It barely snowed during our six-day stretch at Jackson Hole, save a two-inch sprinkle, whichin Wyoming termsis nothing considering a light dusting can measure seven or eight inches. I mention this not to gripe (though my father and I would've been happy to find some thigh-deep powder), but just to clarify that we didn't experience Jackson Hole at its best, especially considering they average 400 inches a season. But, as one heavily bearded local told me on a tram ride to the summit, "You always have a great day here. Some days are just better than great." By then we'd spent three days exploring the nearly deserted resort terrain under a bluebird sky, schussing down narrow gullies hemmed in by spruce and pine and carving up wide groomers. All the while, the limestone and granite, multi-tiered crown of the Teton Mountains dominated our horizon
It was easy to agree: the local's assessment was spot-on.
In addition to the lack of fresh snow, Jackson had one other climatic surprise up its sheepskin sleevewhen we left Washington, D.C., the entire northeastern U.S. had plummeted to record-breaking lows. Central Park had been pegged at zero, and the nation's capital hovered at one degree with the wind chill when we boarded our plane. I expected a similar baptism by frost when we disembarked in Jackson four hours later, but it was 15 to 20 degrees warmer than back home. We walked along the narrow runway toward the elk-antler arch lining the entrance of the airport, with the ridgeline of the surrounding mountains highlighted in dramatic relief by the last electric-blue light of dusk, sensing we had entered cowboy country and just hoping for snow.
If Aspen is where the millionaires go to see, and, more importantly, be seen (oh, and to ski), then Jackson Hole is Aspen's quiet, down-to-earth cousin. Real estate prices are on par with Aspen (read: as sky-high as 13,770-foot Grand Teton Mountain), but a rustic, Western sensibility outranks full-length furs in Jackson Hole. Call it Cowboy Chic. The new Four Seasons Resort (which opened in September 2003) may be the first shift toward the glitz and glitterati ski scenewhile we were there, a Saudi prince rented out an entire floor at the Four Seasons for more money than most locals earn in three years. But international extreme-skiing and 'boarding phenoms like Stephen Koch, Doug and Emily Coombs, Charlotte Moats, Travis Rice, and the high-octane extreme ski and snowboard film outfit Teton Gravity Research, all call Jackson home, and the town and the resort remain, on the whole, distinctly earthy.
Jackson Hole actually refers to the region of land stretching along the Snake River basin, bordered by the Gros Ventre Mountains to the east, the Snake River to the west, and the stark peaks of the Tetons to the north, and encompasses the towns of Jackson, Wilson, and Teton Villagethe official name for the resort's lodges, hotels, hostels, restaurants, and other amenities. The town itself is ten miles from the entrance to Grand Teton National Park and 57 miles from the south entrance of Yellowstone, making it an ideal base camp for any outdoor endeavor in any season.
But my father and I came to ski, and even though neither of us had been to Wyoming before, we knew the Tetons would accommodate. As we drove from the airport along Highway 390, Teton Village appeared on our left as a shimmering city of Christmas lights. Somewhere in the darkness above the village loomed Corbet's Couloir, the resort's signature double-black-diamond run: a narrow, vertiginous chasm sandwiched between two rock walls that demands an average 20-foot freefall just to enter the funnel-shaped slope. My father and I were too familiar with our own mortality and limited skill level to attempt Corbet's, but with 2,500 acres of in-bounds terrain and 4,139 vertical feet (the longest continuous rise in the U.S.), we anticipated that Jackson Hole would turn our legs to Jello and leave us yearning for more.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication