Jackson Hole – wild, wooly, in your face, hard-core, deep powder, tight trees, lousy grooming – VS – Deer Valley – elegant, fashionable, respectfully, friendly, warm, happy, sunny, clear skies, awesome grooming.
Deer Valley first – Ski School rules at Deer Valley. There are 3 – count’m 3 – magic carpets – each longer than the last – going up one entire section of the ski hill. No beginner need brave a ski lift until they are good and ready – and even then there’s a ‘baby’ ski lift just for them. The beginner area is clearly fenced off – no going thru on your way to somewhere else. This is beginner skier heaven.
Jackson – right – there are people who weren’t born expert skiers. Of course. The tiny magic carpet is a joke – all but the absolute youngest child would get bored fast. But not to worry – there’s a high-speed detachable quad (Teewinot) that services more beginner terrain. The problem – it’s a highway for skiers coming down from the super expert slopes above – so beginners either sink or swim. Speaking of sinking – terrain parks rule in Jackson – there’s actually 2 in the beginner area – and 3 more scattered elsewhere on the hill. So learn to ski fast – then it’s rails, jumps, tunnels, luge runs, and barrels. Jackson takes no prisoners.
Powder – People go to Jackson for the powder – and the higher you go on the mountain, the better it gets. And the steeper it gets. And the same goes from South to North – head to skiers left as you look up the mountain for the expert terrain – head skier’s right for the easier stuff. Will you find powder if you ski Jackson. It’s a good bet. But timing matters. If you want the powder – hit the slopes after a good snow fall – and be prepared to do battle. The number of expert and super expert skiers at Jackson is astounding. It’s not hard to overhear conversations about the challenges of climbing the Head Wall – 30 minutes up for 2 seconds down), or debates on the ski-ability of Corbert’s Couloir. (News on the hill – just watch out for that first turn – it’s a leap of faith into a blind alley with a mistake taking you into a rock wall)
Deer Valley Powder on the other hand has staying ability. If you get a good snow – you can be stealing powder patches for the better part of a week. Why? Because the experts and super experts ski elsewhere – leaving the powder at Deer Vally for us upper intermediates to find and enjoy. I’ve skied untracked at Jackson in the morning of a storm, I’ve skied untracked at Deer Valley days after a storm has passed. Big difference.
Host Tours – This is where Deer Valley not only rocks – but crushes Jackson. At Jackson, there’s a ‘hosted’ tour every morning at 9:30. The host skis only blue and double blue runs officially, and officially must stick to a prescribed route. Fortunately, hosts at Jackson are people too – and if they have an expert group – they will at least gesture in the direction of more interesting skiing.
Deer Valley Tours are the best EVER. I’ve never been at a ski hill that takes hosted tours so seriously – and makes them into an art. There are expert and intermediate tours – and I’ve done both. The expert tours begin by making sure all the skiers can handle moguls and off-piste – and then it’s up and at ‘m. You’ll explore the mountain looking for all the good stuff – and keeping up is the only hard part. These tours are wonderful. The intermediate tours serve a completely different purpose. Instead of serving as an experts guide to a great mountain, they are focused on making sure that the guest has fun. Frequent stops, lots of talk, and fun stories. Both tours are worth doing – and both make Jackson’s tours look like the joke they are.
Lifts – Here both mountains are pretty much on a par. In both cases – run-offs are relatively short – you can fairly easily ride up, ski down something fairly intense, and then go right back in line. The only exception is at Jackson, where some of the older lifts (like Sublette) have rather long run-offs to get the expert skiers back to the lift line – the way fun intermediate run is fine – but experts are going to be coasting.
Jackson’s Tram and Gondola clearly trump Deer Valley’s longer lifts – offering access to tremendous vertical heights. But the detachable Quads effectively rule the rest of the mountains in both cases. Jackson relies on traverses – long graded trails that go from one height to another – to allow people to move from section to section. Deer Vally is composed of 4 different ‘peaks’ – and does a very good job of positioning lifts so that guests don’t have long meaningless traverses to get from point A to point B. So here again Deer Valley pulls away from Jackson – you’ll get more vertical at Jackson – but you will also get more ‘coasting’.
Food – oh the food. It might seem an easy victory for Deer Valley here – after all – Deer Valley is known for its food. And I have to say – justifiably. You aren’t going to go hungry at Deer Valley. There are 3 main eating places at Deer Valley – each slightly different from the other – but all 3 offering a wide variety of outstandingly well made and plated options. We’re far from talking hamburger’s here – we’re talking fancy soups, elegant salads, Panini’s, stuffed baked potatoes, grilled salmon, all beef hot dogs, free mango salsa (yum), free water and soda water, and most delicious – free flat bread seasoned with garlic and cheese. Even simple old Cushing’s cabin on the top of the extremely busy NorthSide lifts has yummy options – delicious fresh cookies, bagels, and Deer Valley’s omnipresent Turkey Chili.
But Jackson is no slouch in the food department, albeit with a lot less variety. At the base of the mountain, hard by the tram station, is one of my favorite on mountain restaurants of all time – the Mangy Moose. Oh but I love the vibe, the truffle fries, and the Nachos. Not bad drinks either. On the mountain, Casper’s has been newly renovated to offer 4 different burger options and a series of Mexican dishes. Are you going to write home about the food at Jackson – nope. But it’s filling, and it’s not obscenely expensive (we’ll leave that to Stowe!). Then there’s the Gondola Summit restaurants. Again – we’re not up to Deer Valley yet – but we’re doing a good job of trashing most other ski hills.
So – bottom line – Food, Tours, and Powder lasting more than 1/2 a day go to Deer Valley, Steeps, Challenge, and Vertical goes to Jackson.
I love them both….
Signing off to go skiing – The Soup Lady