A millionaire’s playground and a working western town: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has something for all - and the skiing is always first class
There was a dead elk outside the door. It was 27th November 2010 and the opening day of the ski season in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Unfortunately for the elk it was still three days from the end of the hunting season and this one was upside down in the back of a pick-up, giving a whole new meaning to a ‘leg at each corner’.
But Jackson is like that, a down-to-earth town that prides itself on its western heritage and still walks the walk - on sidewalks. The previous night the Christmas lights had been turned on and Santa had arrived on an ATV, passing under the twinkling arches made up of thousands of elk antlers that are found at each corner of the main square. Yet the skiing is some of the most varied and challenging you could find anywhere and this season there has already been a record 130 inches of snow.
The main ski area is about 20 minutes around the valley in Teton Village resort (reached by shuttle bus) and all lifts were operating for opening day - a vertical drop of 4,139 feet and 2,500 acres were ready to go. I like to start the day at the very top: the skies are often clearest early on so catch the aerial tram to Rendez Vous mountain (10,450 feet) where the notorious Corbett’s Couloir is located, a stomach churningly steep chute. Take a look even if you do not want to participate: though it is listed as a black run down from the top, it is an easy one that any intermediate skier could handle, then work your way north to finish the day on Apres Vous which catches the last of the sun.
Out on the town
Preferring the lively downtown atmosphere, we were staying at the Antler Inn (43 W. Pearl Street, PO Box 575, Jackson, WY 83001), one block off the main square. The huge king bedded room came with its own fireplace so cosy evenings were guaranteed. The Antler and its nearby sister inns offer ski packages with lift ticket and lodging for about $150 a day for two: good value considering lift tickets are $69 now. Otherwise, for the budget conscious one cannot get much better value than Motel 6 (600 S. Highway 89, Jackson, WY 83001) where a double goes for about $40 if you can cope with the bright orange colour scheme.
The Silver Dollar bar at the historic Wort Hotel, another popular place to stay in the thick of it (Crn. Glenwood & Broadway; PO Box 69, Jackson, Wyoming 83001), was buzzing on Saturday night; the five television screens showing different channels were luckily all silent and did not detract from the live jazz band in the corner. We ate mountain-sized portions of nachos and admired the cowboy hats in residence and the Hummer outside with the appropriate number plate: NEEDGAS.
For there is a glitzy element to Jackson which can be seen in the numerous galleries whose huge bronzes overflow onto the sidewalks, the unusual number of good restaurants, and the varied shopping opportunities. The choice is yours: to eat ribs with the locals, go to the down-to-earth Bubba’s (West Broadway & Pearl; +1 307-733-2288); for fine dining try Trio (45 S.Glenwood; +1 307-734-8038; www.BistroTrio.com), a trendy bistro with in-room kitchen or the Blue Lion (160 N. Millward; +1 307-733-3912; www.bluelionrestaurant.com) housed in a pretty old house and justifiably famous for its rack of lamb though the elk Diane was pretty good too; sit on cowboy saddles at the Million Dollar Cowboy bar (25 N. Cache St; +1 307-733-2207; www.milliondollarcowboybar.com) in the main square or catch real cowboys at the Sunday evening music session at the Stagecoach (5755 W. Highway 22, Wilson; +1 307-733-6610) in nearby Wilson which comes with all the check shirts and cowboy hats you could want.
The apres ski
For apres-ski in Teton Village, the Mangy Moose (3285 W. Mccollister Drive in Teton Village; +1 307-733-4913; www.mangymoose.net) should not be missed - the rustic bar includes a whole stuffed elk and always has a lively crowd. Another popular local spot is the good value Village Café (420 McColllister Blvd; +1 307-732-2233), a little corner dive tucked away at the back near the aerial tram. A stylish alternative is the bar at Snake River Lodge (7710 Granite Loop Road; +1 307-732-6000; www.snakeriverlodge.rockresorts.com) which has a huge assortment of carved bears in the woodwork.
Downtown, a good drinking option is Snake River Brewing (265 S. Millward; +1 307-739-2337; www.snakeriverbrewing.com) or ‘the brewpub’ which has a great range of home-brewed ales and good happy hour deals on beer and finger foods. The ‘caddy’ or Cadillac (55 N. Cache; +1 307-733-3279; www.cadillac-grille.com) on the main square is popular with resort staff and mountainmen - think hiking boots and beards - mostly due to its generous 5-7pm happy hour when they have 2-4-1 draught beer (normally $3.50 a pint) and chicken ‘wings’ for 30 cents each - though be warned: these really are ‘hot and spicy’!
Spoilt for choice
I love Jackson too for the sheer variety of things to do: in the winter as well as three skiing areas (the other two are Snow King above Jackson - largely for beginners - and Grand Targee, a scenic hour's drive away via Idaho), there is snowmobiling (including to Yellowstone at present), cross country skiing, winter mountaineering, husky sleigh rides to hot pools or visiting the winter elk refuge (www.fws.gov/nationalelkrefuge) on the edge of town where some 7,500 animals come to spend the winter. Nearby, the National Museum of Wildlife Art (2820 Runguis Road; +1 307-733-5771; www.WildlifeArt.org) has some splendid exhibits in a cleverly designed ruined-hacienda-type building.
In the summer with Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone on the doorstop there are innumerable hiking and sightseeing possibilities, white water rafting, horse riding, biking and fishing: the comprehensive Jackson Hole Visitor Centre (532 N. Cache St.; +1 307-733-3316; www.jacksonholechamber.com) can supply you with all the details.
Monday 29th November: brilliant sunshine and at 9am the slopes at Teton are deserted. Pristine runs and untracked powder drop away down the mountain; the cold air and the jagged beauty of the Teton range take my breath away. I feel I am skiing my own private resort. Jackson is not the easiest place to get to: international fliers will have to transfer, usually via Salt Lake or Denver; nor is it the cheapest: lift tickets in high season are $91/day. However, days like these make it all worthwhile.