Winter in Jackson Hole is special. Special and cold. That expansive Wyoming beauty comes with that expansive Wyoming chill—it's just the way it works. But nobody here lets that get in their way and trading a few notches on the thermometer for the extra magic of winter stillness is a deal we'll make again and again.
So not to fear, a well-packed trip will be a warm one and you'll be ready to spend the full day outside. Luckily, our climate gives us a dry, clear type of cold and not that frozen, damp bone-attacker of the coldest days in the East and Midwest. There can definitely be mild temperatures, but it's our job to help you prepare for the freezing times. So, take our advice on the right clothes and gear and you'll be free to enjoy yourself. That Wyoming chill's got nothing on you!
Weather can change fast here and certain weeks get colder than others for sure. Just in case, be prepared to be here during a winter cold snap, where daytime temperatures can be in the teens or even high single digits. Average high temperatures in Jackson Hole December through February at the 6,000-foot valley elevation (remember it's usually colder on the mountains) are a few degrees under 32, while the nighttime lows average in the single digits.
Related Article: Jackson Hole Weather Tips
The Layering Lowdown
When the cold snow is creaking underfoot and even the bison are chilly, you're going to want to make sure that you are ready for your day outdoors, with the flexibility to adjust as the weather or activities change. Therefore, layering is the way to go and, of course, it all starts with the first layer.
- Base layer: A base layer or long underwear made of performance fabric is absolutely the place to begin. You can even layer up under your jeans if you're going to be walking around outdoors. And if active athletics are the order of the day, then it's even more important to start with a synthetic base layer that keeps moisture away from your skin.
- Materials, materials, materials: For a day spent outside —especially skiing—you'll probably want to follow a thin base layer with another thicker option like wool, fleece, or even a second layer of long underwear. Warmer than most synthetics, Merino wool and even thin silk are the all-natural options for outdoor performance clothing. Merino wool retains more heat than polypro or capilene, but also holds more moisture. It makes a great mid layer, but you won't want it staying wet against your skin after a lung-pounding mogul run or an uphill cross country push.
- Mid-layers: The mid-layers are where you have the most flexibility. It's not as critical for mid-layers to be moisture-wicking performance fabrics like base layers, so find your favorite snuggly fleeces and woolens and just make sure they fit well enough that no movements are constricted. No point being perfectly warm if you wobble out there like a marshmallow in a straitjacket and can't do anything! (Actually, that's not entirely true, this can be a great and practical look for less-active enterprises like sleigh rides, winter stargazing, or s'mores-making.)
- Jacket: Lastly, you'll want a jacket that blocks the wind. This may seem obvious, but many of those warm puffy down jackets feel great until you add the speed and wind of being on skis. On the absolute coldest days, these make a great final layer under a shell. Most modern winter performance jackets are either insulated or provide a wind-blocking shell. With the fabrics and technology available these days you'll be amazed at how much warmth is provided by even the thinnest winter shell material.
Putting It All Together
Generally, it's probably better to err on the side of being a little too hot rather than a little too cold. Most winter outerwear has zipper vents or places to unzip to vent a bit if you're overheating. If you're too cold, the easy options are fewer.
Depending on the temperature, you might want to adjust your layering compared to the previous day. We find that it's most helpful to plan "how many layers?" by adding or reducing a thin mid-layer if it is significantly warmer or colder than yesterday, or if you were too hot or too cold. Obviously, this makes the first day the trickiest to gauge, but then everything is easy after that. Try to take a minute to open the door and stand outside before you leave for the day to calibrate everything and see if you seem to have enough on. And remember, it can be significantly colder up on the mountain!
Winter Essentials: Clothing
Like long underwear, socks can be hard to get excited about. That said, high-quality socks are critically important for a successful day of winter sports, especially when we're after that precision fit of ski boots. Look for performance socks that wick water off your feet. Smartwool (or one of the many similar, non-brand name fabrics) will keep your feet warm and dry in your boots and pad your skin against possible blisters.
Secondly, if you'll be skiing and know which boots you are using, try picking socks that will give you the snuggest comfortable fit. Socks come in several options of thickness and changing them can be a good remedy for boots that seem a touch too loose or a touch too tight. Plus, changing your socks is cheaper and easier than getting boot work done to fix the same problem.
Though performance socks can be expensive, they are more than worth the price—nothing can bring a great ski day to a premature end like cold or uncomfortable feet. Some might even argue that good socks are the most important piece of ski equipment.
Traveler Tip: No matter how cold you think it is, don't wear more than one pair of socks when skiing; absolutely no stacking! Wearing two pairs of socks is the biggest cause of blisters and foot pain in ski boots. Finally, somewhere not to layer.
Are your gloves or mittens waterproof? The warmest gloves or mittens can be compromised quickly if they touch too much snow and get a little wet. They should also be insulated and if you get cold hands it's better to wear gloves that are a little big and therefore have room inside for warm air to circulate. For this reason, mittens are great for the coldest days. Tight gloves, no matter how insulated, feel colder.
For a flexible option to keep your hands warm, try a pair of thin glove liners. Put them on under your gloves or mittens when it's very cold, or if you end up taking your gloves off frequently. Glove liners now exist with metallic fingertips for smartphone usage and a pair of wrist clips allow your gloves or mittens to dangle safely while they're off.
Buffs! These may be the greatest addition to the ski and outdoor winter wardrobe of our century. Check these things out at any ski shop if you don't already have one... or two, or three. Buffs are basically stretchy neck gators made from very thin fabric. Usually cylindrical or tube-shaped, they can be worn in endless ways around the neck, face, or whole head to protect from wind and cold. They aren't as thick and cozy as those fleece gators, but they also don't get wet and freeze.
Available in endless colors and patterns, you'll see buffs around the necks of most locals in the lift lines and for a mere $15 to $25, they make great stocking fillers. Plus, if you're a fly fisherman or spend extended time out in the sun in the summer you'll get even more usage, as they provide excellent face protection in any season.
Winter Essentials: Gear
If you're going to be downhill skiing or snowboarding while you're here, you'll probably want to remember to bring your ski helmet or try on some of the helmets for purchase or rent when you arrive. Almost everybody on the mountain wears a helmet while skiing or snowboarding and with endless colors and styles to choose from these days, there's really no reason not to wear one. Plus, they're warmer than hats.
Bringing a small day pack to Jackson Hole is useful for many winter activities. From snowmobiling and snowshoe tours to downhill, and certainly backcountry skiing, having a backpack to carry extra layers, spare gloves or mittens, or snacks is never a bad idea. Also, if you're going skiing or riding in the backcountry you will need one to transport your avalanche safety gear.
What Else to Bring?
- Lip balm
- Snow goggles if you'll be skiing, riding, or snowmobiling
- Sunglasses with polarized lenses for added benefit against glare off the ice and snow
- High-topped winter boots that don't mind walking in snow
- A warm hat
- A pair of gloves for after skiing so you can let your ski gloves or mittens dry out
- A nice change of clothes for a night out
- Warm socks and more warm socks
- Your skis, snowboard and poles
Not to worry, Jackson Hole has lots of outdoor clothing and ski shops carrying all the latest and greatest cold weather clothing, gear, or anything you might need. Plus, most offer ski and snowboard equipment rentals. You'll find great shops in downtown Jackson, Teton Village, Wilson, or over at Grand Targhee.
Go check them out even if you don't need anything because the best thing about these shops is the staff. They live this stuff every day and are always happy to discuss you trip or gear with you, make suggestions and even share a few tips. You might learn a thing or two just from chatting with them even if you already have all the gear you need… wait a minute, it's Jackson Hole...nobody has all the gear they need!