Jackson Hole’s famed “Big Red” tram transports 100 passengers to the resort’s 10,450-foot summit in just 10 minutes. From the top of the tram, skiers and riders are able to access 4,139 vertical feet of continuous fall-line skiing and riding. Offering 2,500 lift-served acres inbounds and thousands more in the sidecountry, accessible via an open-gate policy, Jackson Hole is a veritable winter playground for those who dare to let it ride. Bagging first tracks at Jackson Hole is a truly unbeatable and brag-worthy experience. Getting the coveted “first box” in the morning requires setting out your gear the night before and an early wake up, especially on a powder day, but it’s beyond worth it.
We caught up with Patrick Nelson, the sales manager and Ski.com’s main point of contact at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, to share a few different top powder-day routes from the top of the first tram based on conditions, snowfall and how rowdy you’re looking to get.
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The “go-for-glory” run
On a powder day, Jackson Hole’s terrain provides heli-esque skiing without the price tag. If you’re treated to a lot of new snow and you’re able to get first tram, Patrick recommends going big on your first run while your legs are fresh and the mountain is still untracked. From the top of the tram, head to Rendezvous Bowl and pick whatever line looks good to you. Just try not to squeal in delight as you glide through the light, bone-dry Cowboy Powder that has made Jackson Hole famous for the past 50 years. We bet you can’t do it!
Make your way down to the blue Rendezvous Trail, or R-Trail as it’s known by locals, and drop into the renowned “Hobacks.” Stick to South Hoback or Middle Hoback, and take it all the way to the Union Pass traverse and then to the Union Pass chair. If you didn’t get enough, head over to the tram and head back up to the top.
The “stay-high” method
“If the snow report tells you that it snowed a lot up high, but not much at lower elevations, stay on the upper mountain, i.e. terrain accessed from the top of the tram, Sublette and Thunder,” says Patrick. Start your day with a creamy descent down Rendezvous Bowl from the top of the tram to Cheyenne Bowl or Bivouac trees, which are both “perennial favorites and great to get first thing,” says Patrick. Hop on Rendezvous Trail, and take it back to the Sublette Chair. The Sublette Chair affords a ton of options, says Patrick.
For wide-open skiing, take Flip Point into Laramie Bowl or for a secret stash that stays untouched for a while, head into Bernie’s Bowl, Split Rick or Bird in the Hand. For steep and technical, ski one of the Alta Chutes. Stay tuned into the JH Tapped App to know when the Headwall is open. When that area is a go, traverse skier’s left off the top of Sublette and head towards the Cirque. When you get there, stay high and left on the traverse and you will see the boot pack on your left. From the top of the 15-minute hike, you can choose to ski the Headwall (closest), Casper Bowl (most technical) or Crags (furthest and probably deepest).
The “steep and deep” plan
Powder and Corbet’s Couloir go hand in hand. There’s never a better or softer time to drop into this iconic run than after a big snow storm, says Patrick. From the top, ski down the far skier’s left of Rendezvous Bowl. After a couple turns, you’ll be peering over the steep precipice into Corbet’s. To do it right, Patrick recommends “committing to the drop in and nailing that crucial right hand turn.” The couloir opens up significantly after that, and then you’ll be able to enjoy some of the deepest turns on the mountain.
From there, head down the fall line to Expert Chutes. Link the run into Toilet Bowl—if visibility is good—where you can enjoy some more wide-open, steep skiing.
You still have a lot more skiing ahead of you, too. Continue down towards the Thunder Chair, take the lift up and go straight for Tower Three, a locals’ favorite for steep powder skiing that starts tight and technical right under the lift and opens up a bit when it bends left. If you’re yearning for more steep and deep, do another Thunder lap and check out the Mushroom Chutes or work your way over towards Sublette for more steep skiing in Alta Chutes.
At some point, you’re going to need a break. Head down one of the lower faces, South Colter Ridge or Lower Sublette Ridge, which hold fresh turns and provide a nice “victory lap” after you’ve conquered all of the aforementioned terrain.
If getting first tram is high on your list of Jackson Hole ski vacation “must-dos,” stay in Teton Village. It makes getting in the tram line a lot easier and allows you to sleep a little longer.
–Laurel Ann Nelson - Mountain Travel Expert, 800-610-8911×3043
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com managing the website and blog content, I couldn't be happier. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.