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Beyond the Ropes


A tear-out-and-save guide to exploring Jackson Hole's lift-accessed backcountry.

Last season Jackson Hole threw powderhounds a huge bone by opening its backcountry-access gates full-time. All of a sudden, a great resort got even better -- to the tune of at least 3,000 acres of wild, supersteep, unpatrolled terrain in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park. Some runs serve up as much as 4,000 feet of vertical, and all are within relatively quick hikes or traverses of the resort's lifts.

Poaching became a thing of the past as seekers of the untracked could freely enter enticing locales such as Granite and Rock Springs Canyons. To help the uninitiated make the most of this near-mythical skiing, we coerced a few Jackson locals to serve as guides to finding and skiing some of their favorite stashes. If you're already a Jackson powder junkie, there's no need to feel betrayed: As one informer told us, "There are a million other secret places I'm not going to mention."

CLOSE IN
A good introduction to Jackson's lift-accessed backcountry is Rock Springs Canyon. From the top of the tram, traverse Rendezvous Bowl to reach the highest of three access gates that lead into the backcountry south of the ski area (there's another gate at the bottom of the bowl and a third farther down the Rendezvous trail). What you'll find, according to Colin Shadell, repair-shop manager at Hoback Sports in Jackson, is a "nice little playground" -- bowls spattered with benches and rock outcroppings lining the sides of the canyon. From the bottom, it's a short ski back to the area around the lower ridges of the Hobacks.

A LITTLE FARTHER OUT
"One of my favorite places," says Adam Sherman, president of Jackson-based Igneous Skis, about Cody Peak. From the upper access gate in Rendezvous Bowl, ski down to a saddle, then boot-pack up the rocky ridge to the top of Cody Peak. The north-facing slopes of Cody contain some scare-yourself-silly terrain, including notorious Central Couloir ("a ribbon," says Sherman), as well as Four Shadows and No Shadows, both of which are steep and rocky and require a cornice jump to get into. Exit via Rock Springs Canyon.

An alternative exit route suggested by Tom Turiano, who works for Jackson Hole Alpine Guides and wrote Teton Skiing: A History and Guide,is to traverse and then hike for 600 to 800 feet up north-facing Cody Bowl, the farthest landmark on hiker's left off Cody Peak. From there, either ski the bowl or pick any of numerous slopes in the huge, unnamed bowl off Cody Peak's south side, then drop into Pinedale Canyon. "Pinedale offers the best canyon-bottom skiing of any of them," says Turiano. "It's not gully shaped; it's more like a big bowl, and you get about 2,000 vertical feet." About 1,000 feet above the valley floor, look for tracks traversing out of the canyon (otherwise you'll wind up on private property). It's about a mile and a half back to the ski area.

The south side of Cody Peak is even steeper than the north side, Adam Sherman notes with relish. Lines include Once Is Enough, which he calls "an 800-foot death slide -- as close as you can get to vertical at its top and never below a 60-degree pitch," and Twice Is Nice, "a mere 300 centimeters across" in its lower section, he claims. From the bottom, you can traverse to the wide-open No Name Bowl, "one of the nicest of the high-elevation bowls" according to Turiano. From there, you'll wind up in Pinedale Canyon.

Another sought-after powder playground is Four Pines, a ridgelike subsummit of Cody Peak between Green River and Pinedale Canyons, named for the obvious cluster of pines at its apex. Reach it by staying to skier's left at the head of Pinedale Canyon, then doing a short climb. A more direct route from the ski area to Four Pines is to take the gate at the bottom of Rendezvous Bowl and traverse on a bench across Rock Springs and Green River Canyons. Once at Four Pines, head duee north or due south to ski steep, but not extreme, chutes. Skiing the south side will bring you to Pinedale Canyon. Going north leads to Green River Canyon, at the bottom of which you can hook up with the traverse to the Hobacks.

AND EVEN FARTHER
"Granite Canyon sucks," says Colin Shadell. Yeah, and the moon is made of blue cheese. You can't blame the guy -- he just wants to stay in his ski buddies' good graces. But he eventually admits that Granite, in adjacent Grand Teton National Park, "definitely holds the goods." To get to this experts-only promised land from the tram, take either the East Ridge Traverse or Corbet's Couloir to the Cirque Traverse, then boot-pack up Pepi's Bench to the top of the Headwall. Exit out the gate to the north. Shadell cautions: "Don't attempt Granite on your own without previous knowledge. There are lots of chutes that cliff out. Get to know a local."

And you'll earn your turns. From the bottom of the canyon, you're in for about an hour of poling and sidestepping back to Jackson's Apres Vous lift.

THE SMART WAY
Jackson opened its access gates with the caveat that skiers take responsibility for their own safety in the backcountry. Always carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. If you're a newbie to Jackson, and especially if your backcountry-skiing experience is limited, hire a guide, even if only for a half day. "The terrain is complex, with many east-facing cliffs that can surprise you, wild couloirs, and some severe avalanche terrain," emphasizes Turiano. Contact Jackson Hole Alpine Guides, 307-733-2292; for guide service into Granite Canyon, call Grand Teton National Park, 307-739-3300.

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