When the snow lies thick in the Rocky Mountains, there's no better place to play than Jackson Hole, Wyoming
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.
DASH THROUGH THE SNOW Two miles north of Jackson, National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides (Hwy. 89; 307-733-5386; http://nationalelkrefuge.fws.gov/; one-hour ride $15 for adults, $11 for children) runs tours through the 25,000-acre preserve. Watch for elks, coyotes, and bald eagles. At the base of the ski resort at night, join one of the Solitude Cabin Dinner Sleigh Rides (307/739-2603; sleigh ride and four-course dinner $66.95 per adult, $36.95 for children under 11). Destination: a secluded mountain cabin for a fireside prime rib or salmon (or chicken fingers) feast.
Where to Stay
Rates listed are for the regular winter season (holiday prices are slightly higher).
IN TOWN Alpine House Hans and Nancy Johnstone are both former Olympians (Nordic combined and biathlon, respectively). They are also the parents of three, and their 21-room inn, two blocks from the town square, is one of the best values in Jackson for families. There are rooms with a queen-sized bed and full loft bed, and two-room suites with pullout sofas. Before the lifts open, everyone fills up on whole-wheat cinnamon crêpes with maple-roasted apples, or Rocky Mountain-style eggs Benedict with house-smoked trout. 285 N. Glenwood St., Jackson; 800/753-1421 or 307/739-1570; www.alpinehouse.com; doubles, including loft rooms, from $150, suites from $260.
SKI-IN, SKI-OUT OPTIONS IN TETON VILLAGE Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole These slope-side accommodations are as cushy as they come. Expect to find everything you might desire, from strollers and baby-proofed rooms to foosball and video games. Committed to alleviating all the classic ski-vacation hassles, the resort has an on-site rental shop and a "ski concierge" who does in-room boot fittings and delivers lift tickets. 7680 Granite Loop Rd., Teton Village; 800/332-3442 or 307/732-5000; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $550, suites from $775.
Snake River Lodge & Spa With 88 rooms and 44 condos (get your fireplaces and balconies here), Snake River is an ideal option for families who want to stay within seconds of the ski lifts. Another draw: the expansive indoor-outdoor heated pool (open till 10 p.m.) with four waterfalls and four hot tubs in the 17,000-square-foot Avanyu Spa. (Note to Mom: the Vichy Salt Glow is worth sneaking away for.) 7710 Granite Loop Rd., Teton Village; 800/445-4655 or 307/732-6000; www.snakeriverlodge.com; doubles from $229, condos from $349.
BETWEEN TOWN AND TETON VILLAGE Amangani The lone U.S. outpost of the Amanresorts chain is built directly into a cliff overlooking the valley. Its 40 suites have redwood platform beds, sandstone fireplaces, and soaking tubs with views of the Snake River Range. The heated outdoor pool is open round the clock. Kids are welcome—although they make up only about 10 percent of the resort's clientele. The staff will arrange ski rentals and lessons, and shuttle you anywhere at a moment's notice. And the room service chef will gladly prepare buttered pasta. 1535 N.E. Butte Rd., Jackson; 877/734-7333 or 307/734-7333; www.amangani.com; suites from $700, $75 for an additional bed.
Spring Creek Ranch This sprawling complex shares a butte with Amangani (so you get the same amazing views, minus the formality). There are dozens of log buildings scattered around the ranch's 1,000-plus acres, including the year-old Wilderness Adventure Spa, the Granary restaurant, and more than 125 rooms and condos. The ranch's Nordic Center has eight miles of beginner-suited cross-country trails—plus equipment rentals in all sizes and patient instructors. 1800 Spirit Dance Rd., Jackson; 800/443-6139 or 307/733-8833; www.springcreekranch.com; doubles from $195 ($15 extra per child), two-bedroom condos from $400.
Bentwood Inn At Bill and Nell Fay's log house, everyone gathers après-ski around the 30-foot-high river-rock fireplace for cocktailsor hot cocoa. There are five rooms to choose from; the Bunkhouse, with its balcony and upstairs loft, is popular with families. If you plan to spend Christmas with the Fays, feel free to bring your own stockings to hang on the mantel. Teton Village Rd., Jackson Hole; 307/739-1411; www.bentwoodinn.com; doubles from $215 ($25 extra per child).
Where to Eat
IN TOWN Snake River Grill Reserve a table near the double-sided stone fireplace in the timbered dining room, long considered the best in town. For everyone: pizza from the wood oven. For the more adventurous: tender elk and buffalo, or pecan-crusted Idaho trout. For dessert, without question: the molten chocolate cake. 84 E. Broadway, on the town square, Jackson; 307/733-0557; dinner for four $150.
Rendezvous Bistro A locals' hangout, the bistro covers all fronts, with its raw bar, extensive wine list, and crayons on the tables. There isn't a separate kids' menu, but macaroni and cheese, and burgers, are on hand; so are mussels in a red curry-coconut broth. 380 S. Broadway, Jackson; 307/739-1100; dinner for four $70.
