Skiing Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole: Pros, Cons, and Otherwise

My first skiing stop on the tour was Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole. Usually, I start in Montana at Red Lodge or Big Sky or both, but lack of snow in Montana and the desire to see a good friend got the better of me, and I skipped the Montana leg.

My first day at Grand Targhee I skied alone while my buddy Bill taught at the ski school. I’d been here before, so the terrain wasn’t all new, but my only skiing this season had been at Hyland Hills back in Bloomington, Minnesota, vertical of about 175 feet. Contrast that with Grand Targhee, with a vertical of about 2300 feet and a much steeper slope. I use SkiTracker to track my skiing, and the Tracker measures slope. Hyland comes in around 23-27 degree slope, Grand Targhee is at 31-32 degrees. What does that mean? In my world, it means it’s a lot steeper. When I checked my Tracker at the end of the day at Jackson Hole, the slope read 50 degrees. I wondered what in the world that meant.

Jackson Hole IS difficult to ski—their blue square runs are some of the hardest I have skied. I wondered where I was when that 50 degree reading was taken, and I figured it was when I skied the top of Jackson, where there’s a lip at the top before it flattens out some. It’s a black diamond run, but not so bad… And the really steep part is just at the top, and not long, maybe 4 or 500 feet of vertical. According to Ski Magazine, extreme skiers don’t consider a run steep until it’s at 60 degrees. The angle of repose for snow is around 75 degrees, the point when snow can’t hold and will slide down.

It’s one thing to ski down a run, say a difficult blue or black run, and it is another thing to LOOK GOOD, doing it. My first day out at Grand Targhee, I felt like I was fighting the mountain, braking on every turn, muscling my way down. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I didn’t know what. And in spite of it, I was having fun, and enjoying the grandness of the mountains.

At the end of the day, Bill said he had watched me ski down one of the blue runs as he and his intermediate student rode a chair up. Part of me was mortified. OMG, I knew I had to have looked like a farmer plowing virgin ground, but Bill was kind. He didn’t offer any tips or criticisms.  But I want to get better, and I know that you can’t improve if you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. So I asked Bill to level with me, and tell me what I could work on.

He gave me good advice and coaching. He talked about when to put pressure on my inside ski to initiate the turn, smooth out my flexion and extension, and let my skis turn and my torso flow downhill. I started practicing on the next run.

I was able to practice at Grand Targhee and I continued while at Jackson Hole. I took a mountain host tour at Jackson, so I had a good skier to follow, but when runs get steeper, a person reverts back to the safety of bad habits. So, all day, I felt myself doing things right, and then caught myself doing things wrong. It was frustrating and elucidating. Sometimes I can feel myself overthinking everything, and sometimes, in the midst of a turn, I wonder how it can be that I am so old, and have skied so much, that I’m not better than I am.  I wonder if that’s what everyone thinks, or if it is just me.

But enough about me. Grand Targhee or Jackson Hole? They back up to each other: Jackson Hole on the east side of the Grand Tetons, and Grand Targhee on the west. If you want the glitz of a world class resort, Jackson wins. If you want local flavor and a more family friendly, wide variety of runs for all skill levels, Grand Targhee wins. If you want the feel of the real West, small town/small resort you will want Driggs and Grand Targhee. If you want the best views of the Grand Tetons from the mountain, go Grand Targhee. If you are a guy with a bunch of guy friends on a guys’ trip, Jackson Hole.  Nightlife? Jackson Hole. If you want traffic jams and parking concerns, go to Jackson Hole. Or if you’d like to experience it all, like I do, go to both! They’re only an hour from each other by way of a mountain pass and they are different enough from each other to make the effort worth it.

My mountain guide said they refer to January as “Manuary” there are so many guy trips that happen. I hadn’t heard that term before, but I have noticed through the years and at many resorts the large number of Man Trips where a group of 5-10 guys will spend a week or long weekend skiing and boarding. I don’t notice women doing the same thing. Does it have to do with testosterone?

I’ll be going back to Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole in a few weeks—will my impressions be different?

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