The Teton Dump

Jackson Hole is the West’s new spring powder mecca

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

By Porter Fox

Some of the best times are with old pals in old places. And some of the best stories in Powder have been rambling travelogues about both of the above. The only thing new in this story is an apparent shift in global weather patterns—that has left Jackson Hole under hundreds of inches of fresh powder each of the last three springs. I was lucky enough hit it head-on last week—and along with some other "attractions," it was the best week of the year for this Powder editor.

Wednesday, March 23
My girlfriend and I are up at 3 a.m. and on the road for Newark Liberty Airport by 3:45. The city is dark. There are no cops or even cars on the Manhattan Bridge. By the time we emerge from the Holland Tunnel, huge flakes are spinning down through the night sky. By the time we make it onto the plane, six inches has collected on the wings and the pilot has to call for a de-icing truck. (Which, three days after the first day of spring, runs out of fluid halfway through the hose-down… and takes an hour-and-a-half to refill.)

We make our connection in Chicago by five minutes and a few hours later watch the Wind River Range appear through the window. The giant peaks look like some kind of geology experiment—monolithic plateaus that end in quarter-mile vertical walls freshly dusted by snow. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort broke the record for single day accumulation yesterday—26 inches in 24 hours. Three more feet are expected over the weekend…

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

We land at 11:25 a.m. and by 2 p.m. we're checked into a hotel and riding up the gondola. It's a surreal change from home—vertical white mountains and tiny skiers schussing all around. We warm up on Amphitheater to Grand to the Cirque. It's the classic opening lap and even though the mountain got carved up yesterday, it's still knee-deep off the trail. The friend I moved to Jackson with—after college—in 1994 meets us at the bottom of Thunder and we ski a few more laps until closing bell.

Some things have changed since 1994, but one that hasn't is the Mangy Moose. We lean our skis against the wooden stairs and order a round of pints inside. My buddy worked the door at the Moose back in the day and we reminisce the waitresses he chased and the band—Mad Cow!—I closed the season here with a couple of years.

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

Things move almost as fast at Jackson's après as they do on the hill, and a few phone calls later I'm thumbing a ride to the Stagecoach to meet other friends. The 22-year-old who picks me up has lived in Jackson for a year-and-a-half. He thinks he might stay for a few more… I remember that feeling, how it lasted for five years, every season snowing too hard to be the last.

The kid is headed for town but drives me to Wilson anyway because why the hell not. Inside, the crew is just arriving. One of them won the fantasy football pool and is treating everyone else to a half hour of free drinks. The Half Hour of Power begins at 8 p.m. with a dozen drinks and shots set up on the 'Coach's old pine bar. We're the only people in the joint and a half-hour later it looks like we'll never get out.

The crew mingles for a few hours playing pool and ping pong. They've been friends since the beginning—came together banging nails, skiing the resort, running the Snake River… They play hockey and softball together, hunt elk and hike the pass. They're classic Jackson Hole buddies, to the death and to the life and 12 drinks into it they may as well be brothers.

They have to work in the morning so we hightail it home at 11 p.m. They want the cabbie to drive me home but I want to hitchhike again. The cabbie slows to 5 mph and the crew howls as I leap out the window and take up a slow jog. It's not warm. It's dark as hell. Two headlights race past about five feet off my right thumb. The next truck pulls over right away and I jog to the passenger door. There's only one place this road goes in the winter, so I know I'm going home. I don't say a word as we head for Teton Village.

The driver has some words he wants to share, though. He tells me how the bartenders at the Virginian Saloon kicked him out. How he was buying Jager bombs for the Snow King Hill Climb snowmobilers when they asked him to leave. "I been here 35 years," he says, shaking his head.

He pulls into the Village and drives by the old ski patrol hospital to show me where his band plays. "Behind that roll gate," he says. "My drum kit is on the platform they used to roll stretchers in and out of the ambulance." We continue to my hotel and he tells me he got access to the rehearsal space because his father was a doctor. His father invented the anti-friction plate in ski bindings and helped create the DIN system for bindings. "Gordon Lipe," he says. "Yep, he was my dad."

