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“Our mountain is like nothing you have skied before!” So begin signs at the base and top of the 100-passenger JHMR tram, which stretches 4,139-feet from the base area to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain. The sign continues. “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 become lost. You could make a mistake and suffer personal injury or death. Protect yourself – understand the trail map and ask questions before you proceed. Obey all trail signs and markers. Please think and be careful. Give this special mountain the respect it demands!”
These signs aren’t being overly dramatic. Even the most skilled skiers can find themselves in trouble around JHMR’s 2,500 acres. The 116 named runs (half of which are advanced) are well marked though, so most often you have to go looking for trouble. You also have to look hard to find lift lines. Not counting the tram on a powder morning, a long line at JHMR is five minutes.
There’s a new lift at JHMR for 2011/2012: the Marmot double chair. Starting just below the existing Thunder Lift, Marmot rises 1,200 feet across Rendezvous Mountain to the top of the Bridger Gondola. Formerly, the only way to get from Thunder to the Gondola was to ski all the way down to the base area and then take the gondola up. The Marmot lift not only shines when you’re starving at the base of Thunder, but also during early and late season. It’ll let you stay most all day at mid- and upper-elevations.
People joke that a “powder day” at JHMR is more a “powder hour.” Locals here are hard-charging and can track out the area faster than you can say, “JHMR got 558 inches, the second highest total ever at the resort, in the 2010-2011 season.” Don’t think hiring a guide on a powder day is for sissies; it’s the smartest move if you’re looking to log some serious vertical and face shots or to really explore the resort’s 3,000+ acres of backcountry. In 1999, when JHMR opened the gates to lift-accessed backcountry, it was one of only a very few resorts to allow skiers and boarders to exit in-bounds terrain. Today, most resorts do.
If you don’t want to go with a guide, your best bet it to head for places that take a little work to get to. The Headwall and Casper Bowl are inbounds, but still require a 20-minute hike from the top of the Bridger Gondola.
If hiking is an anathema to you, Saratoga Bowl and Moran Woods, off Apres Vous and Casper, respectively, aren’t as steep or as long as the Hobacks (off the Sublette Quad), but, because of that, do usually offer fresh tracks for longer. The trees to either side of Pepi’s Ridge (Sublette Quad) can hold powder for a while too.
If you have the necessary backcountry gear – transceiver, shovel, probe – and skills, go ahead and aim for some true backcountry. Rock Springs and Cody Bowl, both just south of the resort boundaries and accessed through marked gates, are good starters, albeit fairly easy to get to so fresh powder doesn’t last long there.
Backcountry runs in Granite Canyon, to the north of the resort in Grand Teton National Park and accessed from the top of the tram or the Apres Vous lift, are more committing. They require route finding skills, or, better yet, someone who knows the area willing to let you follow them. Know that even though you don’t need climbing skins to get out of Granite Canyon, they’re never a bad thing to have in your backcountry pack in case you do get lost. The way back to the resort from Granite Canyon is a traverse, but not completely downhill. Expect to expend some (serious) energy before popping out near the bottom of the Apres Vous lift.
Groomers and Family
Consider this fair warning: The resort’s only beginner terrain is off the Eagle’s Rest double chair and the high-speed quad Teewinot lift next to the gondola in the base area. Together, the two lifts make for a nice learner’s area. Once you’re beyond beginner though, you’ll most likely find it boring, although the resort does a great job of cutting tracks into the woods between the wide-open runs. It is most often kids that avail themselves of these little off-piste adventures though.
Once you’re an intermediate skier, you have quite a few choices at JHMR. If you don’t want to worry about having to pay particular attention to a trail map (and perhaps ending up above a cliff), Apres Vous Mountain is your best bet. The smaller and less cliff-y of the resort’s two mountains is serviced by a high-speed quad from the top of the Teewinot lift and, heading skier’s right from the top of the lift, has an array of groomed intermediate runs stretching its entire face.
The easiest intermediate runs on the mountain, which are still a big jump in difficulty for those coming from the resort’s green runs, are off the Casper Bowl Triple Chair. Easy Does It, Lift Line, and Camp Ground are the most mellow runs off this lift.
Horn’s Hole Traverse to Amphitheater from the top of the high-speed quad Thunder Chair, make another of the resort’s more mellow intermediate runs. The Bridger Gondola accesses a lot of intermediate groomers, but they are substantially steeper than the runs mentioned off Casper and Thunder. Gondola intermediates are generally moderately steeper than the intermediate runs off the Apres Vous lift.
As of the 2010-2011 winter, JHMR was home to the only Burton Stash Parks in the Rockies. Using the natural terrain, local wood, and “all the creative elements the mountain has to offer” (to quote a JHMR press release), the Burton Stash Parks – there are four scattered around Apres Vous Mountain – challenge riders’ imaginations along with their ability to defy gravity. Scattered about as they are with fun features like giant carved wooden animals, they make for fun spectating too.
Between the four areas, you’ll find 54 features, including log slides, jumps, pillows, and a vertical, curving wall riders fly around before launching out into empty air. Even those with no intention of their skis or board losing contact with the snow should swing by to check it out.
JHMR also has two terrain parks – one expert and one beginner – and a 400-foot long, 18-foot high superpipe. The beginner park is dominated by knee-high mini rippers – heck, the expert park often seems to be as well! — but you will occasionally see an adult checking out the rails or mini-jumps. The expert park does have some intermediate features, so burgeoning tricksters don’t have to go from the three-foot jumps in the beginner park to a halfpipe with 18-foot walls.
New in 2011/2012, the resort’s superpipe has its own dedicated staff and groomer. Because 15-foot walls weren’t tall enough, they’re being raised to 18-feet.
P.O. Box 550
Projected Opening Ski Season: 11/24/2012
Projected Closing Ski Season: 04/07/2013
Projected Days Open: 116
Days Open Last Year: 128
Years Open: 48
Average Snowfall: 450"
Pros: Views, No Lift Lines, Food
Cons: Crowded Runs, Expensive, No Middle Ground
Pros: Terrain, snow, town, experience
Pros: Tons of skiable area, and very few people
Cons: so cold, a little hard to get to
Pros: huge terrain, no lift lines ,decent snow
Cons: very expensive
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Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee fly into April with skiing and season finales.More