Rachael Oakes-Ash finds a place where she can powder-ski in America on a budget.

Snow is a player, teasing some resorts with his love one year, flirting with others a year later. Who can blame him, skiers and boarders worldwide lust after Snow and he knows it.

I had heard about Snow’s love affair with Jackson Hole, Wyoming for years.  I knew the mountain was home to die hard snow lovers begging for his love season after season.  For when it snows in Jackson Hole the mountain reveals it’s true worthy self, a mountain designed for advanced skiers with access to some of North America’s most exciting backcountry from the top of the tram.

Sadly I wasn’t feeling the love the day I arrived in Jackson Hole, Snow hadn’t been seen here for two weeks and the mountain was forlorn.   My first day skiing was spent clinging on to the  hill with the side of my skis desperate to get an edge to prevent me from tumbling the steep pitches for which this resort is known.  After two hours I cursed the snow gods and settled in for a chocolate s’more at the ski in ski out Four Seasons hotel.

There’s not much else to do in Teton Village, Jackson when Snow is missing in action. I could have made the twenty minute trek into the village of Jackson itself, in search of a Stetson wearing cowboy trying his luck at line dancing in the Cowboy Bar or I could have gone celebrity spotting for Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock or Dick Cheney but s’mores are a North American tradition and who am I to fight with sweet crackers, marshmallow and chocolate melted on a fresh fireside flame.  Besides when love is lost it is best to turn to sugar.

It’s when you give up on love that it always comes your way.  Snow made his appearance overnight while I was sleeping.  In spectacular fashion he dumped what felt like metres of his joy on a grateful  grand ski mountain. My heart warmed riding the new tram with Rob Hess my backcountry ski guide by my side. I knew that once we reached the top it was a mere traverse to the famed  three thousand acres of gate accessed back country bowls and chutes this mountain is known for.  Though be warned, take a guide, this is not terrain you ski alone.

Jackson Hole is still a relative hidden gem to Australians who have flocked to the Colorado ski fields by the thousands. Out here my accent is a novelty and the powder is all mine for the taking.  Sure the state attracts America’s rich with zero income tax  but the hospitality here is more home grown than ritzy bling and fur.  You don’t have to show it off here because this mountain is a leveller.

Folk who make it to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, the steeper of the resort’s two mountains, are greeted with a sign declaring ‘our mountain is like nothing you have skied before. You could make a mistake or suffer personal injury or death” and so on and so forth.  The Tram Ride up to it’s peak in the resorts’ swanky new tram may be the most comforting run here.

It’s best to start with the intermediate terrain of Après mountain and work your way up to riding the mid mountain gondola on Rendezvous, dubbed the ganja-la with good reason by those in the know.  Then take a seat at the gondola restaurant  with it’s prime time view of Corbett’s Couloir, a narrow chute with a fifty five degree pitch entrance impossible to do without getting air and then a forty five degree pitch exit.  Few skiers make it out on skis.    I’m scaring you, I know.  Truth is, there is terrain here for all, just a mere ten percent for beginners.  The rest is split fifty forty in expert and intermediate.

There is however two thousand five hundred acres of in bound terrain with a twelve hundred vertical metre drop and an average of eleven and a half metres snow a season.  All this is accessed by a one hundred person super speed tram, a high speed gondola, six quad chairs, two triple chairs and one double chair so you are never waiting long.

As it turns out I won’t be needing the chairlift, not on my first powder day at Jackson Hole, Rob Hess takes me out the back, way out the back where we hike some metres to terrain and snow I have only got to by helicopter before. This is a powder skiers dream and theoretically if I came out here with experienced friends and avalanche equipment it would only cost the price of my lift ticket at US$61.  There are few mountains in North America that can give you this.

If you want Rob, and you do as he has conquered Everest without oxygen assistance, it will cost you a little more at US$500 for a half day with Jackson Hole Backcountry Guides. If there are two of you then it’s US$530 between you or $570 between three.

All good love affairs must come to an end and it is I who abandons snow this time, not the other way round. Leaving as he prepares to spread his love on a new week of skiers who arrive on the plane I am to leave on.   I am slightly jealous as I hear on the grape vine he gave them even more than he gave me.


Where:  Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming www.jacksonhole.com

Where to stay:

Rusty Parrot lodge and spa in Jackson village.  Seriously fine lodge accommodation with all the trimmings.  From US$198 per person per night based on double occupancy for four to six nights including lift passes and dining upgrades. www.rustyparrot.com

Four Seasons Teton Village for ski in ski out concierge service, hearty breakfasts, beds fit for a king and a day spa you won’t want to leave.  From US$295 per night.  www.fourseasons.com/jacksonhole

Hotel Terra Teton Village – an eco friendly boutique hotel with a focus on user friendly design and a quirky top floor day spa with the best on mountain dining at il Villagio Osteria. From US$174 per night conditions apply.  www.hotelterrajacksonhole.com

For more information:

Wyoming Tourism – www.wyomingtourism.org

Photo: Flickr CC: Tracey Hunter


Rachael Oakes-Ash

About Rachael Oakes-Ash

Rachael Oakes-Ash is a journalist, travel writer, documentary maker, author of two books and ski writer for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.