The Season That Never Stopped Giving

The Season That Never Stopped Giving


Featured image by Andrew Schrum / JHMR | Skier: Matt Varsha

Among Jackson Hole’s most precious moments of last year’s record-breaking winter? Capturing the first tram of the season. That’s when Jackson Hole Mountain Resort deems Rendezvous Bowl and the upper mountain—with its steep, puckering lines, bowls dotted with mystical trees and jagged cliff bands—open for business. For all the terrain the tram and its 4,139-foot vertical rise makes accessible, its opening might as well be a local holiday.

But during last year’s endless winter, the tram awakened like a quiet, red ninja for only a small coterie of skiers one late Sunday afternoon. It was an anomaly, much like the 593 inches of snow that pummeled the resort over the course of the winter (compared to the 459-inch annual average) and much like Rendezvous Bowl’s early, deep snowpack, tallied at 82 inches on December 16, 2016; it was a new record for that date.

Four days prior, on a fortuitous powder day, there were a few rumors swirling about a tram opening. But the prospect seemed unlikely. The resort, which had been silent on the matter, typically issues an announcement days before it launches “Big Red” into the skies. Conditions, though, were ripe for it. At mid-mountain, deep snow was already suffocating every tree, boulder and skier. In the month of December alone, the resort counted 140 inches of snowfall.

Corbet’s Cabin was buried by April. Photo: Andrew Schrum / JHMR

When noon rolled around, most people had relinquished the notion that the tram would spin. But as the clouds parted, a harbinger appeared. Glistening in a thick blanket of white, Rendezvous Bowl revealed itself. I gazed at the bowl and all the emotions the tram elicits washed over me. Among them, excitement, anxiety and a tinge of fear for the line or cliff you might find yourself on top of after exiting the tram’s 100-person embrace.

Over the past three days, a relentless storm had deposited three feet of powder in the mountains and skiers arrived in droves that Sunday. The storm would become emblematic of a behemoth winter season, where the snow simply wouldn’t quit, concealing the entire mountain in a white abyss, filling in classic lines and cushioning and transforming Corbet’s Couloir into a must-ski for the masses—a line usually reserved for only the most daring. It was a season of little sleep and copious caffeine and ibuprofen.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. On this day it was still early season and by 1 p.m., the crowds had thinned. Left were only the diehards with legs reduced to jelly. Deliberating with pizza and beer in Nick Wilson’s, the cowboy-themed eatery at the base of the tram, my friends and I were slipping into a post-powder coma when someone uttered the unthinkable words: “They’re going to open the tram.”

Most folks rolled their eyes. Had a ski patroller really divulged the news to this rosy-cheeked, rogue messenger? I didn’t care, I had to see for myself. As we lined up like withered, damp sheep, a tram operator with an impenetrable poker face appeared. Heckles from the herd ensued, but then the man disappeared. The minutes moved like molasses.

Jackson Hole statistics

Meanwhile, one by one, people abandoned their spots in line as the clock struck 2 p.m. The messenger who bore the news of the tram’s potential opening grudgingly left for work.

Finally, the tram operator reappeared. Armed with a knowing smirk, he slowly opened the gate and released the herd onto the dock. Howls reverberated off of the floor and ceiling. It was a gift for the heartened who held out, those who showed their everlasting love for Jackson Hole. Not a soul, barring ski patrol, had yet to ski the buffed, bottomless Rendezvous Bowl—a steep, sweeping face where, in this moment, you needn’t make a turn. But today, we were the first.

Lulled into a blissful white room and seemingly alone on this planet, I was reminded that other people were on the mountain alongside me only when the faint sound of giggles pierced the smoky white air. It is a moment of catharsis I have unpacked repeatedly as I pray for another historic winter, in 2017-18.

After descending the Bowl, some found their way to a legendary run: the Hobacks. For this area to be ski-worthy—a rock and boulder-studded face—it takes a substantial base and the right concoction of bouncy, stable, “send-able” powder. That it was ready mid-December meant that surely the season was on its way to making history, and that it did.

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