Thursday, March 24
It's snowing when I get up and start getting my gear together. I was here with the Powder staff three weeks ago for Powder Week. We hosted 83 product managers and reps and tested hundreds of new skis, bell-to-bell, for three days. (Not to mention burning the midnight oil three nights in between.) I'm taking my time now… I've got no schedule, no meetings, not obligations. Just ski and write and see what happens.

There's 180 inches of snow at the summit right now, just under 500 inches has fallen this year. Rendezvous Bowl broke the record for snowpack this year with 141 inches. Last year when I was here this time, it snowed seven feet in seven days. The Ides of March, apparently, is the time to head to the Tetons.

Photo: A'yen Tran

And we're doing it in style… The Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole is putting us up. The 10-story lodge has 106 guestrooms, most with gas fireplaces, marble bathrooms and a balcony facing the resort. I remember watching the place go up, wondering what a Four Seasons was doing in Jackson Hole. (The resort is the company's only ski-in, ski- out property… the company's founder is a skier.) But then we started après-ing at The Peak restaurant on the ground floor, and, well, good things are addictive. (Big secret: You can stay here for three nights in December for around $185/night.)

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

When I finally get out, there's hardly anyone on the hill. I ski the Far Drift on Rendezvous Bowl to the Expert Chutes and Toilet Bowl. The buddy I moved here with in '94 is turning 39 today so we meet up at the tram for a commemorative Four Pines run. We tell stories of rendezvousing on the tram dock back in the day, before the sun was up, and sitting for four hours to get first tracks in the Hobacks. Today, we walk right on—another springtime perk in the Hole.

It's a whiteout at the top. The snow has come in again and huge white flakes pile up on the traverse. It's almost 4 p.m. when we get to the bootpack and there isn't a soul around. There's no noise, no wind. The snow muffles even the sound of our steps. We talk about life, the looming 4-0, the old days and the future until we get to the top. There, the sky clears and we crack a bottle of Cuervo to celebrate the occasion. It's cheap, nasty stuff but what the hell. We're bums at heart and bums live for the Good Times.

Skiing thigh-deep powder behind your friend on his birthday, with a pint of Cuervo in your pack, is a good recipe for the G.T. I dodge the contrail whipping off his skis at the top of Four Pines and find a fresh line on a northeastern aspect. The snow is so deep you have to point it to keep your speed. I roll over a little rock band, then a berm, my skis leaving the snow in that way that you can barely tell when they've left and when they're landing.

Halfway down I snap a picture of him, snow billowing around his waist. The powder continues all the way to the bottom where we catch the cat track back and meet our friends in the Moose. We're on a tear now… how good can this get? Champagne in the Four Seasons hot tub… birthday cake at the Osteria… the G.T.'s continue all night, until we see it's snowing and hit the rack to rest up for tomorrow.

Friday, March 25
We have a tradition on Teton Pass. Back when I worked for the Jackson Hole News, one of my friends would call around lunchtime and announce, "Sheevas Five," then hang up. The reference was to a little ridge on the pass, accessed by a 10-minute bootpack, that held just enough vertical to ease your ski Jones for the day.

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

I get the call that afternoon and sneak in a quick Four Pines before thumbing it to Wilson. We ferry a car to the base of the pass and take another to the summit. The bootpack is an elevator shaft and in no time we're at the top. Then we point it into a steep snowfield, pick our own lines through the woods and traverse to the power line to get the last headwall.

I've written about Shiver's Ridge several times in Powder and this time it's no different. I remember one night at the Coach what seems like a hundred years ago, when we got the idea to run home, suit up, grab a bottle of whiskey and hit Shiver's. It was 11 p.m. or maybe midnight. We returned to the Coach with headlamps and loaded into a truck. At the top we scampered up the boot pack then filed off down the slope, blind as bats, diving through the powder and the trees directed by nothing by memory.

The Coach is empty when we make it down that afternoon. We have a beer and go to the Calico for a pizza. The place was once the last ski bum dive on the Moose-Wilson Road—pool table on one side, beers and pizza on the other. Now it's shiny and fancy like most everything else in the valley, but admittedly damn good just the same.

