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At every ski resort there’s a hub. At Jackson Hole, that hub is the terrain off of Thunder: 1,450 vertical feet of some of the best skiing the resort has to offer, served by the chair that merges challenging steeps with the rest of the mountain.
Throughout the summer, the resort replaced the old fixed-grip quad with a high-speed upgrade, doubling the velocity of the iconic chair. Last weekend, the brand new lift (built by Colorado manufacturer Leitner-Poma) started spinning for the public, in perfect timing for another seemingly endless series of early season storms.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a longtime local, anyone who’s skied at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has felt the pulse of excitement and contagious energy in the Thunder lift line. “It’s kind of a magnet for everyone on a Saturday morning when the snow is great,” said Tim Mason, JHMR’s V.P. of Operations. “I always look at it as the center of the mountain. It’s got that local vibe, where you go to run into your friends when the skiing’s good. But if you saw a lift line anywhere in the late morning it was definitely at Thunder.”
The age of the original Thunder lift (installed in 1994) called for an upgrade, and Mason said a big priority was to cut down on congestion and get people back up the mountain faster. Thunder gives skiers access to classic runs like Thunder Bumps, Paintbrush, Toilet Bowl, and the steep Tower 3 chute, as well as access to Sublette Chair. With intermediate groomers and some of the best steeps on the mountain, there’s really no skiing Jackson Hole without at least a few laps up Thunder.
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We checked out the new lift after it opened last weekend, and it didn’t disappoint. It cuts riders’ time in half, down from just over 7 minutes to 3.6. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out what that means; double the speed, double the amount of Thunder laps in a day. And shorter lift lines to boot, which locals are certainly happy about.
“It’s gonna burn everyone’s legs a lot quicker,” joked Mason. “I rode it this week a handful of times and we got to the top rather quickly. By the end of the day you’re seriously gonna feel it.” The new lift tower placement also opens up the entrance to the top of the Tower 3 chute, a notorious inbounds couloir with a sometimes tricky fall line. It’s the kind of skiing that gives Jackson Hole its reputation for some of the most challenging lift-accessed terrain in the country; steep, sustained, and of course, right underneath the lift.
Mason said they tried not to make too many changes that would lead to excessive congestion on ski runs—less lift time inevitably means more time on snow, for better or for worse—and they gladed a few new runs on the mountain to help spread skiers out and provide something new for locals.
Opening the new Thunder lift comes at an ideal time for JHMR, which has been having a record-breaking early season. Last week marked the earliest Tram opening ever in JHMR history (December 3), and steady snow the past few weeks (also known as the Teton Trickle) has delivered 177 inches by the end the start of this week.
Thunder is now open to the public, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on Saturday, Dec. 17 to make things official. With the whole mountain up and running well before the holidays, it’s shaping up to be a big year in the Tetons.