February is the heart of ski season in the Tetons and a wonderful time of year to visit if you’re into snow sports.
In terms of skiing and winter sports, each of the core winter months have their pros and cons relative to one another.
The main advantages of visiting Jackson Hole in February include longer daylight, relatively warmer temperatures compared to December and January, and a deeper and (usually) more stable snowpack.
The snow is deep in February
The Teton Mountains and Jackson Hole are well known for deep and consistent snowfall over the course of the winter. The snowpack steadily builds starting in November, and by the time February rolls around you won’t have to worry as much about scraping rocks when you ski off-piste.
The average settled snow depth (base) at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s upper mountain ranges from 78 inches on February 1 to 93 inches on February 28. Of course, this varies from year to year.
From 2000 to 2019, the snow depth on February 28 ranged from a low of 72 inches in 2001 to a high of 151 inches of 2017. So even in down years, there is still plenty of snow to ski and recreate on.
In the Jackson Hole Valley, the winter snowpack reaches its peak in February. The average snow depth in the Grand Teton National Park valley ranges from 33 inches in Moose to 38 inches near Jackson Lake. In other words, there is plenty of snow for nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
Avalanche danger and winter snowpack are more stable than early winter
Early in the season, when the snowpack is thinner and weaker, avalanche danger tends to be higher and more volatile with regard to new snow events, due to weak layers that form in the snowpack.
By later in the winter, the snowpack has deepened and strengthened, and settling within the snowpack has buried and compressed the early season weak layers. As a result, backcountry skiing tends to be safer in February compared to December and January, in terms of deep persistent slabs that are difficult to predict.
While the threat for persistent slabs tends to decrease at this time of year, periods of high avalanche danger still occur during and immediately after snow events. Wind loading events are still common in February as well.
Also, dangerous snow and avalanche conditions persist across the highest peaks of the Teton Mountains in February, and serious ski mountaineering objectives are best left until springtime.
Be sure to follow the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center for daily avalanche forecasts, and keep in mind that the snowpack varies every season, every week, and every day.
February is Jackson Hole’s third snowiest month
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort receives an average of 70 inches of snowfall on its upper mountain in February, which trails only December and January in terms of annual snowfall.
For the Jackson Hole Valley locations, the average February snowfall ranges from 14.3 inches in the town of Jackson to 28.7 inches in Moose.
While February is the third snowiest month on average, in some years it can really dump in February. More recently, February of 2019 was a month for the ages when nearly 200 inches of snow fell at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and 55 inches fell in the town of Jackson. This was the second snowiest month (out of all 12 months) ever recorded at both locations!
Average temperatures are warmer than December and January
Average temperatures bottom out in Jackson Hole during December and January, but start to gradually rise in February. The average high temperature in the town of Jackson is 28 degrees in January but rises to 34 degrees in February. The average low temperature rises from 5 degrees in January to 9 degrees in February.
Severe cold snaps featuring well below zero temperatures can still occur in February, especially early in the month, but they are less common and usually shorter-lived compared to the cold snaps that occur in December and January.
During cold snaps, temperatures can fall to the -10’s or occasionally -20’s in February, while temperatures can rise well into the 40s in Jackson during the warmest days in February.
Temperature inversions (when dense cold air sinks into the valleys and becomes trapped) are common in December and January when the sun at its weakest and the days are short. The sun is stronger in February, which supplies more surface heating that makes it easier for inversions to break during the afternoons.
Across the higher elevations of the Tetons, the difference in average temperatures from January to February is minimal, which is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to snow conditions for skiing.
The average high temperature at the summit of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (elevation 10,400 feet) is 20 degrees and the average low is 9 degrees, not factoring in the wind chill — and yes, it can get windy up top.
Days are longer and the sun is stronger
After the dark days of November, December, and January, the days finally start to get longer in February, which is obviously great for recreation. Sunrise and sunset times are 7:39 a.m. and 5:34 p.m. on February 1st. By the end of the month, sunrise and sunset times are 7:01 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. on February 28th (times are for 2020, and may vary slightly by year).
