Sunday, September 1, 2013

Man-made wonders: Jackson Hole Aerial Tram

Not only are the natural wonders of the greater Yellowstone area feasts for the heart and soul, but so   are a remarkable number of the man-made objects and structures. For the first time in many years, this June KLK and I picked an opportune day to ride the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram from Teton Village (a metastatic ski resort of expensive condos, romantic luxury homes, good and not-so-good restaurants, spas, outdoor sports vendors of all kinds, and an ever-enlarging cement parking lot blotting that little spot in Bridger-Teton National Forest immediately south of Grand Teton National Park) to the top of North Peak of Rendezvous Mountain. It had been 7 or 8 years since we last rode the original tram, which opened in 1965 to serve skiers and snow boarders in the winter and hikers and sightseers in the summer, but we remembered the experience of being gently lifted 4,139 vertical feet above Jackson Hole as thrilling.
Original Jackson Hole Aerial tram, 2005
The old tram, with its small capacity and ever-increasing maintenance needs, was replaced in 2008 by a beautiful 100-person cabin and new supporting infrastructure, bottom-to-top (here's a fascinating blog about the process). This was our first ride on the new tram, the mechanics of which were built by the Swiss (who else?) company,Doppelmayr CTEC.  This is what the new workings look like at the base:
Now I know how it feels to be inside a somewhat oversized Swiss watch.
Waiting our turn.
Leaving the resort below...a corner of Teton Village in the foreground, a bit of the flats of Jackson Hole in the middle, and the Gros Ventre Range in the distance. 
It's a long way up to 10,450 feet. Because there are year-round services at the top, there is road (not open to public vehicles) that makes a great 7-mile hiking trail. There are foot races up, but we, being normal, have ridden the tram up and walked down.
Picture 100 happy sardines -- I mean happy skiers and their skis and poles and snow boards and bulky ski suits -- crammed in there. Better than the old 50-person tram, to be sure. We're above the treeline, ascending more vertically along the last stretch and up close and personal with Corbet's Couloir, a sheer rock face that in winter becomes a suicide drop on every hot-dog skier's do-or-die list.
Corbet's Couloir. Aren't you inspired to ski right off that cliff?
There's another Swiss watch at the top.
And a fancy communications get-up on the roof of Corbet's Cabin. 
The angle of view is so wide it's a little hard to pick out from the ledger which peak is which, but to be sure, the pointy one touching the sky is Grand Teton.

Some serious geologic uplift, subsidence, and at one time, glaciation going on, too. Click on the photo to enlarge for detail.
Here's KLK at Corbet's Cabin (the building with the prickly communications gear on top), best place on earth to score a hot cocoa with a view. Also not a bad place to have a hot dog and chips, use the restroom, get warm on a cold day (which this was not; on a windless, sunny summer day it's nearly shirtsleeves -- with sunscreen -- up there). 
That flat-topped peak is the rim of Cody Bowl, where you can hike or ski. When the wind suddenly started to gust aloft, we reluctantly rode back down, below treeline here now. People often report seeing wildlife -- moose, bears, marmots, soaring raptors, apparently unperturbed by the big red box sliding up and down overhead -- in this area. This trip we zoomed past a mule deer doe, alas, too quickly to get a photo.

I am not a religious person, but there is something about being at the top of a tall mountain that makes me feel close to The Divine.
 Grand Teton peak viewed from Rendezvous.


  1. Somehow regardless of many visits to the Tetons I've missed all of this. No matter as my spouse is allergic to precipices and imagined "scary" rides....:)