Settled by pioneers long before anyone thought of strapping on skis and sliding down Rendezvous Peak, this region of the Rocky Mountains, 60 miles south of Yellowstone National Park, has always been an ideal place to escape to. The low-lying valleys urrounded by jagged peaks (hence "Hole") was named back in 1829 for Davey Jackson, who left fast-paced Missouri to lead the nomadic life of a fur trapper. Behind him came homesteaders and ranchers enticed by the silhouette of the Grand Tetons and wide-open swaths of land where they could be as anonymous as the migrating elks that pass through.
Jackson continues to draw honest-to-goodness cowboys and adventurers of all ages seeking every possible way to frolic in the snow. These days it also beckons high-wattage luminaries hoping to blend into the scenery. Harrison Ford lives quietly on his ranch. And nobody looks twice when Sting or Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston whiz down Dick's Ditch on snowboards. Unlike aggressively chic ski resorts such as Aspen, people here are more concerned with how you ski than who you are. The 2,500-acre Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the area's winter centerpiece, known for its adrenaline-producing terrain, is just 12 miles from town. You'll rarely encounter lift lines, nor will you find fur coats on anyone but the wildlife: Jackson may have luxury lodges and sushi bars, but kids (and dogs) are welcome everywhere, and wearing jeans is considered dressing up.
How to Get There You can fly directly to Jackson, or save money by landing in Idaho Falls, Idaho (via SkyWest or Horizon airlines). From there, catch the two-hour shuttle bus, the Jackson Hole Express (800/652-9510; http://www.jacksonholealltrans.com; $46 one way, $82 round-trip; daily departure at 4:30pm, reservations required).
Lay of the Land Think of Jackson as two distinct places—there's the town itself and, just down the road, there's Teton Village, home to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, where the skiing is, as well as hotels and restaurants. Stay in town for easy access to dozens of dining options, shops, and the town square, highlighted at each corner by an arch made from shed elk antlers. Stay at Teton Village for ski trails at your doorstep. Traveling between the two doesn't require a car—most hotels offer shuttles, and a bus runs from the village to town several times an hour.
What to Do
GO DOWNHILL The sign at the 10,450-foot summit of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reads OUR MOUNTAIN IS LIKE NOTHING YOU HAVE SKIED BEFORE! Don't let the machismo put you off. Without losing its hard-core image, the resort has quietly built a second reputation as a great family place for all levels. The kids will probably want to head straight to the terrain park (man-made bumps and jumps) and adjoining "superpipe" near the base of the Apres Vous lift—you can ski the nearby groomed intermediate runs while they practice their tricks. And when it's time to break for lunch, avoid the crowds at the three on-slope cafeterias and grab your burger and fries at the Alpenhof Bistro (800/732-3244 or 307/733-3242; lunch for four $36), in the Alpenhof Lodge at the base of the resort. 888/333-7766 or 307/733-2292; www.jacksonhole.com; one-day lift pass $70 for adults, $56 for ages 15 to 21, $35 for kids 14 and under. Tickets for beginner lifts only, $10 for adults, $5 for kids.
TAKE LESSONS Based in seven-year-old Cody House, a building where everything from steps to toilets is child-scaled, the resort's Kids Ranch (800/450-0477; from $110 for a full day of care or lessons) has programs for ages six months to 17 years. There's a day-care center, but once kids are strong enough—generally at age three for skiing, five for snowboarding—the goal is to get them on the mountain and whisked uphill via a conveyor-belt-like "magic carpet." The nearby Eagle's Rest chairlift, and the runs it takes you to, are blocked off from the rest of the mountain to provide stress-free learning for beginners. Advanced skiers and snowboarders ages 12 to 17 can join Team Extreme (800/450-0477 or 307/739-2788; from $125 for a full day, including lunch), a four-day camp offered several times a season, for guided skiing on difficult terrain.
GEAR UP To rent (or buy) kid-sized skis, snowboards, boots, and helmets, the most convenient place to go is Jackson Hole Sports Jr. (307/739-2794), in Cody House. Get your socks, long underwear, and cool goggles here too. Another good choice: Teton Village Sports (800/874-4224), at Teton Village's Crystal Springs Lodge.
TRY TUBING Ride the slopes in a giant doughnut at King Tubes Tubing Park—open until 8 p.m. and a fun option for an evening out. A rope tow pulls you and your tube uphill. Just dress warmly; winter nights can drop below zero. 400 E. Snow King Ave., Jackson; 307/733-5200; http://www.snowking.com/; $10 per hour for adults, $7 per hour for children; minimum age five.
MAKE TRACKS An ideal group alternative to racing down the slopes? Head out with biologist Cathy Shill of Hole Hiking Experience on a snowshoe hike into the Bridger-Teton National Forest. She'll tailor outings to suit ages and interests. You'll see more moose than people. 866/733-4453; www.holehike.com; $70 per adult, $55 per child for half-day hikes, including all equipment, snacks, and transportation.
JOIN THE PACK Travel at the speed of dog (about 10 mph) with Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, run by eight-time Iditarod veteran Frank Teasley. You can let the musher command the team, or take the reins yourself and drive the dogs through pristine wilderness. All-day excursions stop for lunch and a midday dip in Granite Hot Springs. 800/554-7388; www.jhsleddog.com; half-day excursions $135 per person, full days $225; all ages welcome.