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Crust Cruising in Jackson Hole

The days are getting longer as we pass the spring equinox. While the fresh powder snow of mid-winter is only a sweet memory, a whole new ski season is underway: Crust Cruising.

By Nancy Leon | April 2nd, 2019

Imagine the open meadows of Grand Teton National Park (GTNP), Bridger-Teton and Caribou -Targhee national forests all transforming into wide open, expansive adventure terrain. Open spaces, smooth surfaces, like an ocean to explore, with miles of flats, waves, gullies.
Access is easy, and most of the snow-covered meadows are relatively flat, making the skiing easy and within reach of moderate skiers and above.

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Photo credit: C. Wimberg

What is crust cruising? Think skate or classic cross-country skiing on top of the frozen snow crust, when after a series of melt-freeze cycles, the crust is firm enough to support you and your skis without breaking. The ideal crust has a ¼ inch of corn snow, which softens the firm (and sometimes icy) crust into a smooth velvety surface.

The key to crust cruising is timing and a solid overnight freeze, to ensure the crust is firm and not breaking through. Watch the sun on the snow, the ambient temperatures, and don’t stay out too long so the snow softens too much to ski back on.

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Photo credit: JH Nordic

Both skate skis and classic cross-country skis are perfect for crust skiing.

Nordic crust cruising is happening now in Jackson Hole. Every night, we check the forecast for the overnight temps – will it get well below freezing, enough to solidify the surface melted snow from today, into supportable crust? Will it warm up in the morning, just enough to soften the surface into a fast, clean glide-able top layer without turning into mush? This spring is a good time to take advantage of exceptional snow coverage, smooth surfaces.

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Photo credit: JH Nordic

We’ve received several reports of good crust skiing in Grand Teton National Park, starting at:

  • Taggart parking area - heading north following the roadside, western meadows of Cottonwood Creek, around Timbered Island, or east toward the Snake River
  • Signal Mountain - heading south toward The Potholes
  • Whitegrass Ranch
  • Granite Canyon trailhead to LSR Preserve
  • Antelope Flats
  • Around Blacktail Butte
  • or pretty much any open space in the Park.

Bridger-Teton National Forest's crust cruising open meadows are near the base of Shadow Mountain, up the Gros Ventre Road, up Togwotee Pass.

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Photo credit: B. Gordon

A friendly reminder to stay on public lands or next to trails. While that open farmland may look tempting, remember that is private land - please respect no trespassing without permission.

Some Jackson Hole locals often don’t want anyone else to know that “crust cruising is on”, even though there are thousands of acres of frozen snow out there for all to enjoy. Perhaps it’s simply to delight in feeling like the whole world is an endless Nordic ski run, all for yourself and friends?

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Photo credit: S. O'Malley

All the trails in GTNP and Bridger-Teton forest can be found on JHNordic.com/trails/ with GPS maps, elevation profiles, access info. While these trail maps are for the groomed and skier-tracked trails, many of the crust cruising places typically start near a trailhead and go from there. But you can also find your own place, from a road-side pull off or parking area on public lands, where the snow looks smooth and scenery is beautiful.

With cold nights and warm days forecast well into late April - enjoy crust cruising at its best in the short spring window!

Karns Sunrise

Photo credit: S. O'Malley

Wildlife is on the move, so bring bear spray and ski with a friend.

Let us know how it goes, and send photos (or questions) to info@JHNordic.com!

Nancy Leon

Blog Author