By Matt Hansen
JACKSON, Wyo. — Total snowfall for Jackson Hole this season, as of today, May 31, is 723 inches. That's the resort's highest annual tally ever recorded. But it's not so much the amount of snow that has fallen but the fact that melt-off at high elevations hasn't really started yet. The settled base depth above 9,000 feet is something around 13 feet.
"This is the most snow we've ever had up here, at any time, ever," says Bob Comey, lead forecaster for the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center.
For season passholders, all that snow is a bit of a painful tease since the resort closed for the season way back on April 3. Yes, there is always the immense amount of backcountry in the Tetons, but a swift and easy chairlift ride is kind of nice every now and again.
So when Jackson began running its tram on Saturday for the summer season—an operation that is intended to provide tourists a scenic ride to the top of 10,450-foot Rendezvous Mountain—there was one thing on locals' minds: skiing. Expecting an onslaught of rabid skiers, the avalanche center began making daily forecasts available on its website, jhavalanche.org, which had ended back on April 24.
Walking up to the tramline Saturday morning felt very European, where grass and dry land often greets skiers in the Alps due to warm valley temps and huge vertical leading up to snowy peaks. Shortly after 9 a.m., a line consisting mostly of skiers with slick rando equipment and a few gawking tourists snaked out past the main deck. But it was tranquilo. No tram vibers. No bad attitudes. Just happy skiers.
The amount of snow didn't become apparent until the tram approached Corbet's. The cornice overhanging the legendary line was at least 15 feet thick, and curled over like a giant frozen snail. A man with a shovel was perched on the ridgeline extending down from Corbet's to the tram tower to create a trench in the snow so the tram could pass through unscathed. This, dear skier, is unheard of here.
Comey, who could be found surveying the scene atop of the tram with binoculars, obviously enjoying the moment, put it this way: "This is truly an epic event."
Because Jackson's lease with the Forest Service does not allow lift-access inbounds skiing after its closing date, skiers on the tram were warned that their passes would be pulled if they decided to ski those juicy, sweet lines beckoning from below. That didn't stop a group that could be seen descending the Headwall to the Gros Ventre groomer, which lay waiting in perfect corn. Rumors circulated that 10 people had their passes pulled that day.
The easiest shot off the tram in late May is Cody Peak. And skiers were teeing off. A line of skiers broke for Four Shadows and Central Couloir, and at one point you could count nearly 20 people on the ridgeline between those two classic lines. Cornices up to 30 feet thick hung out over every snowfield. There was so much snow in Central that it's usual mandatory air at the exit chute was filled in. So people straightlined it. Skier after skier descended Central and Four Shadows. Meanwhile, dozens of skiers booted up the Powder Eights face on the lower flank of Cody. They were in for a mellow hike and descent over a few inches of heavy corn. Far below the Jackson Hole valley glowed with the greenness of spring just waiting to burst.
It was a beautiful day in the Tetons. And one for the ages.