More Than a Ski Hill

More Than a Ski Hill

Known for intimidating steeps, bounteous snowfall, and gobsmacking Grand Teton views, Jackson Hole looms near the top of every skier and snowboarder’s tick list. World-class runs like the South Hoback and Corbet’s Couloir keep starry-eyed visitors and grinning locals alike enthralled all winter long. Only recently, however, has Jackson Hole Mountain Resort been able to generate a similar buzz come summer.

In step with a worldwide trend of ski resorts developing adventure opportunities for off-season guests, Jackson Hole began fashioning 10,450-foot Rendezvous Mountain into a summertime playground a decade ago. What started with a modest mountain biking park and a few scenic hiking trails has blossomed into more than 20 miles of gondola-accessed trekking and a dozen jump-filled bike trails, including four brand-new world-class downhill trails debuting this summer. In 2017, Jackson Hole also inaugurated one of the nation’s first via ferrata. Popular in the Alps, the climbing experience is set on sheer cliffs, features ladders, suspension bridges, and cables that climbers balance across. One of just a handful of other via ferratas in the United States, Jackson Hole’s is beginning to draw curious visitors from far and wide.

“We really have options for every interest in the summer now,” says Drew Kneeland, Jackson Hole’s ski patrol director. (As in winter, Kneeland’s patrollers stand ready in summer to lend assistance for guests across the mountain’s new amenities.) Kneeland’s own taste runs to hiking the mountain’s extensive trail network. Access the trails from the top of the Bridger Gondola, including gems like the Casper Ridge trail, a 1.75-mile out-and-back that traverses the 9,500-foot ridge forming the resort’s boundary with Grand Teton National Park. Or further afield, make the six-mile round trip beyond the resort’s southern boundary into Cody Bowl, a high alpine trek with a unique bonus—Cody bowl, says Kneeland, is “littered with brachiopods and bivalve fossils.”

Also starting from the top of the Bridger Gondola is the resort’s hiking classic, the Wildflower Trail, winding four gently graded miles through forests and meadows to Jackson Hole’s base, 2,700 feet below. Or do as the locals do, and ascend the Wildflower and then ride the gondola down for free, as the resort charges only for the ride up. One more option: for the first time in summer, the Sweetwater Gondola will be running for hikers and cyclists, dropping passengers at 7,640 feet, and about halfway up the Wildflower Trail. 

However you get to the top of the Bridger Gondola, grab refreshments or a meal at one of three options: cocktails and shared plates al fresco on the Deck; pizza, pastries and coffee at Off Piste Market; or hearty gourmet fare at Piste Mountain Bistro. Also atop Bridger: high altitude yoga classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings to unwind on a recovery day or to get you warmed up for a big hike from atop the gondola after.

For those looking for a little more exposure, book a tour on the via ferrata. Italian for “iron road,” ferratas originated in the Dolomites, where WWI soldiers affixed cables and ladders to traverse steep and sheer mountain routes. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort owner Connie Kemmerer was inspired to bring the popular European adventure to her own mountain when she visited the Dolomites and was able to climb the range’s precipitous routes with a group of friends that included, she says,“experienced climbers, novice climbers novices, and even some terrified of heights. It was rewarding for all of us.”

Jackson Hole’s via ferrata is a way to experience a piece of the Tetons’ own celebrated climbing heritage without the need for extensive training or a grueling, several-hour trek into the mountains. Located on cliffs just a short walk from the top of the gondola, guides lead clients on a choice of 14 separate routes, each affixed with a variety of iron rungs, tightrope cables, and even a 120-foot suspension bridge. Whether on rock or iron, every step is protected by cables running alongside, to which climbers attached their waist harness. “The climbing is a breeze, but the view below your feet is a real wow factor,” says guide Shannon Schiner.

Prefer to work with gravity rather than against it? Take a spin in the lift-serviced Jackson Hole Bike Park. This year, riders can start their descent from the Sweetwater Gondola, 1,000 feet higher up the mountain. Four new Sweetwater trails—Solitoga, Deer Jump, Deepest Darkest, and Dirty Harry—will challenge even the most skilled rider. “Dirty Harry is the trail you don’t want to ride without pads and a full-face helmet,” says trail crew boss Ranyon D’arge, “but Deepest Darkest will be our signature trail.” The advanced-intermediate flow trail careens through the forest, over swales and slaloming around head-high banked turn after banked turn. 

For experienced riders, descending Deepest Darkest will likely be as close as they can get in the summer to floating down Jackson Hole’s legendary slopes on a big February powder day. And while Jackson Hole will always be best known for the intimidating skiing accessed from it’s famous red tram, via ferrata guide Schiner says she has clients arriving specifically for the course’s unique challenge. Furthermore, she says, nowhere else in the Tetons can you start your climb, or your hike, with a gondola assist from halfway up the storied mountain range. 

Published at Mon, 17 May 2021 15:25:17 +0000