Jackson HoleIt’s Sunday Jan. 6, 2013 and just over 150 airline employees from all over the country are descending upon Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the  North American Airline Ski Federation Ski Week.  This is the first of four to be held this season. Karen and I are coming from Phoenix and decide to take the easiest option through SLC.  We travel “space available” and both legs are wide open.  We even get First Class on the short flight from SLC and are met by a cowgirl passing out free mimosas in the JAC terminal. I just love it when a plan comes together!

A short shuttle van trip takes us to our condo in the town of Jackson where we dump our stuff and then hoof it over to the Snow King Resort Hotel for group registration. A little paperwork to fill out, some free swag, and we head downstairs to the Shady Lady bar to tip a few with Team US Airways.  On the way home, Karen and I decide to splurge on a steak dinner downstairs at the iconic Cowboy Bar.  Very good, but very pricey. 

Monday morning dawns cold and gray.  Very cold, in fact, with temps hovering around 0F. Karen decides to forego skiing today and instead opts for a Hot Yoga class in the studio across the street from our condo. I head out to the shuttle bus stop, catch the 830, and find myself in a short tram line with some teammates on the mountain at 9.

The Tram Arrives

We unload at the top into a dense cloud with about ten feet of visibility.  Combine this with the fact that it hasn’t snowed in about ten days, and you could say the initial run down Rendezvous Bowl was like skiing by braille and not a crowd favorite. The rest of the day was spent getting the lay of the land and staying mostly close to the trees.             

 

That night we all congregate at the Town Square Tavern for a finger-food bufBCS Bowl night at the Town Square Tavernfet dinner and some BCS Bowl watching.  Most excellent I’d say…

Tuesday morning greets us with a nice snow falling and a few new inches on the ground.  We’ve arranged to meet with a local skier, a friend of a friend, this morning to give us a guided tour of the mountain.  John King works for ForeverResorts.com and has lived and skied in Jackson for twenty some years.  I gather up a small posse of followers anxious to see some of the good stuff.  John is one of those elite telemarkers who makes us alpiners feel lame, but we manage to keep him in sight as he takes us to some of his favorite stashes.  Unfortunately, with about 5” new over crust, the silky lines are hit and miss, but we all ski hard and have a blast.

Lunch at the HandlebarAfter a late lunch at the Handlebar, John has to go and Karen and I head back up the gondola for a couple more laps.  I find that the snow has finally started to accumulate and the line right under the gondola is non-stop fluffy bumps meandering in and out of the trees.  With JH’s notorious vertical, a couple of these and I’m toast.  Way past time for some cold ones over at the Mangy Moose Saloon.

Wednesday morning is money.  About 5 or 6” new overnight under bluebird skies.  Today is race day, and the gang wants to head up the Apre Vous lift to inspect the course.  After slipping the course one time, I can’t stand it any longer and grab a few righteous laps on the lightly wind packed uncut right under the chair. While the racers could only drool as they had to head over for the gates, I am a proud  one-man wrecking crew that morning.

Girl stuck on cliffMy friend Don has a childhood friend who is now the Facilities Manager for JH Resort. That afternoon we let him drag us around for a while until they all decide to stop and join the throng of rubber neckers at the top of the gondola watching a high angle rescue of a poor woman stranded on the side of a cliff.  I bolt and spend the rest of the day stash searching, which isn’t difficult on this massive mountain, and by the late afternoon I find myself in complete isolation at the top of the Hobacks.  The sun had by now brewed up a nasty serving of shin deep mashed potatoes and I was a bit nervous about the possibility of an injury here and it’s dire consequences.  Only about 2000’ feet of very deliberate turns and no stupid mistakes and I’ll be just fine…  I find the beauty and serenity of this area empowering and the anxiety only heightens the experience.  Eventually, the bottom mercifully comes and my legs are rubber.  I’m toast.

In a now familiar pattern, Thursday dawns to a few more inches of snow overnight, but nothing that could really be called a powder day.  A few of our group head over Grand Targhee that morning and resurrect what could have been a disastrous day into a powapalooza, but that’s another story. 

Corbets 2Karen and I head up the tram for a first-hand look at the infamous Corbet’s Couloir.  Following the ropes and some kids in front of us, we make our way over in blizzard conditions.  After a quick look and some photos I silently thank the JH Ski Patrol for having the wisdom to close this “mouth to hell” so I don’t have to make some lame excuse as to why I didn’t huck it.  From there we descend Rendezvous in nice boot deep powder along some small tree lines for orientation.  From a run or two off the Sublette we gradually work our way across the mountain to Apres Vous.  As the day went on it began to snow harder until at about three it was totally puking.  That all-to-often heard “You shoulda been here yesterday” was cruelly turning into “You should be here tomorrow”, which I knew we wouldn’t.  Our lot is out to the packed grunge bus for a stuffy ride back to town.

Thursday night is “awards night”.  Everyone congregates in a banquet room at the Snow King for a nice buffet dinner and awards ceremony.  After that is some more reminiscing over drinks and a bit of crazy dancing to a disco setup.  Things gradually peter out, but the night is young and Karen and I decide to stop by the Town Square Tavern on the way back to our place.  They have live music and Karen, in her own inimitable way, soon has the musician sitting at our table and the bartenders making her special drinks.  My job, as always, is just to rein her in…

Friday morning brings hurried packing to make the shuttle to the airport. We soon learn the first flight out that morning was cancelled for weather and a gloom familiar to all of us “non-rev” passengers pervades. We end up miraculously getting out later that afternoon on the last flight to SLC. The airport is about as cozy as one gets and the Delta agents were super helpful, but we were breathing a sigh of relief as the RJ left the tarmac.

In retrospect, JH is an amazing mountain.  The terrain and vertical are probably unmatched in the lower 48.  The snow could have been better, but was about as good as there was in the west at the time.  The town of Jackson is a hoot and not a hint of “attitude” from the locals. People just seemed to love it there, and I can’t say as I blame ‘em.   

FRITZSKI OUT

VIDEO:  Stash hunting at JH         VIDEO:  Ready to roll at JH