Forget skiing in the Alps; go west, for something far wilder. Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s top ski resort, is gnarly, rugged and full of cowboys
You might think you have done some pretty hairy skiing in the Alps, but for an altogether more rugged experience you should head off to the world-class destination of Jackson Hole in the US, where the slopes are steep, the snow is thigh-deep, and the cowboys rule.
Jackson Hole is located in the officially labelled ‘Cowboy State’ of Wyoming, in the northwestern part, close to the majestic Teton Mountains. Cows outnumber men five to one there, and indeed cowboys are very much the thing. They can be seen shuffling along the wooden sidewalks and spotted in the saloons and bars. In fact, visiting Jackson is like visiting the set of some old western, but with snow – and appropriately enough, several westerns were filmed there, including The Big Trail, John Wayne’s first movie, and Shane, starring Jack Palance and Alan Ladd.
The resort is immensely proud of its Old West heritage. There are Western-themed restaurants and après-ski joints in town and up at the resort, called Teton Village, which is around half an hour away. These include the lively Mangy Moose or locals’ hangout Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Café, whose walls are adorned with an array of old boots. There’s also the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson, complete with bar stools made of saddles and stuffed grizzly bear, and the Silver Dollar Bar at the Wort Hotel, while you can even check out a genuine country music saloon at the Stagecoach Cafe in nearby Wilson. Themed restaurants include the Snake River Grill in town, serving cowboy-sized portions of ‘elegant Western’ cuisine, and there are numerous Western clothing, art and souvenir shops too.
If you want to stay in Jackson itself and enjoy the whole cowboy vibe, then stay at the Alpine House Inn
, a charming, slightly hippy downtown bed & breakfast, which serves excellent breakfasts and always has groovy music playing. Alternatively, there is the elegant, historic Wort
itself, in prime position close to all the downtown Western boutiques and bars.
The only problem with being in town is that Teton Village, or The Village, as the resort is known locally, is a 12-mile bus ride away – so the dedicated skier might prefer to stay up there. There is a whole range of smart, if not cowboy-style, accommodation to be found there, from the achingly hip eco-boutique Hotel Terra
to the five-star slope-side Four Seasons.
Between the two is the Asian-themed Amangani,
which is the only US outpost of the Aman hotel chain, located on a remote butte 25 minutes away (sort of halfway between the ski resort and Jackson itself).
Aside from the bars and restaurants, the skiing itself in Jackson Hole is pretty Wild West too. Word has it that cowboys can sometimes be seen riding their horses up to the slopes with their skis slung over their shoulders (although I never saw any during my visit). Either way, the runs have such authentic names as Sleeping Indian, Buffalo Bowl and Cowboy Couloir and the chair lifts are called Eagle’s Rest and Moose Creek Quad. As you might expect, too, the skiing is rougher and tougher and more rootin’ tootin’ than the groomed slopes of France or Switzerland.
The resort is full of eye-watering cliffs and chutes and ‘expert only’ double-black-diamond steeps. There is also only a limited amount of grooming done, so much of the ski area remains natural and raw. Don’t expect any corduroy slopes or smoothed-out bumps here.
There is great back country too. Unlike most other US ski resorts, Jackson allows skiers out into the back country via its 'closed boundary open gate' policy. Most prohibit this, for fear of legal reprisals, but Jackson opens up its wild off-piste territory, so it is a mecca for the determined off-pister. And while the slopes are steep, the snow can be gloriously deep; Jackson gets around 460 inches of snow each year, so this really is one of the top places for North America’s famous powder skiing.
Put simply, Jackson Hole has the reputation of being the hardiest place to ski in North America, the Chamonix of the US even. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that it is home to the notorious Corbet’s Couloir, the double-black-diamond run that starts with a super-scary 50-foot vertical drop and makes grown men weep. I gingerly edged to the top of it one afternoon and promptly turned round and skied off; not for the lily-livered yellow belly, I would say.
So if your skiing is pretty good, and you are looking for a properly gnarly ski experience with a Wild West twist, head off to Wyoming. The manicured slopes of Meribel and Val d’Isère will just never seem quite the same again.