|BUFFALO HOME: Jackson Hole has wildlife (below) and wild living, thanks to a bevy of extreme skiers (above).|
A few days before I left for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a friend of mine told me how jealous he was. This friend is one of those extreme skiers, the kind who doesn’t think twice about launching his snowboarding self off rocky precipices or slicing through powder as tall as he is (and he happens to be quite tall). After listing a half-dozen resorts—everything from Taos to Crested Butte—he told me Jackson Hole is his favorite place to ski. He said the weather at the top of the mountain can be completely different than at the base. The mountain is steep, too; it’s almost a vertical mile. He emphasized this fact by flattening his hand, bending his arm at the elbow, and pointing his fingers to the ground. He kept tilting his hand to the ground, and my eyes kept getting bigger.
I am not an extreme skier, though I’m no snowplowing novice, either. I’ve been skiing several times, and I feel comfortable on blues and daring on double blues. I’ll venture down an expert-level run if I’m feeling particularly self-destructive. But whenever I find myself going faster down the mountain than I intend, my go-to move is the voluntary fall down. As my friend hyped Jackson Hole, I pictured myself falling down a lot, often resulting in a “yard sale,” I believe the extreme skiers would say.
I admit it. I was scared.
But when I got to Teton Village, Jackson Hole’s ski community, excitement replaced fear. Skiing Rendezvous and Apres Vous mountains is only as wild as you make it. About half of the runs are expert-level, 40 percent are intermediate, and 10 percent are beginner. Skiers of varying skill can find ways down the mountain to match their comfort levels and not be bowled over by shredding snowboarders in the process. Nearly a vertical mile of slopes means plenty of room for everyone. When I went, lift lines were never long, and runs were never crowded.
And from where I stayed, the lift lines were never far away. The principles for lodging at ski resorts are the same as those for real estate anywhere: location, location, location. With regard to ski lodges, location is a predictor of convenience. You want to be close enough to the ski lifts that your precarious trek through snow—with skis awkwardly perched on your shoulder and ski boots severely hindering mobility—is as short as possible. But if you’re too close, the hustle and bustle of hundreds of skiers takes any semblance of relaxation out of your resort.
Just a few minutes away from the epicenter of Teton Village, the Teton Mountain Lodge is well-positioned. More than that, it’s a cozy retreat after a long day of wending your way down mountains. Two years old, Teton Mountain has one-, two-, and three-bedroom units designed with a mixture of comfort and elegance in mind. Cascade Grill House & Spirits, the lodge’s restaurant, provides some of the best cuisine in Teton Village. The menu offers “New Western” dishes, such as trout baked in parchment paper, fire-grilled buffalo filet mignon, and skillet-seared rack of Colorado lamb. And for those who’ve taken a bumpier path than others down the slopes, there’s the requisite spa, complete with massage therapy and body treatments.
Skiing is the featured activity in Jackson Hole, but it’s not the only one, which is good news for yard salers. During the day, you can take snowmobile tours of nearby mountain ranges and rivers, or enjoy dog sled tours for a more casual look at the scenery. If you prefer to mix and mingle with wildlife, visit the National Elk Refuge, the largest gathering of wintering elk in North America.
The federally run refuge spans 24,000 acres and attracts more than 10,000 elk that dot the landscape in the distance, like black fence posts in the snow. From mid-December to late March, you can see these stately creatures while enjoying a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Elk can be skittish, but the sleighs don’t scare them, giving visitors a unique opportunity to get up close. The rides take about 45 minutes, and they can be very cold on the wind-swept open plain. Layer up. Tickets can be purchased in the lobby of the National Museum of Wildlife Art (307-733-5771; www.wildlifeart.org) across the highway from the refuge, and a shuttle bus will take you to the sleigh ride.
If you consider shopping an activity, that can be done at Teton Village, but expert shoppers can find more stores to browse in Jackson, which is about a $20 cab ride away or $1 on the shuttle.
At night, ski bums in Teton Village head to the Mangy Moose Saloon. The Mangy Moose has enough kitschy décor—old road signs, flags, and taxidermied moose—to make it feel like a tourist attraction, but the live music and college bar-like atmosphere make it an authentic watering hole and pretty much the best après-ski spot you’re going to find without going to Jackson.
But the people who call Jackson Hole their favorite place to ski will tell you that you need to head into town, if for no other reason than to see the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Consider me one more person telling you to do so. The bar, which has saddles for stools and knobbed pine everywhere, has been around since 1937. It’s legendary, as bars go, so don’t be surprised if there’s a crowd around the pool tables and a line for the standard bar food. And if that crowd is full of extreme skiers, it’s easy to pretend you fit right in: just talk about the “fresh powder” and do your best to hide your aches and pains from all of those yard sales.
|FIRESIDE CHATS: The lobby at Teton Mountain is a cozy place to wind down after a day on the slopes.|
HOW TO GET THERE
Major airlines such as American (800-433-7300; www.aa.com), Delta (800-221-1212; www.delta.com), and United (800-864-8331; www.united.com) fly to Jackson, but you’ll have to stop in Salt Lake City (or Denver, if you’re flying United). From Jackson, Teton Village is a
35-minute ride. If you don’t plan on much besides skiing, you can make do without a rental car.
WHERE TO STAY
Four Seasons Resort
7680 Granite Loop Rd.,Teton Village
Teton Mountain Lodge
3385 West Village Dr., Teton Village
WHERE TO EAT
3255 W. McCollister Dr., Teton Village
A great spot for a hearty lunch (try the chili) or après-ski aperitifs.
3395 McCollister Dr., Teton Village
You might not expect to find good sushi in the mountains, but you can. Chef Masa Kitami’s menu is full of surprising delights.
Snake River Grill
84 E. Broadway Ave., Jackson
An intimate setting for fine dining that includes seafood, game, and an impressive wine list.
WHERE TO DRINK
Mangy Moose Saloon
3295 W. McCollister Dr., Teton Village
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
25 N. Cache St., Jackson
Photos: Skier: Courtesy of Jackson Hole; Lobby: Courtesy of Teton Mountain Lodge