Since Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a sign in the Tram line warning that its inbounds terrain is "Like nothing you have skied before," the the idea of skiing the nearby unpatrolled backcountry should rightfully be a teensy bit intimidating. One type of skier gets a particular sort of excitement reading such a warning, while others prefer to stay on groomed terrain. Both are valid responses!
If learning about avalanche rescue and wearing special backcountry safety equipment isn't part of the ski day you envision, then you have come to the right place, what with the nearly endless supply of patrolled inbounds skiing of all sorts at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee.
On the other hand, if spending a day among fresh untracked snow in the tranquil backcountry is what excites you, then you've also come to the right place with the [actually] endless supply of out of bounds terrain in the Tetons and surrounding mountain ranges.
Here's the scoop on the best ways to ski the backcountry in Jackson Hole.
Inbounds vs Out-of-Bounds
First of all, let's define backcountry skiing, and why it is so important to distinguish it from skiing at a resort. Backcountry skiing means using a variety of means (helicopters, snow cats, your own two feet!) to access skiing "out of bounds" in places where there is no ski patrol, and mostly little or no avalanche control. This is in contrast to "inbounds" skiing, where you purchase a lift ticket and roam within the ski patrol maintained, avalanche-controlled boundaries of a resort.
In Jackson Hole, there are several options of fantastic services to lead you into the beautiful wonders of backcountry skiing. By going with one of them, you are making the wise decision to allow their expert and certified guides to plan and evaluate the safe terrain to ski or ride. Similar to how you are allowing experts on the ski patrol at a resort to make these decisions when you ski inbounds.
It is NOT advisable to ski or ride anywhere outside the boundary of the resorts without services such as the ones discussed below. As you'll pleasantly find out with these great outfits, the terrain out there is endless. If you don't know every inch of the terrain, and more importantly snowpack, like they do, don't go on your own.
Alpine Backcountry Guides
In 1999, Jackson Hole famously became the first major North American ski resort to install gates on the boundaries of the resort where skiers and snowboarders can explore the neighboring backcountry terrain at their own risk. Using these gates, the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers the services of backcountry guides who will lead you safely into the vast playgrounds beyond.
As a personalized experience, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's backcountry guides can be booked by small groups for a day's worth of adventure and powder skiing in the majestic bowls and canyons south of the ski area boundary. A day with JHMR backcountry guides will begin at the base of the ski area, where you will use the resort chairlifts and Tram for your laps of out-of-bounds skiing tailored to the ambitions and fitness of your group. Most trips include hiking to reach special areas, snow science and avalanche awareness discussions, and, of course, many thousands of vertical feet of skiing and riding!
Backcountry avalanche equipment is provided. For more information and FAQ check out the JHMR Backcountry Guides website.
Craving those perfect figure eight turns with your ski partner(s)? Try a day of Snowcat skiing for all the untracked snow you could ask for. Instead of tiring yourself out on the way up, let the snow cats do the work as you sit on board and rest up for more and more laps.
Grand Targhee snowcat skiing is a spectacular adventure with views to match. Luckily, the snowcat skiing operates in its own private loosely glided acreage right adjacent to the ski area, so you can try both inbounds and out-of-bounds in one day with their half-day snowcat skiing packages.
Have a big crew? Targhee also offers private snowcat rentals of up to 12 seats per cat, which can be a tremendously fun experience for a few families, friends, or larger groups. With more than 600 acres of terrain just for the snowcat skiing, you will have a day of powder skiing all to yourselves. Check out the details at the Grand Targhee Resort website.
Traveler Tip: Still completely thrilling for expert skiers in its beauty and snow quality, Snowcat skiing is also the best option for someone new to backcountry skiing to test their skills and endurance before committing to hiking with backcountry guides or the leg burn of longer helicopter-skiing runs.
For the most ambitious powder-hounds, heli-skiing is the biggest rush of them all. Helicopter assisted skiing allows you to get to the most remote areas of all backcountry possibilities.
The local heli-ski operation, High Mountain Heli-Skiing, flies to terrain across 305,000 acres of the Teton, Gros Ventres, Snake River and Palisades mountain ranges surrounding Jackson Hole. There's no other way to get to the terrain they use and you'll truly feel that to be the case when you're out there. Pristine alpine powder fields, open bowls and natural glades are yours for the taking with the leadership of their highly experienced guides.
High Mountain Heli-Skiing offers day trips, or packages with luxurious lodging at Teton Springs Lodge and Spa, where the helicopter picks you up on the front lawn! For the ultimate powder skiing and riding experience—where even the ride up is exciting—give High Mountain Heli-Skiing a call to discuss your options.
Backcountry Ski Week at the Alpine House
Earn your powder cred and forge lifelong bonds with fellow adventurers during an intimate five-day/six-night mountain sojourn. You’ll sleep in luxury at The Alpine House Lodge & Cottages, ski Jackson Hole’s eight breathtaking peaks during the day with expert Exum guides, and enjoy slicing turns at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Daily breakfast at the “cutest breakfast spot in town,” sack lunches, avalanche gear, and a celebratory gourmet dinner to toast your accomplishments are all included.
307-739-1570 | 285 North Glenwood Street, Jackson
The Last Word
If you're excited to experience the thrill and solitude of the famous Jackson Hole backcountry, any of these options can be the golden ticket.
There's little in the world of skiing and snowboarding that beats the feeling of those deep heartbeats and breaths reverberating around in your head as you charge through open powder with no one around but your friends and family. The skiing is first-class in the backcountry, but so is the scenery. Make sure to stop every once in a while to smell the snow-blanketed roses, so to speak!
Traveler Tip: Most of these backcountry options provide all your necessary avalanche safety gear and will explain how to use it. Call ahead to check on what's included exactly, such as backpacks, lunch, snacks, or powder ski rentals. (You'll need powder skis!) We do not recommend backcountry skiing and riding on your own unless you have completed avalanche and safety courses and have extensive experience.