We had a wonderful, eight-day Jackson Hole ski holiday over Valentine’s Day, with our eldest son and his girl.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is situated in the spectacular Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, and is just south of Grand Teton National Park. The ski resort is named after the historic Jackson Hole Valley and is 12 miles — about a 20-minute drive — from the charming Western town of Jackson.
We had visited the area, including Yellowstone, many years ago on a summer vacation when the boys were adolescents. Such gorgeous natural scenery and abundant wildlife, including elk and moose.
Better known as “the Big One,” the Jackson Hole ski resort is best know for its over 4,000 foot vertical drop and steep terrain. It is frequently rated among the top destinations in North America by major ski magazines and travel guides. That comes from it’s world class terrain, luxury resort base amenities, beautiful landscape, and nearby Western town.
I enjoyed our Jackson Hole ski vacation, but admit that the steeper pitch and unfortunate icy conditions have left me a little worse for wear lol!
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Spectacular Mountain Setting
Here’s a peek of the gorgeous Tetons from inside the Jackson airport terminal. Views of the mountains were even more spectacular as the plane was coming in for a landing.
Slow Start to Vacation
Both our flights arrived early, and just half an hour apart. However, we had to wait 20-30 minutes on the taxiway for a “gate.” That was the first hint of the frustration to come. If you look closely in the photo above, you can see an airplane parked just outside the baggage claim area. There are no actual gates, just sets of stairs pushed up to the planes. So you have to walk outside to access the aircraft. Fortunately, we had clear weather on both travel days.
All the flights arrive and then depart from Jackson within a two to three hour window. However, the airport is in no way built or staffed to accommodate that many people, luggage and planes in such a tight time period. Adding to the chaos, the airport was apparently extremely short staffed — especially in baggage handlers and TSA staff.
Hubby and I were fortunate to receive our bags within 30 minutes. But, we all had to wait nearly two more hours for our son’s luggage and ski equipment! R’s plane was fully boarded to return to Newark before receiving any of their luggage.
Worse, nobody explained what was going on to the crowd — until there was a near riot! Hundreds of people from six flights (including lots of small children and dogs) were increasingly packed into the baggage claim area.
Day to Get Organized
You can rent cars directly at the airport or take a van to rental centers in Jackson. We elected the later, as town was on our way to the ski resort. It was a gorgeous drive, seeing all the snow-covered landscape on a clear day. Along the way we passed the 25,000 acre National Elks Refuge, where thousands of elk spend the winter in Wyoming.
Mr. Buzz went inside the small building to get our car keys. When I asked my son what the delay was, he said, “the good news is we have a rental car. Unfortunately, it’s in Jackson — Mississippi!”
No wonder hubby thought he had gotten such a great deal, lol! It was a hugely popular week for the Jackson Hole ski resort. In the end, we got a huge, luxury SUV — the only rental available. Not the bargain hubby had hoped for lol! We all continue to get a good chuckle out of the mishap.
Then we loaded up our fancy, spancy vehicle and stopped for groceries on our way to Teton Village. Our rental property was ideally located, nestled in the woods, and an easy walk to the Jackson Hole ski base.
R had found us a great place, with two bedrooms, large open living area and a big, well-equipped kitchen. There were also three more twin beds in the loft we didn’t use.
Next, we made the quick walk over to the Jackson Hole ski base to pickup our lift tickets. Passes are more like plastic credit cards, and fit conveniently in the inside pocket of your ski coat. When entering any gondola or lift turnstile, a scanner automatically reads the pass, before lifting the gate bar. Pretty nifty!
Three of us also needed to get outfitted with rental ski equipment. When we fly, hubby and I don’t take our skis, poles and boots. Instead, we rent quality equipment packages that include helmets. My son brought his gear, and both he and V also have helmets.
Last year, because of the pandemic, R and V relocated from NYC to Steamboat, Colorado for six weeks. That gave V lots of practice and experience on the slopes. R had planned to purchase V ski equipment as part of this year’s Christmas gift. However, they decided to wait, and used the Jackson trip as an opportunity for V to try out various skis and boots.
Ski Tip: Purchase your passes and equipment rentals online, before you go. On equipment you’ll save about 20%. Other savings come from buying multiday lift passes. Plus, many ski resorts can reach capacity on weekends, holidays and during special events. So, it’s essential that you purchase ski passes at least a couple of weeks before you go.
Getting Back on Skis
Early the next morning, the four of us road the 8-passanger Bridger Gondola to about mid Apres Vous Mountain. Having not skied since our Terrific Telluride, Colorado Ski Vacation, I was a bit anxious and wanted to start off on relatively easy trails. Because of COVID, I hadn’t been in a gym for two years either.
Jackson Hole ski resort consists of two mountains. My son had skied there twice before, and is quite familiar with the trails, town and places to eat. In the picture above, he’s pointing out Rendezvous Mountain to his dad, and the Aerial Tram that accesses only expert terrain.
