For the Love of Mountains

Taking the Piste: An In- and Out-of-Bounds Skiing Overview
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Jackson Hole Resort consists of two mountains. Apres Vous, the shorter of the two at 8,481 feet, sits to the north, while 10,450-foot Rendezvous Mountain rises 4,139 feet from the mountain's base. Currently six quad lifts, one triple lift, one double lift, one magic carpet, the Aerial Tram (which is scheduled for its final season in 2005-06 after 40 years of loyal service), and a high-speed gondola service the mountain, but the best way to the top is undoubtedly the Aerial Tram, which transports up to 63 people to the summit in 10 to 12 minutes (for those who miss out on the tram, another lift service will likely replace it). If the lines are long, or inclement weather has caused the tram to shut down, head for the eight-seat Bridger Gondola, which is a veritable tank and runs in almost any conditions. Both lifts offer access to in-bounds and backcountry skiing.

The current breakdown of the skill levels of Jackson Hole's designated runs best illustrates the resort's strengths: 50 percent expert, 40 intermediate, and 10 percent beginner. If you are within the first category, you will find what you're looking for, whether it's dense mogul runs (Thunder Bumps), narrow chutes (the renowned Corbet's Couloir, Meet Your Maker, and the Alta Chutes), steep bowl descents (Rendezvous, Cirque, and Laramie bowls), or tree runs like Cheyenne Gully. Your best bet: Take the Aerial Tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. If the tram operator's announcement that "this lift offers access to expert-level skiing only" doesn't make you ride the tram back down, cut down into Rendezvous Bowl, and go wherever the snow looks good. The southernmost Hoback runs should be avoided unless there's some fresh powder, while the Alta Chutes will call out to showboat daredevils who want to wow on-looking riders on the Sublette Lift. If a temperature inversion is in effect, stick to the Thunder and Sublette quads and the Casper Bowl triple, which service the top half of the mountain, though there are worthy runs further downhill. And the Saratoga Bowls and the Secret Slope, both on Apres Vous, should not be missed—but the resort has tons of solid double-blue, black, and double-black terrain. Get a map. Mix and match. Just don't get in over your head.

Beginners and those edging wearily into intermediate slopes will find Apres Vous Mountain more to their liking, offering access to most of the resort's green runs. The Casper Bowl Lift, accessible via the Bridger Gondola, also has some gorgeous, wide-open corduroy runs like Sleeping Indian and (appropriately enough) Wide Open, both steep double-blues. A range of blues are also accessible from Casper, which passes over the Nastar slalom course—good eye candy for the aspiring carver. Apres Vous is also the site for future green and beginner-intermediate slopes, and has strong snow-making capabilities if Jackson does hit a rare dry spell. Currently they have a special beginner's-only lift ticket, which gives you access to the lower Eagle's Rest and Teewinot lifts ($10 adult, $5 kids). The resort also offers a variety of ski schools, ideal for those still edging into the sport and those who want to perfect their skills. The teachers are well-versed in safety and instruction methods, and embody a patience that dictates they love their job as much as skiing itself. Click here for information on all classes offered at Jackson Hole Resort.

If you find the 2,500 in-bound acres a tad too restrictive, you're in luck. In 1999 the resort initiated an open-gates policy, offering lift access to over 3,000 acres of backcountry terrain (and that number is an estimate—the true backcountry is really limited to the conditions, and your skill level and comfort while you're out there). There are three gate-access regions on the official mountain map. Cody Bowl lies south of Rendezvous Mountain, while Headwall and Casper Bowl lie off Rendezvous' northern ridge. The former two are best reached via the Aerial Tram (head south for Cody; reach Headwall via Tensleep and Cirque Traverse to the north). Casper can be reached either via the Headwall Traverse at the top of Cirque or via a nearly vertical climb from Bridger Gondola. There are two things: You will have to put in some boot time, and—if conditions cooperate—you'll reap the rewards of thin crowds and serious north-facing powder.

Those slopes, however, only scratch the surface. Teton Pass and the relatively untapped mountains of Grand Teton National Park also make the some choice backcountry lines off the backside of Apres Vous. All require some hiking to reach the point where you can clip in, which means possibilities truly limitless, but it is impossible to overemphasize the necessity of proper backcountry skills and avalanche safety training before going into the deep. Last year, Steve Haas, a Jackson native universally described as the ski bum archetype, ducked into an out-of-bounds section on Rendezvous Mountain known as Hourglass Couloir and died when he was buried under four feet of snow after the slope he was skiing gave way (the route has since been renamed Haas Couloir, and remains strictly off-limits). Both the resort and the local weather service provide daily avalanche ratings, but unless you know what you are doing, don't go. Take a training course, enroll in one of the resort's multi-day backcountry classes, and get a guide and a map. Since 1911, 52 people have died in avalanches in Wyoming, which isn't too staggering a number until you factor in that 15 of those deaths occurred within the last three years. Don't become a statistic.

Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for

Published: 4 Feb 2004 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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