The Horn Dog. Like I’m not gonna order that. I’m standing in line at Headwall Pizza and Dog House at the top of the Bridger gondola, watching the guy behind the counter load up a Kobe-beef hot dog, wrapped in a homemade pretzel bun, with green chile and sour cream. Leave it to Jackson Hole to elevate a lowbrow ski-bum staple into…awesomeness.
There is nothing, it seems, JH doesn’t do right. Since I moved from there some 10 years ago, this former bare-bones resort—mud parking lot and Hostel X—has artfully built up its base: Four Seasons Resort, Hotel Terra, and the like. Now it’s plumping up some skinny spots on the mountain itself, while leaving its revered backbone intact. The Bridger gondola summit building, with its elegant new-in-2007 Couloir restaurant and casual hot dog/pizza joint, where I sit licking guacamole off my fingers and watching huge, heavy spring flakes coat skiers’ shoulders as they click into their skis, was just the beginning.
I put my helmet and goggles on before I open the door, and seconds later my face is wet with melted snow. I thump my skis down, scrape my boot soles on my bindings, and head through the sparse trees on upper Gros Ventre, a nice mellow glade that I actually don’t think I’ve ever skied before. I was always too busy tucking the cat track with the rest of the pack in the race to Thunder and Sublette. But the resort has just added a new lift here, Marmot, which connects the bottom of Thunder to the top of the gondie, and suddenly this whole ridge of gladed blues is lappable. It feels like a discovery—all this existing terrain that I never even knew existed.
It’s a nice option for intermediates, who, from the gondola, previously had to either brave the mostly expert (Jackson expert) terrain off Thunder or ski all the way back down to the base. The only easily accessible pods of blue terrain were off Apres Vous and Casper, which until this season was a long, slow, freezing triple.
The new Casper high-speed quad is still in the works during my visit, but I don’t need to ride it to know how it will change the flow of traffic on the mountain. Casper is striped with powdery blues like Sleeping Indian and fringed with friendly glades on either side. A traverse over enormous rollers on skier’s left leads to sneaky short, steep tree shots. It’s awesome terrain that, like the glades off Marmot, has been seriously underutilized. It has a day lodge too, which, with the new lift, will siphon intermediates off of Apres Vous and experts off the upper mountain.
I ski through an empty lift maze onto the Marmot double. It’s slow but short, and I enjoy the bird’s-eye view of all these “new” powdery glades. At the top, I head for steep, black Ranger. I’m surprised to find it groomed—I’ve never skied it without those annoying slide-stop mounds (“mogul” is too generous a term). That’s another new priority here: grooming, a service for which this resort has certainly never been known. It makes a huge difference, smoothing this former transition run into sweet, chalky carving.
Halfway down, the trees on skier’s right tempt me with tracked powder that’s quickly getting filled in. It’s tight, but the snow is so soft it slows me down just enough to let me pop through the spaces.
I stop to catch my breath. It’s so quiet I can hear the flakes bounce off my jacket. My thighs are on fire. I know why I ordered the Horn Dog; what I don’t know is why I had to eat the whole thing. I calculate how many more runs it will take to earn a cold beer. One’s probably good, I decide, as I duck skier’s right to head back to the Marmot chair.
On the lift, I get a text from old friends who are already settling in with pitchers under the dusty antlers of the Mangy Moose. It’s one of the world’s classic après bars, and, as I soon see, it’s immaculately unchanged. Jackson Hole, it seems, knows when to leave an old bone alone.
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