IF you want to quickly get to the bottom of what a ski resort has to offer, there's no better way than to start with a tram trip to the top.
An impressive lift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort takes nine minutes to whisk you and 99 of your closest friends on a vertical rise of 1,261 metres (4,139 feet) from the base of the mountain to the highest elevation of 3,185 metres (10,450 feet) near the top of Rendezvous Mountain.
From there you can access pretty much any of the Wyoming resort's 116 named runs, including Corbet's Couloir, a narrow, steep, rocky chute that requires a several-foot airborne entry.
Unfortunately, snow conditions during a brief visit in March 2012 weren't conducive to jumping in. Nonetheless, I was excited to finally get a chance to experience Jackson Hole, one of the most-anticipated destinations on my bucket list.
The mountain, known for its abundance of challenging terrain, attracts thrill-seekers from far and wide, in search of big lines and huge features to huck themselves off of.
The resort, located in the Teton Mountain Range in northwest Wyoming near the Idaho border, delivers. With 2,500 acres of in-bounds terrain over two mountains, plus 3,000 acres of backcountry goods, there truly is something for everyone. There's no shortage of snow-covered bowls and alpine terrain, along with oodles of runs groomed to perfection. And it's easy and convenient to get to; an expansive lift system, including an eight-passenger gondola, has an uphill capacity of 17,833 skiers per hour.
Its blue runs would be designated black and the blacks double-black at most other resorts. Half of the runs are designated expert, and expert skiers flock to this mountain. But there are still plenty of options for beginner and intermediate skiers.
There's also some decent terrain in the trees, for those looking to escape the crowds and play in the powder. Despite the icy/slushy snow conditions typical of spring skiing, I managed to find half-decent crud in the runs down Aprez Vous Mountain.
It worked up an appetite, but no problem. The resort has seven on-mountain restaurants. In addition to excellent food and efficient, friendly service, the Couloir, located at the summit of the Bridger Gondola, offers inspiring views.
After spending a few hours touring the resort's in-bounds terrain with media co-ordinator Anna Cole, my impression was the place kind of reminded me of a couple of prime B.C. resorts: It has steep, long runs reminiscent of Revelstoke, and impressive, imposing rock slabs similar to what Fernie offers.
It lacks the cache of Whistler-Blackcomb, with its ridiculous assortment of terrain and perennial position as king of North American ski destinations. And it can't compete with the dining, entertainment and shopping options Whistler boasts.
But Teton Village, the resort's hub, has a cosy feel, good vibe and decent assortment of slopeside accommodations, stores, restaurants and smattering of nightlife. In the springtime, the resort hosts six weeks of live outdoor concerts on a stage near the tram. Let the good times roll.
If your primary reason for visiting is the skiing, stay in Teton Village. If you're equally interested in shopping, dining and nightlife, your best best is to stay in the Town of Jackson, which is about a 15-minute drive from the resort. There's also a wide variety of resorts scattered about the region.
Jackson is a western-themed town that revolves around a town square defined by elk antler gateway arches. Nineteenth-century log cabins share the boardwalk with buildings designed with contemporary western architecture. The town, an hour's drive south of Yellowstone National Park and a short hop from Jackson Hole Airport, has an impressive array of restaurants, bars, upscale boutiques, art galleries and coffee houses. It also has Snow King Resort (a.k.a. the Town Hill), which was the first ski area in Wyoming when it was established in 1930. It hosts a world-famous snowmobile hill climb each March. I caught the tail end of it and let me tell you, it's a party atmosphere.
I left Jackson Hole knowing it's a big-time ski destination that can satisfy the demands of everybody, from serious skiers to fun-loving families.
Rob Knodel is a Free Press copy editor.
IF YOU GO
Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole offers luxurious ski-in/ski-out accommodations, outdoor heated pool and hot tubs, restaurants, lounges, shops and a full-service spa.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Jackson Hole is 1.9 kilometres above sea level, so to avoid headaches drink plenty of water.
Want an awesome adventure? The resorts of Alta, (Utah), Aspen/Snowmass (Colo.), Jackson Hole, and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows (Calif.) have teamed up to offer the Mountain Collective Pass. New for the 2012-13 season, the US$349 pass includes two days of skiing at each of the four destinations, plus a 50 per cent discount on unlimited lift tickets at each of the resorts, once the complimentary days are used. In addition, pass-holders receive exclusive lodging deals throughout the season.