Endless Powder, Cowboy Grub, & Ice Climbing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Despite the recent inches of snow accumulated in Tahoe these past couple of weeks, the less than optimal snowpack pales in comparison to Jackson Hole’s 358 inches of total snowfall this season. With a new direct flight from SFO, a quick trip to Jackson Hole is the antidote to California’s precipitation deficiency. Plus, you don’t need to be a skier to enjoy all the action the valley has to offer (though if you are, you’re in for a steep and powdery thrill).
The newly renovated Snow King Resort. Photo courtesy of the hotel.
The town of Jackson is 13 miles away from Jackson Hole Ski Resort in Teton Village, but a reliable shuttle system connects the two. Make your base in Jackson town at the Snow King Resort, a recently renovated property at the base of Snow King Mountain, an independent ski area beloved by locals. The hotel has glorious 240-degree views from its handsome public spaces, a benevolent staff, and an utterly relaxed vibe.
It’s not time to chill out, yet. Stroll down the street to the tubing park at the base of Snow King Mountain and spend an exhilarating hour whizzing down the groomed runs accessible by rope tow. Not enough thrill for you? Try scaling the ice-climbing wall. Check the website for times and costs.
You’re welcome to cowboy country with dinner at beautifully designed Hayden’s Post. Elk with huckleberry demi-glace and potato gratin is tender, dense (though not gamey at all), and well balanced, and the salads are plentiful and delicious. Or, go all out Western with stout-braised bison or a prime cowboy cut bone-in Ribeye.
Ice climbing wall at Snow King Mountain Resort. Photo courtesy of Julie Weinberger.
Spend the morning acclimating to the altitude (Jackson sits at 6,451 feet) by snowshoeing in Grand Teton National Park with The Hole Hiking Experience. Led by energetic biologist and naturalist Cathy Shill (or one of her expert guides), snowshoe at your own pace through the peaceful beauty of a forested winter wonderland. You’ll take away knowledge about various plants and wildlife tracks in the snow while marveling at the resplendent Teton peaks beyond. Equipment, snacks, and drinks included.
Pop into the National Museum of Wildlife Art to view its impressive collection of American 19th and 20th century art that celebrates humanity’s relationship with nature. Overlooking the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge, the building blends in with its native surroundings and is home to work ranging from Romanticism to Modernism with a particular focus on European exploration of the American West. Afterward, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride among the elk herd below. Arrange at the visitor’s center in Jackson.
Need more of an adrenaline rush than art can provide? A great alternative is to book a Winter Fat Bike for the afternoon. Either take a guided tour through the Elk Refuge or Teton National Park, or explore Jackson’s snow packed roads and trails on your own, the bikes have 4-inch tires primed for snow.
Snowshoe in the gorgeous Grand Teton National Park. Photo courtesy of the author.
Amble around the illuminated town square and soak in the ambiance, stopping into Local for its half-off happy hour. Local is what every SF sophisticated hipster haunt with Western flair aspires to be – except it’s the real deal. The tab for two lip-smacking glasses of wine? $11 (you won’t see that in SF).
Don’t be surprised by Jackson’s trendy fine dining scene. The Kitchen’s stunning design is a perfect complement to its modern, farm-to-table cuisine. A glowing arched wave of light frames the dining room, a simulated fireplace blazes, and a bamboo bar adds even more warmth. Fish is a standout here with a creative crudo bar (try the spicy octopus with wasabi vinaigrette) and a truffled white miso wahoo encourages plate licking. Plenty of meaty options are available like a gigantic braised lava lamb shank fit for a caveman, and a tantalizing pan seared New Zealand red deer with sherried cherries.
Spicy Octopus at The Kitchen. Photo courtesy of The Kitchen via Facebook.
Get down to business with the real reason you were inspired to visit Jackson Hole – phenomenal skiing and snowboarding on unsurpassed fluffy powder. The mountain is huge and shrewdly laid out – the easier terrain (green and blue) is to the north, and the south side is black as could be. Experts will relish the tram to the peak at 10,450 feet where the best terrain awaits (as well as fresh warm waffles at Corbet’s Cabin). Hold on to your gear when stepping off the tram, the wind can be vicious and will rip it right out of your hands.
Advanced skiers and boarders should think about participating in one of Jackson Hole’s “Steep & Deep” ski camps. In four intense days, students learn how to explore extreme terrain and get access to the highest level of instruction from expert coaches.
All that powder burns a ton of calories, so fuel up at the top of the gondola at oft press-recognized Couloir Restaurant. Relish the views at 9,000-plus feet while savoring Chef Wes Hamilton’s delectable bites (all of which comes from within a 250-mile radius). Try the braised lamb nachos or save your appetite for the house cured reuben with Kobe brisket. A melted Brie grilled cheese with shaved apple, arugula, and fig gastrique is a bit lighter.
Once your quads burn to the point of no return, take a breather and hunt for goodies at the base. Mingle with pro snowboarders at the very cool Jackson Treehouse snowboard shop, source handmade and repurposed merchandise courtesy of 160 artists at funky gift shop Made, and pay a visit to Wool & Whiskey, a men’s store stocked with real manly items like Robert Graham shirts, classic Pendleton jackets, and aftershave that smells like whiskey. Tucked in the back, a no-nonsense bourbon bar serves up shots while you shop.
A drink at Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is a must. Photo courtesy of Anastasia Clarkson via Facebook.
The ultimate après-ski is to be had at The Handle Bar pub and beer hall, located in the Four Seasons at the mountain’s base. The proprietor is none other than Michael Mina, thus it’s no shock that the sustenance is nothing short of amazing. A house made pretzel, frickles (fried pickles), and Korean BBQ chicken wings replenish energy with ease. Wash it all down with a beer flight, an artistic cocktail, or The San Franciscan – Anchor Steam with a shot of Fernet. Before slipping away to the hot tub, sip something in the Mangy Moose for old time’s sake.
At first glance, Jackson has a dearth of wine bars, but fortunately, Bin 22 opened. One part extensive bottle shop and one part cozy wine bar, this spot is a laid-back, yet refined dinner option. Hearty appetites won’t be disappointed with rich plates including duck rillete and wagyu skirt steak, and the small plate formula makes sharing easy. House pulled mozzarella comes with four different topping options, and the housemade meatball is divine, as is the farro & pickled vegetables.
A visit to Jackson Hole would not be complete without a tipple at the Million Dollar Cowboy bar -- the bar stools are actual saddles and the clientele is a mix of eclectic Jackson locals and tourists not habituated to the elevation. If you’re craving live music, hit up The Rose or Mangy Moose.
How to Get There
United flies direct from SFO into the only airport residing within a National Park. The landing can be a bit hairy and occasionally weight is problem, so pack your ski clothes separately and consider renting gear (they remove bags before they remove passengers). Book here.
More time on your hands? Don't miss our guide to nearby Driggs, Idaho.