Down in the Hole

Of all the backcountry I have skied on the planet, the place I keep wanting to go back to more than anywhere else is Jackson Hole. That’s mostly because the “backcountry” you can access from the resort isn’t really backcountry at all. It’s one mega-resort-sized sliced of easy to access sidecountry–and I’m not afraid to admit that there’s no better experience than lap after lap of easy-pickings untracked.

Salvation: The guilty pleasures of Rock Springs

Without turning this into too much of a love fest (are you reading this Jackson Hole Marketing department?), no place has the type of sidecountry you will find up in the Tetons. Hop out the gates and you are out in the wild with lines that have been featured in the ski movies that made me want to forgo a real job and become a ski bum for the rest of my life.

And when you reach the bottom? Traverse, ride the tram back up and do it again. And again. What’s more if you lack the chops to explore the Jackson backcountry on your own, you can hire the only AMGA-certified resort guide service in the U.S. to show you (the other side) of the ropes. And what a place to be a guide since, you take clients not only out in the wild but also down classics like Corbet’s and the Hobacks. “We call it ‘All-Country,’” former lead guide Eric Henderson told me.

I first skied the Jackson sidecountry with assistant lead guide Jim Kandolin on a trip with the dearly departed apparel brand Cloudveil. It was one of the most memorable experiences in my life—but of course it was just an average day in the Hole. We hiked up the ridge of Cody peak, dropped the cornice into Four Shadows and enjoyed the face shots. Then it was on to Four Pines and more face shots. Back up and laps on Powder Eights. More face shots. As a non-local you try to stay nonplussed in these situations. But damn!

I got into those goods again last year. And there was Jim on the tram with some other clients. He recognized me instantly, which I found amazing since I barely knew the guy and was wearing helmet and goggles. But Henderson showed me the promised land this time—deep stuff in Pinedale and Green River that took just a short sweaty hike to access and then, as usual delivered.

Even better, I got a look into how the guide operation here works. I attended the morning meeting and saw Kandolin and other guides (some who are members of the famed Jackson Hole Air Force) and discuss weather, slopes, shots and clients like generals in a war room. They use a metric called Total Miles of Wind to determine stability. And there was probably more ski and avy experience in that room that you’ll find on a whole patrol at some areas.  Which means that a trip with these guys can be safer than just digging a pit with your bros in the backcountry, stomping on it until it slides, looking at each other and saying, “let’s ski it.”

So yes, this letter is an unabashed love fest. But Jackson and the guides who show it off to fools like me deserve it. I can’t wait until I go back.

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