What a difference a year makes.
Winter 2021-22 was, in part, a tough time to be a skier in Jackson Hole and across much of the Mountain West. A dearth of early season storms led to conditions that weren’t merely dry, but downright concerning: Skiers and riders ascending lifts before the holiday season gazed out on a tangle of trails that featured more rocks and dirt than snow, and much of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s coveted steep terrain lay barren — or at least dangerously sharky — until much later in the season.
This winter (or, technically, still autumn) has been a completely different story so far, thanks to spectacular conditions and new infrastructure on the mountain. Storms that basted the Tetons in snow starting in mid-November have dropped 182 inches of the good stuff on JHMR so far, and at the time of writing 94 of the resort’s 131 trails were open for shredding, a fantastic return a week before winter officially begins. The consistent snow and cold temperatures have Jackson Hole in midseason form, a siren song for skiers and riders — visitors and locals alike — that want to take advantage of cold-smoke powder and empty lift lines.
Speaking of lifts: JHMR’s new high-speed Thunder Quad officially opens Saturday. If you’ve skied the terrain off Thunder before (and if you haven’t you really, really should) you know that’s an enormous deal. The lift accesses some of the mountain’s most whoop-worthy and challenging terrain, including the twisting, vertiginous Tower 3 chute, the pillows of Paintbrush just waiting to be hucked, and the quad-testing moguls of Thunder Bumps. Historically, the price to pay for skiing these lines was a long wait: The original Thunder, built in 1994, was a fixed-grip chairlift, ambling up the mountain at a scenic — and, let’s be honest, groan-inducing — 500 feet per minute. Because Thunder was the only way besides the aerial tram to get to the resort’s Sublette lift and southern area, crowds would pile up at the natural chokepoint on their quest for powder.
No longer. The new Thunder lift, a high-speed detachable quad built by Leitner-Poma, cuts the ride in half. It now takes a mere three minutes, 36 seconds to ascend Thunder’s 1,454 feet of vert. Now, you don’t have to choose between riding a few Thunder laps before heading over to Sublette’s test-piece Alta chutes and access to the open slopes of the Hobacks. Just go for both. Goodbye, cold toes and turn envy; hello, fast access and unlimited refills.
“The Thunder lift has been the most popular lift on the upper mountain, and it delivers some of the legendary terrain JHMR is known for. The new Thunder lift will dramatically cut down on skiers’ and snowboarders’ time spent waiting in line and on the lift,” said JHMR President Mary Kate Buckley in a press release last March.
Given the peak early season conditions, Thunder (which soft-opened last week) has been as valuable as advertised. “It’s always been probably my favorite — and a lot of other people’s favorite — lift because of the terrain it accesses,” said Jack Catlin, 44, a Jackson resident. “Now, we can just get more skiing more frequently. ‘Thunder laps’ is going to mean more to the local ski community than ever, because you can just get access to way more runs with the new speedy lift. It’s way more comfortable, too.”
On a recent fair-weather Saturday, the Thunder lift line was nonexistent as the chair whisked skiers up the mountain. A few inches of snow the day before had the groomers skiing as fast and grippy as Nürburgring, and the trees hid passels of powder waiting to be discovered. Laps on Tower 3, Riverton Bowl and Gannet left skiers and riders wide-eyed and breathless (Great snow! No traffic!) as they loaded back onto the chair for another go. The day’s final sequence was a hike up the Headwall for a run down Coombs, a slightly doglegged gully that collects and holds soft snow for days after a storm. Only two other tracks led into the line, leaving plenty of room for the skiers dropping in to paint their own canvas. Face-shots and hollers followed, and then it was back to Thunder where — you guessed it — ski-right-on remained the status quo.
Who knows what the rest of the ski season holds? Forget prognosticating for a moment: Jackson Hole is the place to be right now.
While You’re Here…
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and its 2,500 acres of terrain deserves at least a full day of exploration, so you’ll probably be famished by dinnertime. Here’s where to chow down after hitting the slopes.
Splurge meal: Suda’s menu may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s actually pretty simple: Everything on the menu is delectable. Dozens of dishes including yakitori, sushi, ramen and other Japanese fare offer a bevy of options to fuel up for the next day’s snow activities.
On a budget: Okay, Southcable Cafe may be closed by 5, but there isn’t a better deal in Teton Village. An enormous slice of pizza and a beer will only run you $9 at this small eatery hidden next to the tram station. Open for breakfast as well.
Fancy bar: Don’t be confused at the entrance to Bin22, just push on past the wine store at its front. The lowkey bar at the back has a smartly curated wine list, and you can pop a bottle from the store with no corkage fee. A full bar program and light tapas-inspired bites make for a restorative evening.
Dive option: The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, right on town square, draws crowds of locals and visitors. Post up on a saddle seat at the bar or boot scoot on the dancefloor; there’s live music almost every night of the week.
Stay: Jackson may be dominated by sprawling hotels and motels these days, but the tucked-away Inn on the Creek has all the charm of a miniscule Swiss chalet. Located in a quiet part of town — but still walkable to the square — the inn looks out on Flat Creek and offers multiple room floor plans. From $199 per night.
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