For the Love of Mountains
|The first one's a doozy: A skier stares down from the edge of Corbet's (Thomas Annerby/Courtesy, Jackson Hole Resort)|
Skiing and Jackson Hole have been cold-weather bedfellows since as early as 1879, when a forest fire transformed the tree-laden slopes of what was later called Snow King Mountain into a local's prime skiing spot. They either hiked up or hitched a ride to the top of Teton Pass and skied down. (Today, Snow King Resort is still a local favorite, offering in-town slope-side access, lift tickets from a mere two hours to a full day, and snow tubing.) In 1925, local skiing enthusiast Mike O'Neil was among the first in the valley to use two poles (prior to this development, people used only one pole, placing it between their legs to slow their descent). And in the early 1930s, Banty Bowlsby, a Jackson resident who took part in an "amazing feats" circus on the slopes of Snow King and Idaho's Sun Valley, lined his wood-plank skis with melted phonographic records, an innovation that would revolutionize the sport by reducing the friction between ski and snow.
But Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was largely the brainchild of Paul McCollister, California radio ad salesman and future ski industry pioneer who came to Jackson in 1942 on an elk hunting trip and fell in love with the region almost immediately. After attending the 1956 Winter Olympics in Italy and spending nearly a month skiing at Europe's famed resorts, McCollister returned to Wyoming determined to construct a world-class Alps-style resort. Three years later he founded the Jackson Hole Corporation, a group dedicated to developing skiing opportunities in the region, and in 1961 he started buying land at the bottom of Rendezvous Mountain for $1,350 an acre. His visionwhich included the construction of a massive aerial tram that would transport as many as 50 people from the base to the summit of 10,450-foot Rendezvous Mountainwas huge, but his pockets were shallow. To raise money for his tram, he started selling off the land at the base of the mountain in jigsaw-puzzle parcels. In 1965, Rendezvous' neighboring peak, Apres Vous Mountain, opened to the skiing public, and in 1966 the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram was up and running. After that, it was nothing but powder days, steep terrain, and après entertainment. Today Jackson Hole has four square miles of in-bounds terrain, a backcountry open-gate system offering access to over 3,000 acres, a lift capacity that can ferry 12,096 skiers to the summit in one hour, over 50 named runs, a high-speed gondola, and an aerial tram that can carry as much as 63 people to the resort's highest point, ascending 4,139 feet in 10 to 12 minutes.
As dizzying as those stats may be, what makes Jackson Hole more attractive than most Rocky Mountain resorts is its dearth of skiers. The peak tourist season in Jackson is the summer, when as many as five million visitors transform the roads into one giant RV parking lot en route to Yellowstone. During the winter, when resorts like Vail clock millions of visitors, Jackson Hole sees around 370,000 skiers and is refreshingly empty, especially once the peak holiday season from Christmas to New Year has passed. They see another blip during the spring-break season, but if the four days my father and I skied are any indication (and they are), you'll have moments when the entire run is all yours. Powder days will bring the expected rush of giddy, wide-eyed locals, but on average you've got around 150 acres per person (as well as 3,000-plus acres of lift-access backcountry and the entire Bridger-Teton National Forest should your definition of claustrophobia be unreasonably literal). The best advice? Grab a trail map, clip in, catch a lift, and explore.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication