Many of you have written to ask about winters in Jackson Hole. How do we live with this much snow? How do we stand the cold? How does one ski uphill?
Here are some words and photos that I hope will answer your questions while describing how beautiful and entertaining winter can be.
First, consider that winters in the northern Rockies don't have much humidity despite the great amounts of snow that fall. In other words, the cold is dry. I've been far colder on a damp, 32-degree-Farhenhiet day in London or New York City than I've ever been on a sunny winter day in the Tetons.
The low humidity also means that the snow is light—like Ivory Flakes. You can blow a few inches off your windshield as if your were blowing out birthday candles. This light-density snow makes skiing a joy because most of that white stuff is really air. Skiing through such feather-light snow is as close to flying as a terrestrial being can get while still being attached to the earth.
In the mountains around Jackson Hole there will be ten to twelve feet of snow on the ground by March, with three to four feet around my house on the valley floor. The earth turns into a smooth white highway, and you can travel anywhere on skis, gliding over places that in the summer would take hours of bushwhacking to negotiate. There are no mosquitoes, no black flies, no mud, and no smoke from forest fires.
For those who don't like to ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile, the winter is long indeed in Jackson Hole, lasting from mid-October through May in some years. But if you do like to ski, and are willing to put "skins" on the bottom of your skis—nylon strips that give you traction to go uphill—you can explore the high mountains, going where few people travel. Here the snow is deep and untracked, making for the sort of skiing I love to do. There are no lift lines; the country is private and quiet; and it's also great exercise since you climb several thousand feet up for the equivalent amount of skiing down. After you do that a few times, there are no worries about how many calories are in your dinner.
No need to worry about driving either, for the roads are always plowed. However, this means that there are no "snow days" for Jackson Hole's school children. As far as keeping the house comfortable at 20 below zero, the woodstove keeps it warm enough to lounge in a T-shirt and shorts. I like the cold, but I don't like being cold.
The saddest time of the winter for me is its ending. Watching the snowline creep up the mountainsides, I have an acute attack of my personal form of SAD: Spring Affective Disorder. The thought that I shall have to hang up my skis and use my slow, walking legs sends me to the Alps in April, where I can still find a few more weeks of gliding swiftly through the high white world of winter.
To learn more about backcountry skiing in Colorado and Europe,
visit Wild Snow: http://www.wildsnow.com.