Things might get quiet in the Tetons during late fall, but the sleepy feeling doesn’t last long. Every year as winter weather approaches, locals and visitors alike start to feel a palpable energy and sense of anticipation as the season draws closer. You’ll see it out on the roads and trails as the adventurous start to ramp up their training, and you’ll hear it in every coffee shop and grocery store as friends and strangers stop to discuss the weekend’s forecast, whispering of the coming snow.

There’s the beginnings of something in the air towards the end of October, when the chill that first visited the valley earlier in the month settles in, and the last of the colors fall from the forests. This is Wyoming we’re talking about, so snow’s been dusting peaks and passes since August, but it’s usually November when the first big storm hits the valley floor and the snow sticks around for the season. The thick, deep snow cloaks the landscape world in white until late into the spring.

Local Kelly Halpin is an outdoor adventurer and illustrator who grew up next to Grand Teton National Park; she’s climbed, hiked, and snowboarded the Teton range for most of her life. She describes how locals often welcome the year’s first snow with an annual ritual:

“I personally like to celebrate with a thermos full of hot chocolate in the backcountry. Some of my friends like to do a shot of whiskey to open the season. I'm sure everyone in Jackson has their own little way…”

Hopes are high that the 2018/2019 season will bring more picture-perfect conditions, after the last season had some of the highest snowfall on record at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Buckets of fluffy powder arrived unseasonably early and settled in for a long winter of prime mountain sport. As we count down to this year’s first big snowfall, we’ve rounded up the best of the area’s annual traditions for welcoming winter to the valley...

Gearing Up

Long before dawn on October 20th, you’ll see crowds gather on Snow King Avenue, as locals line up to buy, sell, and swap last year’s gear at the annual Ski Swap. The fundraiser hosted by the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club is a long-time annual tradition, with locals and vendors clamoring to get in the doors early for the best selection of alpine, nordic, freeski, and snowboarding equipment and apparel. It’s a can’t miss event for any visiting winter sports enthusiasts.

Looking Skyward

The night sky always puts on show in the valley, due to the minimal light pollution and high altitude. (Jackson boasts some of the darkest skies in the country.) But with colder temperatures come even clearer views as the air thins and the clouds disappear. On the evening of November 9th, the Wyoming Stargazing non-profit hosts a free chance to see the constellations even closer, from the lawn next to the Center for the Arts in downtown Jackson. With a giant Dobsonian telescope and astronomy educators on hand to guide you through your journey to the stars, you’ll see planets and galaxies in dizzying detail. Shooting star spottings are almost guaranteed - it’s a rare night in the Tetons that you don’t see at least one.

Light in the Darkness

Winter gets officially welcomed to the valley with the beloved annual town square lighting. The hundred year old park’s iconic elk antler arches are draped with thousands of lights as night falls this November 23. Warmly bundled crowds gather to enjoy music and hot drinks as they count down the moment when the square illuminates, turning the area into a winter wonderland that lends a glow to Jackson’s downtown all season long. The festive evening ends with carollers, cookies, and the arrival of Santa and his team of sled dogs!

Opening Day

The most anticipated date of the year is scheduled for November 24 in 2018, as slopes officially open and the iconic red trams once again swing their way up the mountain sides from Teton Village. Grand Targhee and Snow King open slightly earlier and later, respectively, but the first day on piste at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort always feels the most momentous. Celebrating its 53rd season, the world-class resort continues to grow and expand without ever losing its unique, small-town feel. This year sees the addition of Solitude Station, a new 12,000 square foot ski school and lodge which provides an easier, gentler version of the mountain’s famous runs for children and beginner adults.

When the big day finally dawns, it can feel like the entire town is on holiday as everyone rushes to the slopes to make those first precious tracks. It’s an inclusive and welcoming occasion, as Halpin relates:

“I love seeing all my friends at the resort on the opening day or on Teton Pass after the first big snow. Everyone is happy and giving high fives and hugs. It's awesome to have something like a season opening that brings everyone together.”

All of this celebratory energy won’t disappear after sun sets on opening day. From the first snow to the season’s last, the valley will stay abuzz with adventure and packed with those who seek it. With its boundless acres of mountains and backcountry, Jackson Hole in winter is the ultimate playground for those who love world-class outdoor sports, small-town character, and the awe-inspiring beauty of pristine, protected wilderness stretching as far as the eye can see.