I have just returned from spending five nights at the Elk Country Inn in Jackson, Wyoming, where my brother and I skied (and snowboarded) at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, just outside of Jackson. We did not know this, but JHMR is widely considered one of the most difficult ski resorts in North America. (We were told this after four days of marveling at how steep the mountain is.)
Jackson Hole is one of the larger ski resorts in the US: it has the 3rd highest vertical drop in the US (and 6th highest in North America) and it is in the top 20 in North America in terms of skiable area. It is also notable for its utter lack of beginner terrain: I estimate about 8 “green circles” – for those of you who are skiing novices, a green circle is a beginner run – out of about 115 runs. That is totally nuts.
Make no mistake, this mountain is steep.
My brother and I grew up skiing in Ontario at a 30 run ski club on a 700 foot “mountain” outside of Collingwood. Though I have skied at Whistler-Blackcomb, Jackson Hole is definitely the most difficult place I have ever skied, overall. (Aside: Whistler has equally tough runs, but the difference is that Whistler has easy options practically everywhere and a very large number of beginner to intermediate runs, whereas Jackson Hole doesn’t really “do” beginner and only sort of does intermediate.)
We spent most of our time on the blue squares (intermediate, relative to the resort) and double blue squares (an “intermediate” designation, as far as I know, unique to Jackson Hole) but also skied a number of black diamonds: glades, mogul runs and bowls. We avoided all the most difficult runs and all of the substantial back-country terrain (both within and without the ski area boundaries) for a number of reasons:
- I am frankly not good enough,
- I hadn’t skied in three years,
- and I am totally out of shape (my legs are killing me right now).
But one of the shocking things about this resort is the sheer number of skiers who are there precisely for those types of runs. It is humbling to be constantly surrounded by skiers who are better than you, especially when this means that you have to limit yourself to the “easier” parts of the mountain.
Overall, despite the challenging terrain – or perhaps because of it – I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I would like to go back. It is up there with Whistler as the best ski resort I have been to. I can’t say it’s my favourite; that’s probably Jay Peak still because of the number of times I have been there. But it’s definitely the hardest I’ve been to.
I don’t know that I will return, because there are so many ski areas in the world, and I’ve been to so few. But if I do, I think I will have to better prepare myself next time: do some practice ahead of time; hire a guide; take a few lessons on the mountain.
PS: As far as I can figure, it’s called Jackson Hole because it’s literally a hole in the Rockies (or the Tetons – i.e. breasts – as this part of the Rockies are known):
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