Well, it isn’t the most legendary line in Jackson, Wyoming, not by a long shot, but it definitely lingers in the memory bank. Maybe it’s the proximity to town or the general anomaly of its existence, but Taco Bell Couloir isn’t something that you just forget.
“It’s the iconic, must-do urban backcountry hit,” says Eric Henderson, a two-decade Jackson resident and former Jackson Hole guide.
Those who have lived or stayed in Jackson proper would be hard-pressed to disagree. Snaking down Saddle Butte right above Broadway Street, the thin ribbon of snow on an otherwise bare face catches the eye of anyone headed to the Tetons, and, always sporting one or two lonely tracks, serves as a constant reminder that somebody beat you to it that day.
The consistent double fall line empties out at Flat Creek right behind the town’s old Taco Bell, making it one of the most exhilarating Mexican food commutes in North America at one point. When asked why skiing the lonely patch of snow was worth the effort, one TGR forum member by the name of Schmear mused, “Because you can stare at your tracks while eating a chimichanga? Because others will say, ‘wow look at those sweet tracks,’ while eating their chimichangas?”
Though the bowel bursting food chain has since moved on (replaced by MacPhail’s Burgers), the line, its name, and the curiosity it inspires, remain.
“It’s a sick line,” explains Henderson, who estimates he skied the couloir over 20 times while living in town. “It’s probably not more than 30 to 35 degrees…but it’s got a great pitch on it and a real consistent steep.”
The couloir is a bucket list claim a number of Jacksonians check off during their time in town, not because of the extremity of the descent, but because of its ridiculously high visibility. Still, seen from almost anywhere downtown, those ski tracks tend to have a polarizing effect in Jackson.
My local friends argued the area was seriously off limits—with wildlife, private property, and public endangerment on the line and fat fines to prove it—yet locking down any exact information on skiing Taco Bell Couloir was difficult.
After an administrative merry-go-round, an ownership map on Teton County’s website provided some clarity. According to the map, the ski run is mostly on a Town of Jackson land parcel and is indeed open to the public. However, the zone is surrounded by private property on all sides, meaning that in order to access the legal skiing, there has to be some level of criminal trespassing—a misdemeanor in Jackson that can cost up to $750. While a fine that big is unlikely, very few runs, including one down Taco Bell Couloir, are worth that kind of queso.
Another issue is area wildlife. Because of the sun it receives, the butte is a popular grazing spot for mule deer—a community that doesn’t jive well with ski traffic.
“I’ve seen people skiing down that have pushed whole herds off that face,” says David Wilkinson, forest recreation and travel planning coordinator for the Jackson Ranger District. “I understand it’s a rush of adrenaline, but people need to know that it could be the difference between an animal surviving or not [come wintertime].”
Beyond wildlife repercussions, problems with human triggered avalanches (the couloir is actually a south-facing cornice) have also raised worries from town offices. While no one has been seriously hurt, there were a few slides in recent years that blocked Flat Creek and came close to damaging local businesses and homes.
“It’s not technically breaking a law,” adds Wilkinson. “But ethically it’s not a great decision.”
The risk factors involved with Taco Bell Couloir are not unlike those of other ski descents, but its proximity to town definitely magnifies them. While shredding the jewel of Jackson’s urban backcountry will no doubt continue, it’s important to look beyond the skiing and think outside the run.