If you've ever skied Jackson Hole after a big dump, you've experienced northwestern Wyoming's "feeding frenzy. Here, powder days shrink to powder hours, and untracked lines on Teton Pass—the popular backcountry area 12 miles from town—get claimed faster than an après table at the Mangy Moose.
Enter a fresh-pow alternative: High Mountain Heli-Skiing, Jackson Hole's only heli-skiing company, with access to 305,000 acres of open bowls and cascading basins. Located in the remote Snake River and Palisades ranges, HMH's permit area sees the same prodigious dumps and wind-loaded glades as the Tetons — minus the crowds.
Better yet, HMH drops you atop hero powder runs up to three weeks after a storm. In a valley known for hoarding its snow secrets, HMH unveils to newcomers what locals keep under tight wraps. Take a spin in the bird, and you'll also find yourself swearing your pals to secrecy.
In low snow years, instability can be a problem. But when storms hit, dry intermountain snow pummels the predominantly northwest-facing, 10,000-foot Snake River and Palisades ranges. HMH bombs all season and performs snow surveys in the field daily.
HMH's 150 landing zones give you more variety than a Vegas buffet. In Coburn Creek, plunder the 25- to 30-degree bowl on 10,000-foot Observation Peak; then duck into tight, northwest-facing glades 1,000 feet down. The 2,000-foot chutes of South Fall's Squirt City hold snow during high winds — and long after a storm.
Book for late January, Wyoming's coldest and snowiest time. Though big storms can hamper heli liftoff, in the event that you can't fly, head to JHMR — not a bad compromise.[pagebreak]
The eight guides average 23 years of big-mountain experience. Some guide in Alaska during the summer, one is AMGA certified, and another is Jim Woodmencey — the locally famous meteorologist-cum-radio-personality. Woodmencey is also the Hole's mountain-weather authority (mountainweather.com).
The Best Western (innatjh.com) at the base of Teton Village offers a reduced rate of $65 per night for HMH guests. If you're without transportation, there's a heli-client pickup at the clock tower at 8:15.
Ham and turkey wraps are served atop shovel-shaped tables between flights. Après, lick your wounds — and fingers — with pulled-pork sandies and a behemoth salad bar at (BYOB) Bubba's BBQ (515 W. Broadway; 307-733-2288).
BANG FOR BUCK
Not a card-carrying local? Then don't even try to get on HMH's stingy standby roster. If you've got the financing, consider the JH Passport package: two heli fly days, two tickets to JHMR, and five nights in the über-plush Teton Club for $3,179.
HMH specializes in low-angle swooshing for intermediates. So plan on filling the helicopter (five people) with your expert friends if you want to ski the steeper terrain. And leave the snowboarders at home: The creekbed run-outs kill their speed. Waiting for 'em is even worse.
MAX VERTICAL DROP:
AVERAGE VERTICAL PER DAY:
$725 per day; additional runs cost $75 each, per person.
Eight airlines offer jet service to the Jackson Hole Airport. If your hotel doesn't provide transportation, take AllTrans shuttle service (800-433-6133) into town for $15 or to Teton Village for $22. HMH's offices are in Jackson at 945 West Broadway in the Hillside Plaza. All trips meet there at 8:30 A.M., unless you're staying at Teton Village, where a van will pick you up near the clock tower at 8:15 A.M.