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By Owen Leeper | February 12th, 2020
Born and raised in Colorado, I’ve been around skiing my whole life. By the time I was 4, my parents already had me on the slopes and not long after, I was dreaming about being able to travel the world to ski. With my passion for adventure, paired with lots of hard work and practice, I was able to turn my favorite hobby into a career as a professional big mountain skier. Even though Colorado was a great place to learn to ski, I eventually yearned for bigger challenges. After two years of low snow in Aspen, I set out on a road trip to find a new place to live.
A young Owen (photo credit: Alice Leeper)
Mind blown in Jackson Hole
A friend and I loaded up and headed to Utah. From there we visited Washington state; Whistler; Canada; Big Sky; Montana and finally; Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On my first night in Jackson Hole it snowed 20 inches. The next morning, we hit the resort and backcountry and it blew my mind. There was so much terrain easily accessed from the lifts that it pretty much tripled the size of the resort. It was much different than Aspen where backcountry laps can take you miles away from the lifts and usually involve parking a car to get back to the resort. After the first day, I knew Jackson Hole was a place I could call home. Shortly after the road trip, my brother moved to Jackson Hole and I spent six weeks sleeping on his floor and skiing as much as possible. I permanently relocated to Jackson Hole in the fall of 2013, and I’ve been here ever since.
Owen enjoying deep turns in the Jackson Hole side country
Reasons to stray
If you’re an experienced skier looking for a new challenge, Jackson Hole offers a lot of good reasons to stray from your home mountain. This is a mountain town. People live here because they love the mountains. That means the culture here is different than say, Denver, where people live in the city and only ski on the weekends. When I moved here, I appreciated the passion the locals have for skiing. They are motivated to get out as much as possible, often going before work or in the evenings.
Another thing I love about Jackson Hole is there are so many options when it comes to challenging terrain. Inbound skiing here pushed my skills from day one, offering steeps, chutes and cliffs that are usually only found in the backcountry of other resorts. There’s nothing more humbling than staring down a run and quickly realizing that the grading scale here is a little harder than the one at your home mountain.
Skiers hike the Headwall at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (photo by Owen Leeper)
Owen prepares to thread the needle in Expert Chutes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (photo by Owen Leeper)
The backcountry skiing options here are endless and easily accessible right off Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. If you’re an advanced skier without local backcountry knowledge, I recommend hiring a guide to check out some of the best lift-accessed backcountry in the U.S. because you can easily get cliffed out if you don’t know where you are going. I’ve been here nearly seven years, and I’m still finding new zones to explore.
The famous Cody Peak, which can be accessed via backcountry gates at the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Owen begins his descent of Cody Peak. Advanced skiers without local backcountry knowledge should hire a guide to experience these lift-accessed backcountry runs (photo credit: Ben Goldberg)
Adventures for non-skiers
I chose Jackson Hole for the skiing, but I’ve also come to appreciate the community, culture and other outdoor recreation here. Snowmobiling is another popular outdoor activity in Jackson Hole, and there are plenty of trails to keep you busy. One of my favorites is Granite Hot Springs, nestled in the Gros Ventre Mountains, which you can access via snowmobile and soak in the natural hot springs.
When it comes to good food, Jackson Hole doesn’t disappoint. There are lots of great restaurants and bars in the area that offer plenty of variety, and it’s an easy walk to hit multiple spots in one night. In the summer I love to hike in the Tetons, swim in the lakes, mountain bike and play beach volleyball. Jackson Hole offers something for everyone including outdoor concerts and local events all summer long.
If you want to see what it’s like skiing in Jackson Hole, check out my latest season edit below!
Lead photo credit: Julian Carr