Beyond the Ropes

Poaching fresh powder in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s famous backcountry.

December 2012

The hike to Four Pines is a long one, about 45 minutes from the top of the tram, but it isn’t unpleasant. Brief bursts of sunshine light up the falling flakes and make the air sparkle. Fleet-footed locals cheerfully thank me for stepping aside on the boot-packs to let them pass. Strangers all, they greet me with conspiratorial grins confirming that, although I am a visitor to this mountain, I am participating in one of its most cherished rituals.

After a few moments at the top, Barnes gives the nod and we drop into the most luscious turns of the day. A fountain of snow cascades over my shoulders as my legs spring down the untracked slope. We regroup, then dive into another pillowy run. I hear no droning motors from lifts or snowmobiles, just silence—broken only by my whoops. No, it wasn’t the steepest run at Jackson, but I never felt like we were risking death by avalanche, and the freedom from worry let me enjoy the powder with total abandon.

When we cruise back to the base area this time, my new pals and I head for Cascade, a chic après spot in the Teton Mountain Lodge that caters to locals who have outgrown the frat scene at the legendary Mangy Moose. We rest our muscles in upholstered armchairs, devour a plate of nachos, and drive into town to the Alpine House, where we’ve booked rooms.

Run by former Olympic skiers Hans and Nancy Johnstone, who liked the European inns they frequented on the competition circuit, the 22-room Alpine House includes public lounges where guests mingle. A cash bar serves beer and wine, the library’s armchairs and fireplace invite relaxation, and the bedrooms’ French farmhouse decor feels comfortable and crisp—like your grandmother’s spare room (if she lived in Provence).

Skiers find it to be an especially welcoming spot since the staff freely shares suggestions for nearby ski runs likely to hold the best snow. Hans Johnstone, an accomplished mountaineer and guide for Exum (one of the most famous and respected guide corps in the nation), is the first person to have skied all the major routes off the Tetons’ tallest summit and holds a wealth of knowledge about other, easier adventures that guests might want to attempt. In fact, Alpine House started offering its own backcountry packages that present an alternative to the resort’s lift-assisted excursions: Pairing a week’s lodging with Exum-led powder missions to some of the most spectacular parts of the Tetons, the Alpine House’s ski weeks appeal to folks who want to delve deeper into Grand Teton National Park and the big backcountry runs surrounding Jackson Hole.

That could make a fitting sequel to today’s sidecountry exploits, I think. But for now, I’m content to sit in my socks by the fire and sip a glass of Pinot Noir. I gorged myself on powder, and the feast should keep me sated for a while. At least until tomorrow.



Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Guided Backcountry Tour from $400; 307-739-2779,

Cascade 3385 Cody Lane, Teton Village; 307-734-7111,

The Alpine House 285 N. Glenwood St., Jackson; room rates start at $135; 307-739-1570,

Exum Backcountry Ski Weeks offered January 27 to March 8, 2013; packages start at $1,450, including accommodations, guides, yoga, massage, and most meals; 307-733-2297,