There are not many times in life when you find yourself sitting at a grand table in the Four Seasons at Jackson Hole with not one, not two, but three—three!—big wine glasses lined up in a neat row in front of you. My Snowboarder Magazine compatriot, Mary Walsh, who sat to my left, explained: "They must think we work for fancy magazines or something—more wine please!"
To celebrate a half-century of tram laps and cowboys and ski bums, this winter Jackson Hole is hosting a full calendar of events to recognize the heritage and ski culture that was born here, including the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new chair, the Teton Lift, and the return of the Grand National Powder 8s competition on Cody Bowl on February 6th. If skiing Jackson is on your bucket list, this is a good winter to make it happen.
Fifty years after the first tram took it's first lap at Jackson Hole, the red car once again opened its doors for a line of locals and a few media folk. Reliably, the tram operator blasted classic rock tunes and stuffed the car full so the windows steamed up. Conditions were early season and rocky—staring up Corbet's at low tide gave me a whole new appreciation for the classic. The mountain was gray and stormy, an appropriate recipe for the darkest weekend of the year, and the snow was cold and chalky. But the noodle turns in the knee-deep pow in the trees off the Teton Lift stood out.
Jackson's new chairlift takes skiers 1,722 feet up the northern side of the mountain to Sheridan Ridge. Inbounds, the Teton Chair accesses intermediate terrain with groomers on the steeper side and glades meant for milking fresh snow. When I asked a few locals about their thoughts on the new lift, they mostly shrugged their shoulders, smiled, and said they were excited to ski a part of the mountain that was previously underutilized. Also, the Teton lift will hopefully take some of the crowds away from the Tram line and the more prized terrain on the south end of the mountain. However, there's no denying the impact this lift will have on Jackson's boundary policy.
At the top of the lift, a new ski patrol building with a fresh coat of paint greeted skiers with an electronic billboard broadcasting the day's avalanche rating. The gate to the backcountry is not obvious, except for the tracks that head beyond the boundary rope and into the woods. What used to be a 20-30 minute hike is now only a few minutes of sidestepping. Follow those tracks and you'll get yourself into serious terrain, so you better know where you're going.
The morning of Saturday, December 19, 2015, the day the Teton Lift opened, was blue. A crowd lined up early to pop the lift's cherry. Tram Jam, the groovy band that for many years has serenaded local skiers at the base of the resort, stood on the bed of a cat while the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann faced the expansive valley below and said a few words to the wind; no one in the crowd could hear what he said. A reverend spoke next and nodded his head to say grace. I imagine he said something like this: May the Almighty grant plentiful snow and many joyful days upon this chairlift. Amen. The Tram Jam starting jamming, the lift started spinning, and the skiers, well, they did as they've done for 50 years. They skied.
Where to stay: Sleep at the Teton Mountain Lodge and in the morning, walk from your room to the tram building in about five minutes.
Where to eat: There’s a new restaurant at the top of the gondola, Piste Mountain Bistro, conveniently located for more laps on the mountain. After the lifts shut down, order a pint or two at the Mangy Moose and see where the night takes you. Come morning, nurse your hangover with a Bacon Bloody at The Spur.
Stay Tuned: The Powder 8s return to Cody Bowl with the championships on February 6, during the ski resort’s Grand Reunion Weekend. If you’re local and looking to enter, better start practicing. The qualifiers are this weekend. Find more information on the Powder 8s and the Grand Reunion Weekend here.