To really appreciate Jackson Hole skiing, one needs to spend more than a single winter here, as no two are alike. A ski season is a one-sided argument, complete only unto itself. To be sure, there’s good, bad and ugly in any two seasons, but without juxtaposing them, juggling the experiences in your memory, can you learn what the bigger picture looks like: that even when it sucks, it’s awesome.
The winter of 2010-2011 was the season that never died. It began at Thanksgiving, bringing storms that blanketed our mountains with significant snowfall, which is a little early for us to experience the full stride of winter weather. But it came nevertheless. And it set the bar high for expectations. By Christmas, our season was humming. Relatively stable backcountry conditions pervaded most of the range, and skiers and riders were party to one of the best years in memory. Even as the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort closed for the season our snowpack grew.
Three weeks after the resort stopped running their lifts our settled snowpack was still on the rise in late April. Winter was officially having a party, one in which we couldn’t leave. Ski touring yielded unrivaled access to terrain that was gorged, presenting lines I’d never experienced in my entire 18 years of living in the valley. Steep chutes, interrupted with rock bands, were not only filled in, they were drowning, and resembled broad faces, almost unrecognizable from their usual throaty contours we love to follow down. To skiers and riders, it was the equivalent to Elysium, and I was lucky enough to ski well into July, and made turns in random, obscure places where it’s unlikely I’ll ever ski again.
Last year? Not so much. We had one of our worst winters in terms of snowfall, temps, and general skiing atmosphere. Storms came and went in cycles that weakened our snowpack, left poor, scary conditions more often then not, and ended in the spring with 45% of normal snowpack levels, leaving a protracted, unrealized season.
But that’s okay. It’s good to have seasons that leave us wanting more. It keeps me honest, thickens my skin, and it teaches me the value in the continuum of my life as a skier. Good skiing looks good no matter the conditions. Why should it not be the same for my attitude? Just because Mother Nature can be a stubborn, indecisive bitch whose given to unjustified mood swings doesn’t give me any more of a right to complain.
Next winter is still a long way off. Wishing all I can do for a big stable winter is fine, but wishing is passive. It’ll be what it’s going to be, but unlike all others thus far, Stio™ will be a part of it. And I like that. It’s new, fresh and will have some impact on how I move through the coming season. Literally, or otherwise.
Making tracks down a very filled in north face of Mt. Hunt, late April 2011
Just finishing a slightly unnerving Jackson Lake crossing, early April 2012.