The Jackson Hole Aerial Tram
Welcome to the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram
- Ride time/length: 9 minutes, 4,139 vertical feet
- Nickname: Big Red, The Red Heli
- Birthdate: December 19, 2008
- Construction Dates: April 2007 - December 2008
At 7:15 AM, one hour and forty-five minutes before the resort opens, the tram maze at the village can sprouts a thicket of skis and poles. The protocol: If you arrive early - by seven - you can leave your skis in line while you buy a breakfast burrito or warm up in Nick Wilson's restaurant. Don't return to your spot much later than eight, however, or you might find your skis tossed over the rail into the snow thirty feet below.
But if you're unwilling to stake out a place in line, you're missing the point. Arriving early enough for the "first box" is as much about the buzz as it is about the snow. Call it Rendezvous fever. It's marked by insomnia (many in the tram line woke before their alarm clocks rang), numbness (the body's natural defense when standing in the frigid tram dock for two or more hours) and restlessness (only on a powder day does 9 AM seem like a long time in coming).
It's 8:15, and the maze at the tram dock is completely full. Outside the maze, all the neophytes who thought they'd get first box by arriving forty-five minutes early mill about helplessly, like sheep on the wrong side of the fence, cut off from the rest of the flock. Inside the maze, rumors abound of snowfall twice as deep as what was reported. Previous powder days are relived. Plans for the day's first run are mulled over. You can bet everybody knows exactly where they will head once they've unloaded at the top. But don't bet on them telling you.
Nine AM finally arrives. "Have your passes and lift tickets ready!" 100 skiers and boarders file through the turnstile and crowd into the tramcar. It leaves the dock, floating for the summit. Conversation dwindles. Everybody studies the mountain as it slips past, drinking in with their eyes what they will soon consume with their feet.
When the tram stops, the doors fly open. A cold wind leaps into the car, and the tram dock rumbles under 200 heavy boots. The eager occupants of the first box have been unleashed onto the mountain. They clatter down the metal stairs, throw skis and snowboards onto the snow, and shove boots into bindings. A minute later, the mountain's summit is silent again, save for the whirring of the tram's haul cable as the car heads back down. From below, in Rendezvous Bowl, come the whoops and howls of paradise found.
Arguably the best lift in North America, the Jackson Hole Tram has a well-justified reputation. Not because the tram ops play rad music on the way up, even though they do. Not because this new tram, built in 2008 to replace the old one, can operate in 70 mph winds, which it does. No, this lift rules simply because of the terrain it serves, and especially its backcountry access. From steep north-facing powder shots, aesthetic couloirs with mandatory airs, silent tree glades, wide open bowls, ass-puckering ridge hikes and long tours, the skiing off the tram is reason enough to forget all the other crap going on in your life, and get to Jackson as soon as you can. Matt Hansen,Powder Magazine