“This mountain is like nothing you have ever skied before,” warns the 32-year-old sign at the bottom of Jackson Hole's aerial tram. Unlike this article, which will read like every article you've ever read on Jackson Hole before, the often-quoted statement has never lost its dramatic effect on its readers. One need only to stand at the base of the mountain and look up to understand that the words on the sign, and the words on this page, are not a boast; a tired, extreme-marketing cliché. They are simply a humble statement of truth: the mountain will kick your ass, period. And if you're not paying attention, it might even kill you.
Paul McCollister founded the Jackson Hole Ski Corporation in 1967; his name now relegated to a breakfast sandwich eaten by eager locals waiting long hours for the lifts to open on powder mornings. McCollister's dream was to create a European village-style resort. With the conception of the aerial tram–which takes passengers up 4,139 feet of continuous vertical rise (the greatest continuous rise in the U.S.), and drops them off at the top of Rendezvous peak, and 2,500 acres of skiable terrain–McCollister created the only resort of its kind in North America.
True to his vision, this year the resort has instituted an open-gate policy to the backcountry like the ones existing in Europe and select resorts in the Americas. Out-of-bounds terrain, which in the past has only been accessible off the top of the tram (without severe penalty) a few weeks a season, is now accessible any time–low- or high-avalanche danger–at your own risk. With mountains stretching in almost every direction off the resort, the riding possibilities available are mind-blowing and almost completely unfathomable. Now, truly, you could ride Jackson Hole every day for the rest of your life and never do the same line twice.
Every gift carries with it a price. Due to the hardcore reputation Jackson has earned for itself, it has become somewhat of a Mecca for vacationing, self-important jackasses with something to prove. Luckily, the installation of the new high-speed quad up Apres Vous has provided a whole mountain of intermediate terrain for most of the ducks to quack around on and feel satisfied. Unfortunately, there are always going to be those chosen few who have to claim to be the sickest, gnarliest, most extreme dudes … there's a bet among locals about how many of those dudes are going to ignorantly venture out of bounds unprepared, on a high-avalanche danger day, do something tragically stupid, and die.
It happens. Even inbounds, people get stuck in chutes, sluffed, and hung out over cliffs–we have some of the best ski patrollers in the country. This isn't meant to scare you into not coming. Everyone should ride Jackson, at least once. It'll change your mind about what snowboarding can be. But when you come, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. Jackson Hole is not a place to come to prove yourself–no one really cares how rad you think you are. Jackson is the place you come to find yourself. Not to mention, it's the most fun you can have a without a heli. Just be warned, once you ride here, you'll no longer be content to ride anywhere else.
And that's not a boast. It's simply a humble statement of truth.