It took me a couple of runs to get comfortable with my rental equipment. But, skiing was a bit like riding a bike and it came back quickly. Plus, I had fully recovered from my left foot surgery more than a year before and it wasn’t an issue.
Heading High Altitude
However, the fact I hadn’t been in a gym since the pandemic started certainly impacted my overall fitness level. I especially noticed it when walking uphill in the base area, while in heavy, awkward ski boots and carrying skis and poles. Lots of huffing and puffing before I even got started, lol! And, the body was still adjusting to the high altitude.
Ski Tip: You might want to ask your doctor about taking medication for altitude sickness, like Diamox. It’s usually prescribed for the day before you go, and then the first several days to acclimate. After recently getting over a nasty sinus infection, it was the the first time I took it for a ski vacation. Previously, hubby and I had both taken Diamox it for our trip to the Peru Sacred Valley and visit to Magnificent Machu Picchu.
Our eight-day Jackson Hole ski vacation consisted of two days traveling to and from, four total days skiing, and two off days to relax and explore.
The Jackson Hole area has a unique slate of non-skiing or alternative skiing activities, thanks in large part to the fact that it is surrounded by both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. There’s an array of tours by snow coach, snowshoe, snowmobile, cross country or backcountry skiing, as well as sleigh rides in the National Elk Refuge. For the more adventurous, they also offer ice climbing, cat-skiing, and heli-skiing. Happily, there tamer activities too, including museums, shopping, and tons of luxury spas for the likes of yours truly lol!
Ride Up Rendezvous
After a couple of days off from skiing, we headed back to Apres Vous for a few warmup runs. Next, the four of us boarded the Aerial Tram. Earlier in the week, R and V had skied the bowl and several expert trails on Rendezvous Mountain. Meanwhile, dear hubby had spent the first two days with me on intermediate slopes.
So, this was going to be Mr. Buzz’s chance to enjoy the expert terrain on Rendezvous. After a previous rough slide out of the icy bowl, V had decided to join me on the tram for the return trip down mountain. So the two of us left our skis and poles at the base.
The tram’s vertical rise is 4,139 to an elevation of 10,450 feet above sea level. It travels that distance in just nine minutes! Service on the current tram began in 2008. Each of the two carriages accommodate100 passengers — carrying skis or snowboards. It’s an extremely packed, tight squeeze up!
People rush inside the tram for a spot by a window. Unfortunately, short me ended up separated from the others, right in the middle lol!
As the tram approaches the top, its operator warns that only expert trails and extreme terrain are accessible on the mountain. His, “if you don’t know,” is answered by a loud chorus of “don’t go!”
Hard & Easy Ways Down
Right as we reached the summit the clouds and snow obscured the view. It was nearly a whiteout as we excited the tram! And the wind was blowing so hard, I thought it’d knock us over! But that didn’t deter anyone — including our two guys — from proceeding to the bowl and trails.
V and I took some quick family pictures (unfortunately minus the backdrop of the Tetons we had hoped for), told the guys to be careful, and waited to ride an empty tram back down.
Most of the riders were also there to try and get a close-up look at the annual extreme ski competition. Click Kings and Queens of Corbet’s to see death defying acts of well, crazy!
Here’s a picture I took from the tram on the way back down. Twenty-five competitors take off from the cliff into that steep, narrow crevice. Like I said, crazy.
With a jump-in chute entry that “softens” to a 40-degree average pitch, Corbet’s Couloir is the most infamous expert trail in the country. Because there hadn’t been any significant snow in some time (to adequately cover the rock), the event had to be put off for about five days.
Ski Tip: Weather and ski conditions can be fickle. Because of COVID and the omicron surge, we had held off scheduling a ski vacation. It wasn’t until a month before our trip that we booked it. The day before, Jackson Hole had gotten a foot of snow! Unfortunately, that was the last real accumulation of powder. That meant — even with artificial snow-making nightly on groomed trails — a deep, hard-packed base, with sometimes slick, icy surfaces. We changed my ski choice when the rental agent warned of “challenging conditions.”
Insane skiers and snow boarders take off through that narrow chute and perform a number of jumps and tricks on the way down. V and I watched some of the death-defying feats on a giant screen located in front of the tram station below.
Private Tram Ride
Happily, V and I practically had the tram to ourselves on the way down. The clouds had cleared and we were treated to jaw-dropping views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole ski resort below.
Here we are about halfway back down to the tram station. It’s a looooog way with spectacular views of the mountains in all directions.
Shortly after we excited the tram, R had already completed his run down the seemingly endless Hobacks, one of the legendary expert routes down Rendezvous. His dad joined us several minutes later to discuss the adventure over lunch.
