In 1999, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened up its backcountry gates for the first time, allowing skiers (and, increasingly, split boarders) to legally head out and savor some of the best out-of-bounds terrain in the nation. Ever since, the sport has grown in popularity, and countless Jackson residents and visitors enjoy skiing or split-boarding beyond ski resorts.
And options aren't just limited to terrain accessible from JHMR: Experienced backcountry enthusiasts enjoy hotspots off Teton Pass, in Grand Teton National Park, and beyond.
However, the sport does have its dangers, the number one of which is avalanches. Before venturing out, be sure you have the appropriate skills, knowledge, and equipment to spend time in inherently risky avalanche terrain. A key part of that process is awareness, so check out the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center's twice-daily forecast for avalanche advisories, incident reports, and more information. Plus, the American Avalanche Institute offers classes teaching basic to advanced skills for avalanche country. For backcountry beginners, guides are a good option and are available from a number of local outfitters, including Teton Backcountry Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Once you've got your safety skills up to par, it's time for the fun part: exploration. And with that, here are our recommendations for the best backcountry ski spots in the area. (The recommendations here also apply to split boarding.)
Considered by many to be the easiest backcountry peak in Grand Teton National Park, 25 Short still requires some skills, making it popular among experienced backcountry skiers and split-boarders. This peak is named for measuring in at 9,975 feet, just 25 feet short of 10,000. Allow 3-6 hours for this route.
The approach involves heading up from the Bradley and Taggart Lakes Trailhead, near the closed gate on Teton Park Road. With skins on, take the south track from the parking lot, then 15-20 minutes in you'll come to a place where the track splits again. Take the track that descends 10 feet or so to a small creek. Cross the creek, then start ascending to the summit—a task that can take from 90 minutes to three hours. After reaching the summit, traverse to the south and find your line. From here, take your pick of skiing through tight trees, open glades, or exploring gullies. Near the bottom, head toward the skin track on the northern approach to Maverick. This route eventually puts a skier out on the Valley Trail, south of the skin track in.
Skiers heading up to Teton Pass can enjoy Edelweiss for some turns early in the season (or any time of season, for that matter). With mostly grassy slopes up high, backcountry skiers and split-boarders enjoy this route early in the season because there are often fewer rocks than on other runs. You can easily do laps on this 800-foot run; allow 1-3 hours.
When ascending, pick from two main options: Powder Reserves and Mount Elly. Each has its own advantages, but Powder Reserves, though a shorter route, can have more dead-fall hazards. Mount Elly is a grassier route, but it is a bit longer. You don't have to choose right away—head south along Pass Ridge from the parking lot to access either one.
If you opt for the Powder Reserve route, ski down near the climb to the antennae-laden shack up top. Ski tracks will often show you the way down. Angle to the left when you get toward the gully below. You can skin up and make laps on this route. If you opt for the Mount Elly path, follow the Pass Ridge traverse to Mount Elly, then make a turn toward the northwest. The route down can be tricky to find if there aren't already tracks leading the way.
Boot-packing is typically not recommended on Edelweiss, as so few people do it that a good, solid route is rarely in place, and boot-packing often leads to thigh-deep snow with every step. Skins are a better option.
A popular route in Grand Teton National Park, Wimpy's , along with 25 Short, has one of the simplest approaches available within the park. And Wimpy's has enough space that, despite its popularity, it's relatively easy to find fresh tracks.
To reach it, turn down Moose-Wilson Road and drive a few miles until it is closed to vehicles. Park near the metal gate that closes the road in the winter. Start skiing along the Death Canyon Road (closed to cars in the winter) for two miles until you reach the Death Canyon Trailhead. From here, follow the route for three-quarters of a mile, keeping an eye out for a ski track near the third bridge on your right. Follow this track for five minutes or so, and you'll see Wimpy's. There are often two skin tracks, and both can pass through some pretty precarious avalanche terrain, so use caution.
Trickier and more involved than 25 Short, Maverick is another favorite backcountry ski route in Grand Teton National Park. This mountain is located between 25 Short and Wimpy's. The 3,500-foot ascent can be approached from a couple different directions: the Bradley and Taggart Lakes Trailhead or via Death Canyon.
The mountain is a bit shorter than 25 Short (by a few hundred feet), but it's farther from the trailhead—though the routes take approximately the same amount of time. Though the trail has some sections that are short and steep, overall, it's mellower than 25 Short on the way up.
If you're heading up from the Bradley and Taggart Lakes Trailhead, head south and west, then 10 minutes in, the skin track should fork—take the left fork (otherwise, you'll be heading to 25 Short). The first hour should bring you 600 feet higher. The track reaches the main slide path (facing east) and continue for approximately 20 minutes, then keep following it as it wanders into the trees in a southerly direction. The route continues through the trees up until the top. On the way down, head east, and a little bit north, aiming for the east-facing slide path in order to find the quickest route back to the parking lot.
Mt. Moran, Skillet
For the truly experienced backcountry ski or split-board adventurer, consider Mount Moran's Skillet . This 2-3 day adventure on the Skillet Glacier (named for its frying pan-esque shape) is not for amateurs, with a large crevasse near the handle's lower end and a high degree of exposure. Be sure to know self-arrest techniques if you're going to tackle it. It is most popular in the spring for skiers and also used by snow climbers in the summer.
If Jackson Lake is open, some adventurers will have a friend with a motor boat drop them off and pick them up. If a boat ride isn't an option, you'll have to hike it, starting from the end of the Valley Trail at Bearpaw Lake, where you'll head north, go past Trapper Lake, then wrap around Mount Moran on the eastern side. Keep an eye out for a creek coming from Skillet Glacier. This bushwhacking trek is challenging and sometimes frustrating, as there are downed trees everywhere. Some head straight up the stream, boulder hopping along the way.
Once you finally do reach the glacier, head up, aiming for the crevasse that separates the glacier's “pan” and “skillet.” The “handle” up top is the steepest section of the climb, and the top of it is only a few hundred feet short of the summit of Mount Moran. Be extremely cautious around the crevasse at the bottom, and take special care on the way down.