Freeski at The Ghee – A Day with the Locals in Grand Targhee, Wyoming

January 2nd, 2024
Local Ghee grommets Cooper Watson and Nathan Cyr playing hide and seek in the powder fields.

Mountainwatch | Words and photos Tony Harrington

Grand Targhee is one of those sublime, under the radar places that feels like you’ve stumbled across a local’s secret. This low-key ski area regularly reports 12.7 metres of deep, cold powder each season thanks to its position on the western flanks of the Teton Range on the far western fringe of Wyoming, but it doesn’t make a big fuss about it. When you turn off Route 33 in Driggs and follow your nose along the humbly titled ‘Ski Hill Road’ the small farms soon give way to a series of switchbacks delivering you to ‘the Ghee’.

People come here to ski, so if you’re looking for shops, scented candles, sushi and somewhere to parade your latest season ski fashion – move along. But don’t let the small-town folksy vibes fool you. The resort team here at Targhee are working consistently to improve and modernise the resort in the ways that matter for their clientele. They unveiled a new lift this season and this high-speed six-seater Colter chair unlocks a generous zone of blue/black glades on Peaked Mountain that was previously only accessible via cat-skiing.

The old time ambience of Grand Targhee

This is very much billed as a family resort, but that doesn’t mean it’s full of bunny runs; far from it. It is full of friendly locals, Mums and Dads sharing their passion for pow with their kids and where groms can stretch their independence on terrain that funnels them back to the bottom. It’s the kind of place where people leave backpacks tucked under a bench and offer to share their snacks. Kids here quickly progress from the green runs on Shoshone lift to earning their black run creds skiing “The Good”, “The Bad” and (you guessed it) “The Ugly”.

Room to move in the glades

With the massive housing affordability challenges in neighbouring Jackson Hole, more and more Jackson workers, especially those with families, are being priced out and have made the move over here to the Idaho side of the Teton Pass for a better life. It’s no surprise this cohort of ski bums, and their shredder kids, include some of the well-known and up-and-coming names of the freeski world. On any given day at Grand Targhee you’ll rub shoulders with skiing faces you’ll recognise like Olympic Mogul skier Jaelin Kauf (who has a run under the new chairlift named for her) and freeski, Red Bull athlete Kai Jones (who’ll you find backflipping off cliffs). Needless to say, there’s a wave of new generation athletes coming through the ranks and Grand Targhee provides all the terrain, challenge and inspiration they need to become the best in the freeski world.

Garret Waltz doing what local kids do, throwing down off a feature called Toilet Bowl

Targhee is seeing a few more visitors than it used to but in the scheme of things across the US it’s still nowhere near what you’ll find at larger resorts.  A very “busy” day at Targhee is still clocking in at around 1600 skiers. The semi-remoteness, limited parking and limited village infrastructure keeps a lid on things, which is a win for locals and visitors alike. I was there on the busiest day of the 22/23 winter, President’s Weekend (to be avoided at all costs at most major resorts) and once the lifts were all rolling the ‘crowd’ was quickly dispersed across the vast ski area and the smooth, short lift lines were at a level mountain managers dream of.

The stick of truth

The glade skiing here is world-class and there’s plenty of it, with heaps of corridors, alley ways and spacious fields to lose yourself in. Weekdays in particular offer endless untracked laps. There are enough sneaky boulder fields and cliff bands to keep things spicy if that’s your thing, and this is where the freeride groms, both young and old, froth out. One particular ridgeline has numerous cliff drops. Bob Cat, Cornice Interruptus, Toilet Bowl and Wolverine lure free-spirited purveyors of airtime when the conditions allow. Targhee skiers are often granted their wish for soft landings due the continual barrage of storms that come in from the west and north-westerly quadrant. These storms tend to slam into the Tetons and stall over this zone giving Targhee multiple helpings of pow before the buffet moves across to Jackson. The snow stays cold and dry for days on end and steep landings are a cliff droppers delight.

Grand Targhee freeride coach Gary McKenzie in speed mode

I caught up with Gary McKenzie, a former IFSA tour athlete, who heads up the freeski seasonal programs here. We talked about what an incredible zone this is for emerging young skiers and the sheer depth of talent and stoke there is in the coaching program Gary leads. He’s fired up about the opportunity to grow a relationship with Australian coaches and athletes and I’m happy when I hear that discussions are progressing to make this happen.

There’s no question Australia has a pool of talented skiers and snowboarders who have what it takes to step on up into the international freeski circuit. A limiting factor is Australia currently has no clear big mountain pathway for these kids on Australian snow.

Cooper Watson down the jib line

For Aussies to build the skills and experience to unlock access to the FWT and international big mountain competition they need time on snow in this kind of terrain with this level of coaching. Australia does a great job building solid foundations for skiers in racing and moguls, and some programs like the Team Buller Riders and Hotham Freeski are leading the charge into the freeski realm. There’s an exciting opportunity for Aussie groms and their coaches here, and the crew at Grand Targhee are ready to welcome them into their amazing terrain and their friendly community. Last year when I chatted to Ski School Director Brian Maguire (who Buller readers will know from his time in the Ski and Snowboard School there) he made it clear that the door was wide open and he’d love to see more Aussies make the visit to set up a training camp.

A big crowd lining up for first lift on a powder day

Grand Targhee hosts a Junior IFSA 3-star National event and competent groms in the freeride programs are perfectly positioned to participate. There is a solid regional tour that also passes through nearby resorts including Jackson Hole, Snow King and Big Sky providing even more opportunities for event experience and a chance to earn IFSA points. For athletes wanting to step things up the opportunity to rub shoulders with the USA’s best young riders and build up some freeride competition skills is significant. And let’s not overlook the bonus for the parents; they get to lap uncrowded powder and glade skiing while the kids are training!

Cooper Watson – a product of the Grand Targhee freeride program

The icing on the cake here is the on-slope lodging. It has to be some of the best value you’ll find slopeside anywhere. It’s cosy, warm middle-of-the-road accommodation, it’s literally steps from the lift and includes access to the hot tubs and pool. The village is tiny by US standards – but has one of my favourite authentic ski bars in North America. The Trap Bar & Grill is where on any given day you can end your ski day dancing in ski boots to a six-piece band complete with brass, duelling banjos and searing violins. Tip – you’ll need to recruit some friends if you order the big nachos.  Travelling with a posse? AirBnB options abound at the base of the resort offering plenty of size, space and style for any budget.

Après at the Trap Bar and Grill

Interested in the freeride camp? Drop in to or email Head Coach Gary on to start a conversation.

For more info on this Wyoming gem, head to