By Michael Frank
Skiers who jump off cliffs and climb mountains flock to Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for extreme back-country – this is true. But these days, getting a pristine “side country” experience at Jackson doesn't demand sponsorships or GoPro cameras and youthful courage.
Once focused only on top-flight skiers, the resort’s milder off-piste terrain is well within most intermediates’ skill set, and that’s not all that’s different. Slopeside accommodations, particularly Amangani and the Four Seasons Resort, have busted free from faux alpine architecture, and Jackson itself has eclipsed the dining scene at many other North American ski towns.
If your image of Jackson is still defined by hair-raising Corbet’s Couloir by day and Stetsons by night, it’s high time to drop in on the Hole.
When it comes to choosing where to stay, the town’s top two properties may decide for you.
Location: Perched on a bluff between town and the slopes.
Décor: It’s a West-meets-East mélange of radiant-heated stone, massive red-stained fir panels, and masculine furnishings in cocoas and browns.
Best for: Travelers who want a quiet place to unplug – it’s outside the epicenters of both the slopes and the town, and all rooms are on the top floor for a truly peaceful stay.
Ski concierge and lounge outpost: Find it at the base of the mountain via complimentary shuttle service.
Serenity now: Take the plunge in Amangani’s edgeless pool, usually still enough to see the building’s tiered structure and Teton range reflected in its surface.
Location: Nestled right at the base of the resort.
Décor: Rich leather decor is warmed figuratively with vibrant fabrics and throws, and literally with working fireplaces.
Best for: Traveling with the whole family – kids are free to whoop it up in the game room (foosball, Xbox 360, TVs) or at one of three outdoor hot tubs that appear to waterfall into each other, à la natural hot springs.
Ski concierge: Schuss directly there to get boots warmed and skis tuned for the next day.
Serenity now: The spa’s circuit of steam room to cold plunge pool does wonders for legs torched from the slopes.
Out And About
Your goal skiing here should be to stay on the upper slopes whenever possible. It’s called Jackson Hole for a reason: In winter, cold air sinks into the valley, trapped by warm air above and the surrounding ridges. In decades past when these weather inversions occurred, intermediate skiers were stuck low in the cold – up to 20 to 40 degrees cooler than the upper mountain – but no more, as the Casper quad lift granted access to lots of intermediate terrain higher up.
Ski laps down Sleeping Indian and Sundog (both blues) all day.
Take the gondola to the summit and ply intermediate runs back to Teton Village.
Naturally, far more challenging options exist as well – the resort is second only to Whistler Blackcomb in North America for continuous drop from summit to base.
While the mountain has become much more accessible, it’s still not ideal for beginners. Even Jackson’s milder slopes will tax your legs, so rather than overdoing it, plan a day off to explore.
On the Menu
Get out: Both Four Seasons and Amangani offer excellent guided wildlife outings, as does the National Elk Refuge.
Stay in: The National Museum of Wildlife Art frequently showcases works by National Geographic photographers, and many exhibits are geared toward kids.
Perhaps nothing personifies Jackson’s culinary rebirth like Vertical Harvest
, a multi- story greenhouse designed to augment the valley’s short growing season. The urban farm won the support of area restaurants and aims to supply them with everything from tomatoes and strawberries to herbs, lettuce, and microgreens, while teaching local students about farming.
That kind of creativity and ambition filters into the restaurants of chefs such as Gavin Fine
, who came to Jackson as a ski bum and now runs a mini restaurant empire that includes:
The Kitchen: Head here for light quasi-Asian. The small, bright dining space with clever dishes such as tuna tartados (scallion, fried wonton, and salty tobiko) and rich, IPA-marinated hoisin spare ribs with jasmine rice.
Bin22: Fine’s more European-focused spot ranges from the Med (charred baby octopus) to Parisian bistro fare (duck rillettes), which you can wash down with an assortment of their own microbrews.
Perched atop the mountain at 9,095 feet, Wes Hamilton’s Couloir Restaurant is Jackson’s on-slope must (and must reservation). It’s open for casual lunches, but dinner is the main attraction, which begins with a blanket to share and a hot cider or cocoa for the gondola ride. Once there, you’ll find a menu just as impressive as at Fine’s digs; don’t miss the signature house-smoked buffalo tenderloin – butter-tender, just mildly smoky, and as addictive as candy.
Whether you’re staying there or not, sidle up to The Handle Bar on Four Seasons’ third floor for glühwein at least once. Far from the treacle-sweet, headache-in-a-mug plonk you may have had before, it’s made by reducing cabernet with spices and chilling it overnight. The following morning, bartenders add a hint of Cointreau, which sharpens against the sweetness. Served warm while the snow falls outside the bar’s broad win- dows, it’s the ideal new-Jackson après-ski drink to end the day – or, if you’re lucky, an entire week.
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