Jackson Hole was one of the first resorts in the United States to have an “open gates” policy, and the terrain around it serves up some of the best lift-serviced backcountry in the country.
From puckering steeps to playful pillows, there’s just about every sort of adventure a rider could ask for, just a short traverse and bootpack from the tram. When the conditions are right, all that’s standing between riders and heli-quality terrain is an access gate.
Easy access notwithstanding, though, Jackson Hole’s backcountry is the real deal, and skiers and riders venturing out should be equipped as if they were headed into the backcountry miles from the resort. Just because the gates are always open doesn’t mean it’s always good to go. Beyond necessary equipment and education, users should also be versed in backcountry etiquette for what can be at times a very crowded area. If you’re unfamiliar with the area and snowpack, Jackson Hole’s guided backcountry tours can take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Most runs aren’t particularly complicated, but every year unsuspecting groups get into serious trouble because they don’t know where they’re going. That said, there are a few “can’t miss” hits that lie just beyond the resort ropes.
Perhaps the most visible lines from the top of Jackson Hole, Four Shadows and No Shadows begin just off the top of Cody Peak, south of the resort. With north- to east-facing aspects, these two bowls catch early morning light, although they can be skied all day if you’re not afraid of a little flat light. Plus, the runs’ aspect and elevation hold cold snow, even when the rest of the mountain is getting cooked. With around 800 feet of vertical, these two classics are a good introduction to Cody Peak.
Perhaps the most versatile area in terms of terrain and aspects, Four Pines has a little bit of everything, depending on snow conditions, sun, and your general mood. From a small knob at about 9,800 feet, there are options to the north, east and south. As expected, north-facing shots tends to hold better snow and the terrain tends to feature more pillows, cliffs and narrow chutes. Due east lies a bit mellower terrain with larger open powder fields and some chutes with airs (depending on snow depth) mixed in. Although they take the brunt of the sun, particularly later in the season, the south-facing couloirs off of Four Pines can serve up epic powder in December or top-notch corn in April. However, route-finding can be a little tricky, so some local knowledge is a must.
For the spicier side of Cody Peak, head south toward No Name peak via Once is Enough. Appropriately named, Once is an hourglass-shaped couloir with a technical entrance and a technical choke at low tide. Skier’s right from the top is the proper entrance–steep and exposed–but a sneak skier’s left fills in once the snow starts piling up. Hit this one early as the sun gets to it and pay attention to wind direction the night before, as it’s subject to a lot of wind loading. Cut hard right after the choke for a short sidestep and boot pack to No Name Face.
Although this classic line may look straightforward, No Name Face deserves respect. This northeast-facing line holds early season snow and is a repeat offender in terms of avalanches, particularly when the snowpack is lower. However, if you have the confidence in the snowpack, this line has a great sustained pitch as well as a handful of cliffs to air. Plus, it sets you up nicely for a gladed run through Pinedale, one ridge south of Four Pines.
This is the only run on this list that drains into Granite Canyon, the drainage north of the resort. No mountain guide can (legally) take you down it, as this terrain is in Grand Teton National Park. Endless to Mile Long is a roughly 2,000-foot descent that crosses two major couloirs, running ridge top to valley bottom. As such, it’s prone to major avalanches, so careful snowpack assessment and terrain management is necessary.
That said, these classics can provide some of the longest sustained vertical in the Jackson Hole backcountry. The terrain isn’t overwhelmingly puckering, but it does offer long fields of powder that are better than a lot of heli runs out there.
Check out Griffin in action at Jackson Hole, skiing some of these very lines: