The Wild Wintry West
Top 10 winter activities in Jackson Hole
When European explorers first sighted the treed valleys and rugged couloirs of Jackson, they called it “the hole” — their word for a land nestled between a ring of mountains. Today’s visitors come from all over the world and can still find the charms of this bygone era in the rustic cabins, boardwalks and antler-arches of the town square.
But thanks to an infusion of daredevils, dreamers, artists and entrepreneurs, the modern Jackson adventurer can also enjoy food, lodging and exploits that a mountain man could never imagine. So whether you’re a traditional or modern mountain man or woman, Jackson Hole has a little something for everyone.
1. Downhill and back-country skiing.
In Jackson, the resort names are regal and the slopes are sublime, a frozen kingdom of shimmering chutes and beveled buttes that serve as the crown jewel in the diadem of destination skiers everywhere. And whether you like to cut clean lines into groomed slopes or pummel the powder of the backcountry, the spas, shops and restaurants at the end of your descent will make you feel like royalty in an empire of ice. (http://www.jacksonhole.com, http://www.grandtarghee.com or http://www.snowkingmountain.com)
2. Cross-country skiing.
Maybe flat land is more your thing. If so, slip on your skis and head cross-country, gliding along one of Jackson’s groomed, looping tracks. Grand Teton National Park puts wind in your hair, food in your belly and knowledge in your head with its day-long Nature Ski Tours, complete with beginner and advanced excursions, lunch, and a natural history tour of the park (307-739-2629). Or try a bevy of other options, from luxury sleep-and-ski cabins at Turpin Meadow Ranch to the pup-friendly Buddy’s Trail at Shooting Star Nordic Track.
3. Dog sledding to Granite Hot Springs.
Take a sled back in time with Jackson Hole Sled Dog tours and let Iditarod veteran Frank Teasley whisk you through a winter wonderland, where the silence is interrupted only by the lull of runners on packed snow. Let Teasley’s dogs take the lead while you scan for bald eagle, elk and other wildlife, then massage your craned-neck cramps while soaking in the healing waters of Granite Springs.
4. Snow King Fat Bike and Mountain Coaster.
If you think biking is just for summer, think again: All terrain fat bikes are sweeping the winter sports world, and there’s no better place to try out your treads than Snow King Resort, where you can shred specially-groomed single-track trails like a pro. And while you’re revising your winter sports possibility list, add on Snow King’s Mountain Coaster, an above-ground loop-de-loop that delights no matter the season.
5. Snowmobiling on Togwotee Pass.
Togwotee Mountain Lodge’s motto is “from here you can go anywhere,” and the lodge’s ace team of snowmobile instructors and their specialty snow hogs take the term from platitude to possibility in the time it takes to rev from zero to 60. The lodge’s 600 acres of on- and off-road snowmobile country are a far cry from your standard fare, looking less like an ice highway and more like tunneling through a goose-down pillow. And with everything from beginner to expert routes, everyone can get a brain freeze from the powder high.
6. Guided snowshoeing in Grand Teton National Park.
Think the world falls asleep in winter? Think again! Join Hole Hiking Experience for nature tours that will have you peeking under the blanket of snow to see the bustle of animals about their business. Leave your own strange tracks next to the meandering footprints of swans, foxes and bighorn sheep as you push deeper and deeper into the backcountry. And don’t you dare hibernate — HHE offers everything from short to rugged treks to suit biologists of all backgrounds.
7. Yellowstone Wildlife Safari.
Don’t go all the way to Africa! Shift your stereotypes and the scenery by taking a winter safari in Yellowstone National Park, where the experienced guides at the Teton Science School will take you on the animal adventure of your life. As the snow sifts down around you, go for biology bingo blackout as you track moose, elk, wolves, and yes, even grizzlies. And with a hot breakfast and hearty lunch, being wild never felt so good! Call 307-733-1313.
8. Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride.
Done dog sledding? Why not continue the theme and go over the river and through the woods in one of Bar T 5’s elk-pulled sleighs? You’ll be toasty warm under piles of blankets as you glide under the shadow of the Tetons, and you’ll spot some of the largest herds of elk you’ll see this side of anywhere. Now that beats a car ride any day!
9. WinterFest Skijoring and Cutter Races.
Just when you think Jackson can’t possibly popularize another obscure winter sport, it goes and ups the ante (and the daring) with its annual Skijoring and Cutter Races. Skijoring brings the best of Russian athletic daredevilry to the Wyoming slopes, with galloping horses catapulting roped skiers off giant jumps. Cutter racing channels Roman chariot races and updates them for the Wild West, as thoroughbred horses thunder down snow-covered speedways with maverick coachmen in tow. Come for the oohs, stay for the ahs.
10. Exploring Town Square.
Now that you’ve ridden on every modern contraption, done every mash-up sport, and tried a li’l of the tried-and-true, it’s time to collapse onto a soft bed and then wine, dine and window-shop your way back to full vigor. And if it’s luxurious libations and epicurean eats you’re looking for, go no further than downtown Jackson, which boasts a winter garden of earthly delights in every genre.
When you’re done pampering and preening, stop by the town square to see a cowboy’s version of a Christmas tree: an arch of antlers decked out in lights that will wink you to sleep just in time for sugarplums to dance in your head.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Community magazine.