We missed our youngest son, D, who had just returned home from his own ski vacation with friends at Heavenly Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe.
Like Jackson Hole, Lake Tahoe also had not received any significant snow in nearly a month. Plus it was quite warm at Heavenly. As you can see, the lake isn’t frozen and there’s no snow on the trees. Unfortunately, most of the region is actually still in a mega-drought.
Ironically a massive snowstorm and icy conditions in the Midwest and Texas, had left them scrambling to reschedule and reroute flights to salvage their ski trip. Six people were traveling from five different cities.
Although we missed him, it was nice that D and his college buddies were able to revive their annual ski trip — after a pandemic-induced two year hiatus.
Steeper, Challenging Terrain
Across it’s two mountains, Jackson Hole contains 2,500 ski area acres. There are 22 miles of machine-groomed terrain, and the longest run is 4.5 miles. Fifty-percent of trials are expert rated, 40 intermediate and only 10% are green, beginner trails.
That should have still left plenty of terrain for me to explore, as I’m a mid-level intermediate skier.
Double blue intermediate trials were like double black diamonds back at home at Seven Springs in Pennsylvania. Even single blue trials could be challenging with the added pitch and icy terrain.
One of the best ways to handle icy and steep terrain is to “ski through.” My husband is always telling me to trust my abilities. But, speed is not my thing.
I tend to shalom down a pitch, making curved zigzags from side to side. That slower style of skiing makes me feel in control. Too much speed and I tend to panic. As a result, most of my ski falls are self-induced — by fear.
That’s what happened with falls on the first and second days of skiing. The first was actually to avoid hitting a family of three — including a small child on two six-foot leads. What they were doing on intermediate terrain at mid-mountain —with a three year-old — is beyond me!
It was at a junction where several trails converge and then go in different direction. They were moving to the right and I was coming from above and heading left. Plenty of space, until the child decided turn around — just twelve feet in front of me!
Hitting the Brakes
The only thing I could think to do was to sit-down — like pulling the emergency brake! It worked, and I didn’t run into them. But, I took a very hard hit to my tailbone.
The next day, I landed on the same spot when I hit ice on a steep slope and panicked. It hurt like heck and I had to alternatively ice it (irony noted), or soak in a hot bathtub for relief. Strangely, the injury didn’t bother me while skiing. But, the hours sitting at airports and on planes coming home was very uncomfortable.
Back on the
After that, I decided to ski much more conservatively on green and lower-mountain blue trails. Although that meant shorter runs and more time spent in lift lines, I felt much more confident and at ease. It also helped to become familiar with the terrain.
Dear hubby insisted on spending his ski time with me. I argued he should go explore more challenging, expert terrain with the kids. We had come all that way and expense to Jackson Hole ski resort, and I wanted him to enjoy himself.
It did get a bit repetitious, and I knew I was capable of skiing more challenging runs. I also would have liked to get further up mountain on the gondola. But, I didn’t want to fall again and possibly further aggregate my injury. Honestly, my confidence was shaken.
So, when I was ready to call it quits for the day and head back to our conveniently located lodging, Mr. Buzz would do those more challenging runs with the youngsters. I’d relax, shower and change for apres ski festivities.
Apres Ski Fun & Food
Everyday, the four of us would meet up for lunch together. We’d share our experiences, study the ski map to plan runs, and finalize plans for the evening. Several times we ate lunch at The Four Seasons Hotel’s (with outdoor seating and fire pits) High Bar. Pricey, but super convenient at the gondola base, we all agreed they served the best hamburger of all time!
Often, we’d then meetup for apres ski drinks and snacks at the legendary Mangy Moose, while watching the Winter Olympics.
Although our house had a great kitchen, we used it primarily for preparing hearty breakfasts and serving snacks — skiing burns a lot of calories and can generate a severe case of the munchies!
Besides the fun and funky, Teton Tai restaurant, most of the best dining options are located in the town of Jackson. Since there wasn’t any new snow, road conditions were fine for making the 20-minute drive each way. However, signs are posted everywhere to avoid collisions with elk and moose.
Watching the sunset over the Tetons was a magical sight. And the charming town of Jackson was fun to explore day or night. There’s even an authentic Cowboy Bar and Silver Dollar Saloon!
V was in charge of researching dining options and making reservations. After all the months of eating in, we were excited to explore the restaurants, bars, pizza joints (one in a vintage theater), brewpubs, and bakeries. She picked a nice cross-section that included Japanese, French, Tai, and Italian foods. Many evening we shared a bottle of wine or enjoyed unique artisan cocktails.
On Valentine’s Day we had a great evening at Gather. My personal favorite was the Blue Lion, which included live guitar music and their famous rack of lamb.
Driving back home, evergreen trees were decked with white lights. As we approached the Jackson Hole ski resort, you could also see giant snow cats grooming trails high up on the mountain.
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