Saturday, March 26
We move to the Teton Mountain Lodge in the morning. Rob DesLauriers' signature hotel re-imagines the old mountain lodges of the Rockefeller's and Roosevelt's. Giant timbers lurch up through the lobby. Kitchens in each room and one of the best après bars in the Village make the place a ski vacation oasis.

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

We settle in then meet some friends for a lap in Granite Canyon. The hike up the Headwall is short and sweet and the traverse to the A, B, C chutes gets everyone fired up. Another five inches has fallen on the 20 already collected since we arrived. The snowfall for the year is now 525 inches. Wind and the new snow erased any tracks, save three who got in before us this morning.

I drop into A chute second to last and make five turns to the gut. I'm on my second run on Rossi's now-legendary S7 and the skis literally carry me down the hill. At Powder Week I chatted with Jason Newell from Rossignol and a middle-aged man on a chairlift. Like a gazillion other skiers, the man couldn't stop talking about his S7's and what they'd done for his skiing. "You added ten years to my skiing life!" he said. (Watch out for Rossi's S7 blog… coming soon.)

I feel like I'm 28 myself dropping through hero snow 2,000 feet to the bottom of A. There's something about Granite some people (who haven't been there) don't understand: every time you drop in it's like discovering a new ski area. (For some, a whole new area to get lost in.) It's tricky and dangerous, but with the right people it's the greatest powder stash in the Lower 48.

Photo: A'yen Tran
Photo: A'yen Tran

It also has the most heinous traverse anywhere on the continent, save perhaps, a few at Alta. After 45 minutes of sidestepping and luging through trees, we finally make it to the Village Cafe for lunch. After one more lap on Four Pines, I call it a day. (It's not the quantity, it's the quality!)

Jackson Hole's 6th Annual Mountain Festival is in full swing with Katchafire playing a free concert in the parking lot. The concert was one of nearly a dozen events—including the Pole, Pedal, Paddle and Coombs Classic ski race—scheduled for the weekend. Just about every event is under a tent, as the snow won't stop dumping…

We have dinner with friends in town that night, then head back to the Moose for the local band, The Deadlocks. The show is excellent, mostly Grateful Dead covers. Our buddy is playing guitar and the old Jackson hippie vibe is alive. Everyone knows the songs and crowds the stage to dance. The Deadlocks play an encore set and at 1 a.m. when the bar closes, we all feel like it's 1994.

Sunday, March 27
Some days are meant to be longer than others. One of my oldest friends wakes up on our foldout couch the next day and we roll to the Rocky Mountain Oyster for breakfast. Green Eggs and Ham and a cup of coffee fuel the hike above the Apres Vous lift. We both know we've got one last Granite lap in us today. We're old and hungover and, quite frankly, have lost that competitive edge that drives some folks to count vertical feet and laps—and chide each other for not giving 'er the way they did when they were 19. (Actually, at 19 I didn't understood the idea of competitive freeskiing either. I just liked to ski.)

At any rate, we take it slow and talk about everything from randonnee equipment to sailing in the Caribbean to bird hunting. It was blue sky when we started, blizzarding on the hike and blue sky when we stop. There's not another soul in sight. There's been so much snow even the locals are sleeping in. (Or all of their powder days at work have been burned.)

We poke around the Air Force Chutes and settle on a line skier's right of the last one. The first rollover is 40 degrees and the snow is thigh-deep. Wafts of dry powder curl up off the slope and over our shoulders. I drive forward with both hands, hope to thread the notch between a pair of white bark pines. The next 2,000 vertical feet is more of the same—white room all the way and my best run of the year.

Monday, March 28
We wake up at 7 a.m. and knock out a quick Headwall run—first tram, first bootpack, first tracks into the Headwall. The snow is soft; another five inches fell overnight. The total snowfall for the year is over 530 inches now and the Headwall skis like it.

At the bottom, we run straight to the hotel to pack and wait for a cab. Two hours later, we launch off the runway and soar high over the Tetons, through the beginning of the next storm, heading east toward home.