“It’s my favorite time of the year,” Owen Leeper tells me about December at Jackson Hole as snow piles up on our shoulders and backpacks while we’re whisked to the summit of the Sublette Chair.
And I can see why. We’ve just spent the entire morning storm skiing in snow so deep, you wouldn’t be out of line to bring a snorkel to the hill. A monstrous snow storm swung into the cowboy town tucked in Wyoming’s northwest corner and it’s been hovering over the Teton Range for three days.
So much snow has fallen, in fact, that Rendezvous Bowl currently has an 82-inch base, which is the deepest base Jackson has had in December in recorded history. The resort sits at 207 inches of snowfall so far this season.
Aside from the mouth-watering quantity of snow, December in Jackson presents so many opportunities to have ski days that you’ll remember forever. I know I won’t soon forget the past two days of plowing through bottomless accumulation From the opening of the tram (December 11 in 2016) to patrol dropping the ropes on some of the steeper zones on the mountain to the early season leg burn acquired after a day lapping Jackson’s 4,139 feet of vertical, the quality of skiing this early in the season feels like cheating.
“In early December we always get these huge storms, there’s no one here, you have walk-on trams and you can ski wherever you want without crossing a track until noon,” Leeper describes.
But, as I’ve come to witness over the past two days, the biggest reason to book a flight or hop in the car en route to Jackson in December is the atmosphere. It’s the gaggle of skiers—like addicts itching for a fix—anxiously waiting inside Corbet’s Cabin for the patrol team to open up the mountain on a powder day. It’s the high fives distributed from friends who haven’t hung out on the mountain since last spring. It’s the hoots and hollers of hidden skiers echoing through the trees. It’s the chatter on the tram that’s just begun spinning for another season. It’s the hair-raising BOOM of bombs going off as mountain operations does mitigation work in the steep, wild inbounds terrain. It’s the craggy white bark pine trees bending in the wind as the December storms blanket Jackson with snow.
There’s still time to experience December in Jackson while the skiing is in mind-blowing territory and the majority of folks have yet to get the memo and hit the slopes. Just get in the car or book a flight. It’s simple, really. As Forrest Jillson, lifelong Jackson resident who grew up watching his father patrol the mountain, told me, “Early to mid-December in Jackson—and I’ve been here long enough to know—is the real deal.”
The temperatures are set to drop and blue skies are forecasted for the weekend, which will mean the skiing could, dare I say, be even better in the coming days. Unless, of course, you’re not a fan of bone-dry snow billowing over your head.
Where to eat, at Jackson Hole
Cafe Genevieve: A true local gem that serves up seasonal, southern-inspired dishes for breakfast (until 3pm), lunch and dinner. No matter what you order, you will not be disappointed. Oh and make sure you check out their “Pig Candy.”
Il Villaggio Osteria: Known simply as “Osteria” to the locals, this spot serves up delicious and authentic Italian food. Instead of lasagna and breadsticks, think bruschetta, meats, cheeses, wood-fired pizzas and delicious seafood.
Spur: Located inside the Teton Mountain Lodge, The Spur offers upscale apps that go hand-in-hand with its delicious drinks and great atmosphere. The place is usually bustling which is always a good sign.
Where to stay, at Jackson Hole
Hotel Terra Jackson Hole: Hotel Terra is an eco-friendly hotel with a prime location in Teton Village. It features multiple restaurants and a rooftop hot tub to soak your weary body in at the day’s end.
The Wort Hotel: Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, The Wort is an upscale downtown hotel that’s in a prime location for walking to restaurants, bars, shops and the iconic town square. It’s also home to the Silver Dollar Bar which is a vibrant scene to grab a drink and catch some live music.
Teton Mountain Lodge This luxury lodge is located slopeside, just a stone’s throw from the famous Big Red Tram. The TML, as it’s known, aims to make life easy for its guests, paying attention to such details as stashing boot warmers inside the closets of each room.
Where to drink, in Jackson Hole
Mangy Moose: The Mangy Moose is a world famous spot for après in Jackson. It’s known for delicious spicy margaritas, great apps and live music in the large and eclectic saloon throughout the winter.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar: You’ve probably heard of this “place with the saddles for bar stools.” It’s definitely a bit of a tourist trap for that reason but it’s good for people watching and fun if you want to hang out and shoot pool with some friends.
The Rose: The Rose is attached to the Pink Garter music venue and is a popular spot for handcrafted cocktails or ice cold beers. It’s a bit of a swanky setting but you’ll find plenty of locals mixing it up in here.