Jackson Hole Off Piste

In Jackson Hole there are experts. And then there’s the Jackson Hole Air Force – the seriously expert locals. They all ski at the same resort in Wyoming, but not necessarily on the same mountain, because apart from its signature peak, Rendezvous Mountain, Jackson Hole has a “secret” mountain: Cody Peak, which has “runs” that make some of Jackson’s tougher in-bounds trails look like routine blues.

From the moment Jackson Hole opened in 1965, it was marketed as an unusually challenging mountain. To this day there is a sign at the top of Rendezvous Mountain which says: "Our mountain is like nothing you have skied before. It is huge, with variable terrain, from groomed slopes to dangerous cliff areas and dangerously variable weather and snow conditions. You must always exercise extreme caution. You could make a mistake and suffer personal injury or death. Give this special mountain the respect it demands."

Corbet's Couloir is the signature chute at Jackson. But you don't need to ski Corbet's to find plenty of adventures on Rendezvous. There are chutes, gullies and cirques all over the mountain. Alta, Expert and Tower Three Chutes - steep, double-fall line descents through the trees - provide quite sufficient challenges for most experts. Throw in Paint Brush, Toilet Bowl and the Headwall and you'll have had a good day's work out. Reserve another day for skiing the Hobacks, a wonderfully long, barnstorming off-piste valley that will reduce even strong skiers' legs to putty.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was one of the first resorts to reverse the trend of discouraging skiers and snowboarders from venturing outside the ski area boundaries, and possibly the first to introduce a European-style guiding service. Today 5,000 acres of legendary back-country skiing terrain is available to good holiday skiers in the Bridger-Teton National Forest throughout the winter.

For experts this change of policy was like declaring that every day between Thanksgiving and Easter was Christmas Day. In spite of America's notoriously litigious culture it ended a "cat and mouse game" that has "pitted skiers and snowboarders against ski patrollers" for a decade or more.

As a result of Jackson's policy, the resort now has a burgeoning guiding program. But although skiers and boarders can now access terrain outside Bridger-Teton National Park, the guides are not allowed to escort you into neighbouring Teton National Park, where runs like Endless Couloir, Air Force Couloirs, Mile Long Couloir, and Cardiac Ridge await hard-core skiers. The only "safe" way to ski such terrain is to do it with someone with a sound local knowledge. A friendly ski patroller on his day off would be ideal. It is not that all the skiing in the back-country is either difficult or dangerous. But without a guide - official or unofficial - you will have far less chance of anticipating the degree of hazard. Skiers should be aware that skiing "out of bounds" is entirely at your own risk.

This development does not mean that Jackson Hole has removed any ropes from its so-called "in-bounds" terrain. Such is the nature of Jackson's traditional ski area that anyone slipping under a rope is liable to be confronted not only with the confiscation of his or her lift ticket, but a huge cliff and the possibility of disaster.

Now that the gates around Jackson's already tough ski area are open, there are plenty of opportunities for challenging back-country tours. Rocksprings and Green River Bowls, below Cody, provide plenty of variety, with some steep pitches like Space Walk and Zero G. You won't run short of some of the most challenging, exhilarating terrain in the Rockies.

On the way to Rock Springs Canyon, you will pass Drew's Slide, which runs all the way from the top of Four Pines down through two cliff bands into Upper Green River Bowl. Drew's slide commemorates a remarkable rescue in 1992 involving an avalanche dog called Coup and Jerry Balint, his ski patrol handler.

Drew Dunlap was the first skier to be found alive by a dog in the US without wearing an avalanche transceiver. In a huge slide, visible from top of the Jackson Hole tram hundreds of yards away, he was swept down the two cliff bands and buried by several feet of snow. Coup dug him out, barely alive.

Cody Peak was once the haunt of the ski patrol and hard-core skiers - the "Air Force" - who were allowed access to it during a brief window of opportunity in the Spring. Although Corbet's has yet to claim a fatality, it is important when hiking up Cody (there are no lifts) to realise what you might be letting yourself in for. Since like many of its Alpine counterparts, Jackson operates a guiding service, and if you plan to ski Cody, it would be foolish to do so without one.

Nobody in their right mind but a fully-fledged extreme skier should even contemplate Central Couloir, but runs like No Shadows, Four Shadows, Once Is Enough and Twice is Nice can be skied by experienced experts. Just make sure you ask your guide whether you are up to it. There are some "don't fall here" situations

A spokesman for the Bridger-Teton National Forest said: "Safety is our number-one priority. Carrying transceivers, shovels, probes, basic survival and rescue gear, skiing with a partner, carrying cell phones needs to be normal practice. We encourage back-country travellers to attend local avalanche awareness courses.

And a Sheriffs' Office spokesman warned:" Rescues could incur charges for the individuals involved, and there is always the chance that rescue may not be possible due to location, weather or avalanche conditions."


The above text is for informational purposes only. Ultimate-Ski.com does not in any way recommend or endorse skiing beyond resort boundaries. Backcountry skiing is inherently dangerous and should be undertaken only by those with a full appreciation of the risks; severe injury or death may occur. Persons proceeding beyond resort boundaries should be prepared for avalanche danger, weather changes, terrain hazards and be equipped and trainsed for self-rescue. If you require assistance you may be charged for your rescue. Proceed at your own risk.

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