Jackson Hole, Wyoming
By Christmas, I'd traded my old, tattered gloves for burly, warm ones. The sunny-day lens for my goggles remained buried deep in my gear bag. After a seemingly endless string of storm days, it was clear that something special was happening in Jackson Hole. You could feel it in the tramline and in the packed mid-mountain cafeteria. Meanwhile, laundry and dishes piled up at home as my wife and I traded mornings on the tram. We didn't have a choice. This was turning out to be the best winter in a decade, if not ever.
Locals started wondering how this season would stack up against the historic 1996-97 winter—96-Ninety-Heaven—when the resort saw 577 inches of total snowfall. People talk about that year the way old timers talk about Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle. You shoulda seen it.
I'll probably say the same about the snowbanks outside my front door, how night after night I stood in awe below the streetlamps as billions of snowflakes swirled in and out of the light. How moose climbed 10-foot piles of snow in town to reach willow branches. And how avalanche bombs started going off during après, as the resort attempted to destroy a wind lip that had grown so large it was obstructing the tram dock at the summit.
On February 4, Jackson Hole cancelled the Grand National Powder 8s due to too much snow and high avalanche danger at all elevations. That day I had my best inbounds run in years down "Bird in Hand," skiing the typically rocky and tree-filled glade like it was a groomer.
The storm raged on and made the next day even better. But nothing came close to Tuesday, February 7. With a Winter Storm Warning in effect, I put my ski boots on in my kitchen, trudged through massive drifts to my stop, and climbed aboard the bus to Teton Village at 7:30 a.m. More than a foot of snow had fallen the night before, with at least another foot on the way. Traffic moved so slowly that it took 45 minutes—about double the usual time—to drive the 11 miles to the village.
Read More: When It Snowed So Much Jackson Hole had to close.
I headed straight for the singles line at the gondola and, at the top, bee-lined over the normally rocky Granny Chutes to the Thunder Chair. The queue was chaotic. A couple of old farts in the singles line, flustered by line-cutters, climbed over the metal maze with their skis on and caught a chair. I pushed through the crowd and for the next hour spooned my own tracks run after run. No one else was there. In an age of high-speed lifts, it was unbelievable.
Less than 12 hours later, it all fell apart. Gale-force winds snapped more than a dozen 80-foot steel utility poles on Teton Village Road, knocking out power for the resort, lifts, and 3,000 people. It was an unprecedented turn of events, a backbreaking blow that put a sudden stop to some of the best skiing of our lives. It rained for three days and closed the resort for five. There was no way in or out of the valley. Elk and deer got stuck in the snow and starved to death. Avalanches struck slopes right above town, including a slide on a mogul field at Snow King in the middle of the day. "It was like having the best drug you've ever had and then it not being available," said Jackson patroller AJ Cargill. "It was this amazing crest of a wave you could ride and then see it destroyed."
In the aftermath, we dug—or rather climbed—out. The high alpine continued to stack up. On the last day of Jackson Hole's season, April 9, the resort hit 593 inches of snow for the year. You shoulda seen it.
This story originally appeared in the September 2017 (46.1) issue of POWDER. To have award winning stories delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.