The only downside about the increasingly stronger sun throughout the month is that sunny days are more likely to impact the snow on south-facing and occasionally east or west-facing slopes, leading to the formation of sun crusts and/or breakable crusts.
Sun-affected snow is more common during the second half of February. During periods of sunny weather when the snow becomes impacted, it’s best to seek out north-facing slopes where the snow stays fresh and powdery for days and weeks after a storm.
Ski resort crowds tend to increase
I don’t have any official stats to back up this claim, but in my personal experience, Jackson Hole Ski Resort is the most crowded during February. This likely has to do with January seeing somewhat of a post-holiday lull in crowds, with out-of-towners returning in greater numbers to the slopes in February once we are well beyond the holiday season.
Anyways, this shouldn’t necessarily dissuade one from visiting Jackson Hole in February, but it is something to be aware of if you despise occasional lift lines. Typically, ski resort crowds are at their heaviest on powder mornings when lifts first open, especially if ski patrol is conducting avalanche control and lift openings are delayed. Crowds tend to disperse as the days progress.
Less crowded ski resort options include Grand Targhee and Snow King. Grand Targhee is a moderate-sized ski area located outside of Driggs, Idaho, about an hour west of Jackson, and offers more consistent powder conditions and a lower-key vibe compared to Jackson Hole.
Snow King is the town hill located right above the center of Jackson. This small ski area has minimal lift lines, affordable lift tickets, and offers the chance to ski laps right above Jackson with spectacular views of the Tetons in the distance.
Access to winter recreation in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park
For backcountry skiing and snowboarding, Teton Pass is the most popular spot since Highway 22 travels over the pass, offering a starting point for skiers at an elevation of 8,400 feet. Skiers/snowboarders make runs off of both sides of the pass and from the top of Mt. Glory, and can arrange car shuttles from the lower portions of either side of the pass.
Trail Creek (near Wilson) and Coal Creek are the two most popular “exit route” trailheads. There is also a large plowed parking area on the highway near the start of the Phillips Ridge Trailhead, which offers access to backcountry skiing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling.
In Grand Teton National Park, the inter-loop road is closed during the winter from the Taggart Lake Trailhead to Signal Mountain. As a result, Taggart Lake is a popular starting spot for winter adventures of all sorts.
There are many wonderful backcountry ski destinations, such as 25-Short, that start from Taggart Lake. Bradley and Taggart Lakes are also popular snowshoeing and cross-country skiing destinations. In addition, the inter-loop road is groomed during the winter months, offering a fantastic option for cross-country skiers. Jenny Lake is about 5 miles one way, and offers a good day trip for cross-country skiing.
To the south, the Moose-Wilson Road is closed in the winter, but also offers good cross-country skiing on the road itself, as well as to Phelps Lake.
Farther north, less-traveled cross-country skiing and nordic skiing options abound around Signal Mountain, Jackson Lake Lodge, and Colter Bay.
Outside of the park, Togwotee Pass is a popular winter spot for cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, and especially snowmobiling. Many snowmobile tours operate around Togwotee Pass. For backcountry skiing, Angle Mountain offers good options for powder turns.
The west side of the Tetons near Grand Targhee offers endless options for backcountry skiing and nordic skiing as well.
February is prime time for winter recreation in Yellowstone
Yellowstone has limited access to vehicle traffic in the winter, but it does offer access via snowmobile and snow coach, with typical access points from the west and south entrances. Yellowstone National Park’s website has detailed information about winter access.
Yellowstone is a magical place to visit in the winter, and there are numerous options for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing once you access the park via snowmobile/snow coach.
The northern park road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance is the one road that remains open to auto traffic, offering opportunities for cross country skiing/snowshoeing as well as wildlife viewing (think wolves).
Additionally, the highway that heads north from West Yellowstone toward Big Sky, Montana borders the northwest border of Yellowstone, where there are several trailheads offering access to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
February is the prime time to visit Yellowstone in the winter due to longer days and a deep snowpack.
The average high at Old Faithful in February is 32 degrees and the average low is 2 degrees. Old Faithful averages 27.5 inches of snowfall during February, and the average settled snow depth is 34 inches.