November in Jackson Hole has been a dry month. We received early snow in October but it mostly melted. Four inches of snow fell on November 17 but sun and warmer temperatures dominated the month. I can’t really complain with 50 degree temperatures but we are ski town so snow in November keeps the anxiety level low.
Both ski resorts, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee, delayed opening so the anxiety level rose a bit. Fortunately, the weather gods smiled on our valley so we ended the month with about 2 feet of fresh snow. Both ski resorts will open minimal terrain on December 1. Snow King, the town hill, is scheduled to open on December 3 so should be good to go. Temperatures have gotten colder which allows snow making so that helps the situation. The snow report currently lists a 45 inch base at 9500 feet.
Our last big winter was 2014 with over 600 inches of snow. This year is a La Nina year, the cooling of the Equatorial Pacific, which usually means good snow. However, Wyoming is middle of the country so hard to predict the jet stream on La Nina years. On average, we receive 400 inches of snow at 9000 feet. Last year, we received 285 inches. The web site- unofficialnetworks.com– predicts an above average winter in Jackson Hole. The site predicts snowfall will be 120% of average. I like that prediction.
At this time of year, living near the town of Jackson greatly reduces the amount of sunlight that reaches your house and your neighborhood. Town is surrounded by mountains and buttes and is nestled within the southern part of Jackson Hole. The “hole” being the entire valley so 45 miles long and about 10-15 miles wide. The town of Jackson is a small part of the “hole” and gets shaded by Snow King Mountain.
Snow King Mountain is our local ski resort. Top elevation of the ski resort is 7808 feet while the base is 6237 feet. The 1571-foot vertical rise shades town as the sun tracts south during this time of year. The base of the resort stays shaded until mid-February so we refer to this part of the valley as the “arctic” zone since there is no sunlight on your house for about 4 months. Yes, it is cold in this part of the valley and when the sun shines up Snow King Mountain around Valentine’s Day, you know spring is coming. I live on the edge of town but also against the mountain. Sun reaches my house around 11 AM in December. This photo is taken near Flat Creek in town as we follow the sun on our the morning walk.
Since snow was light in November, animals continue to move. We walked in Granite Canyon in Grand Teton Park and saw numerous deer and elk tracks. You can see where they paw at the snow to reach the grasses and broad-leaved plants or forbs.
Reading the winter landscape makes an outing more interesting. We walked near an old beaver habitat and admired the tracks and scrapings of hooved animals that fed and bedded down in the area. As we looked more closely, we saw mountain lion tracks. We deduced it was probably hunting deer. The cat was large and no claws registered in the track which helps deduce a feline track.
The squawking Magpies got my attention one morning and I looked out my kitchen window and there was a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting under my spruce tree. It was all puffed up due to the cold morning. They feed on small birds and it was sitting near a pile of grey feathers. I am assuming it was a pigeon. It was so cool to contemplate the predator/prey relationship as I had my morning coffee. I don’t think the Magpies liked having the hawk near their territory.
A great part of nature is the opportunity to be aware. To notice our surroundings and connect to the natural world. Jackson is great since we have such species diversity but wherever you live, nature is happening so you just have to notice.
What’s in the woods
11/6- herd of bison near Kelly, Grand Teton Park
11/11- warm and sunny, belted kingfisher on flat creek
11/12- red tail hawk, raven
11/13-small weasel being chased by magpies
11/17- storm brought snow! Finally…..
11/19- great grey owls calling during the dark of night
11/25- small raptor under my tree after a meal- either sharp shinned hawk or merlin
11/26- Granite Canyon- lots of deer/elk tracks and mountain lion tracks
11/26- Teton Village Road- three coyotes, ravens, magpies
11/27- Bald Eagle soaring near Skyline- highway 22, rough legged hawk perched on telephone pole
11/28- fresh snow!
Snow is still thin so hiking continues to be an option. Trails get muddy with warming temperatures so mornings are best. If you do want to ski, going higher in elevation is your best bet so maybe a tour near Togwottee Pass. You drive north into the park, continue past Moran on Highway 89/191. It is a beautiful drive as you wind your way up the pass. Togwotee Mountain Lodge sits at the top. It is a popular snowmobile destination. It is also a fun option in early winter since the elevation is 8,654 feet. It is 16 miles east of Grand Teton Park. The views from this pass where seen by John Colter and recorded in his journal. He is believed to be the first white man to see Jackson Hole in the early 1800’s. Of course, Teton Pass near Wilson is always another option to explore and a bit closer to town. Have fun and let it snow!