Old Yellowstone Garage Despite its name—and casual ambience—this is a sophisticated Italian eatery, specializing in the owners' native Piedmontesecuisine, with nods to Liguria. That translates into flavorful dishes like house-made black linguine with scallops and pesto. There's also pizza, and lots of it on Sundays, the restaurant's Pizza Night—go for salad and all-you-can-eat slices. 175 Center St., Jackson; 307/734-6161; dinner for four $150.
Snake River Brewing Co. Though kids are not allowed on the main floor, they are welcome upstairs, where you'll find a view of the brewery's inner workings. The food is Jackson pub fare: freshly made soft pretzels, pizzas, and sandwiches. 265 S. Millward St., Jackson; 307/739-2337; dinner for four $40.
IN TETON VILLAGE Masa Sushi Its location is as unexpected as they come: on the second floor of the Best Western, right at the ski resort (attention, budget-minded families: doubles go for $99). But that doesn't prevent customers from lining up for chef Masa Kitami's unagi-avocado and spicy tuna rolls. To avoid a wait, arrive at 4:30, when the doors open. And steer finicky kids to the "cowboy roll," made with cooked beef. 3345 W. McCollister Dr., Teton Village; 307/732-2962; dinner for four $80.
Mangy Moose This adjoining saloon (famous for its live music) and restaurant have been serving buffalo meat loaf and local trout to famished skiers for more than three decades. The kids' menu has the usual suspects, plus "little prime rib." 3285 W. McCollister Dr., Teton Village; 307/733-4913; dinner for four $120.
Where to Shop
Jackson Bootlegger If any family member has forgotten to pack snow boots, make this your first stop. And when your kids catch cowboy fever, the Bootlegger carries authentic kickers for all ages. 36 E. Broadway, Jackson; 307/733-6207.
Skinny Skis Home to the widest range of cross-country and skate skis for sale or rent, plus Patagonia kids' clothing, local guidebooks, and backpacks—for toting gear, and for toting children. 65 W. Deloney Ave., Jackson; 307/733-6094.
Broadway Toys & Togs When a need for Brio, Playmobil, or Lego arises, here's the answer. Don't miss the fringed vests and sheriff's badges in the back. 48 E. Broadway, Jackson; 307/733-3918.
Teton Kids This childrens' clothing shop rents jogging strollers and frame packs perfect for carrying smaller kids on snowshoe hikes. 130 E. Broadway, Jackson; 307/739-2176.
Pure A tiny boutique that rivals Barneys for its cosmopolitan collection of skin-, hair-, and body-care products. Stock up on Cellex-C sunscreen—you'll need it on the slopes. 125 N. Cache St., Jackson; 307/734-5055.
Even More Amazing in the Summer?
The warm season in Jackson is short but oh-so-sweet. The snow doesn't disappear from many peaks until June; by then daylight lasts until nearly 10 p.m., temperatures hover in the comfortable seventies, the fish are jumping, the horses are saddled, and the wildflowers are starting to bloom. Here, some ideas to tempt you back:
Drive into Grand Teton National Park (800/628-9988 or 307/543-2811; www.gtlc.com) and head to Jenny Lake, where you can hike the shoreline and take a motorized ferry back across. Call now if you want to reserve one of Jenny Lake Lodge's classic cabins for next summer's getaway.
Holler from the stands at the JH Rodeo (307/733-2805; www.jhrodeo.com), which performs Wednesday and Saturday nights all summer at the town's fairgrounds.
Grab seats at a Bar J cattle ranch chuckwagon dinner (307/733-3370; www.barjchuckwagon.com; nightly in summer). Grand finale: a Western song-and-comedy show starring the Bar J Wranglers.
Ride the tram 4,139 vertical feet to the top of Rendezvous Peak (www.jacksonhole.com) for a midsummer snowball fight (at 10,450 feet, the area is rarely snow-free). There's easy access from here to hiking trails for all abilities.
Take on the Snake River in a raft—on request, the guides will do all the work so you don't even have to paddle. Barker-Ewing River Trips (800/448-4202; www.barker-ewing.com) can organize an outing that's as relaxing or exciting as you want.
Hole Up in a House
CABINS AND CONDOS Want breakfast in your own kitchen?Hundreds of rentals (from studios to five-bedrooms) are available in Teton Village and vicinity. Granite Ridge Cabins and Moose Creek town houses are both located at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, near the Moose Creek lift, so you can be on the slopes in seconds. There are less-expensive options at the Racquet Club, about a five-minute drive from the base of the mountain. To sort through the choices, contact Jackson Hole Resort Lodging (800/443-8613; www.jhresortlodging.com; one-bedroom condos from $110, three-bedroom houses from $475).
THE TIME-SHARE ALTERNATIVE Like it so much here you wish you owned a place?The Teton Club (3340 W. Cody Dr., Teton Village; 866/352-9777 or 307/734-9777; www.tetonclub.com; call for share purchase prices), at the base of the mountain next to the tram, has 37 fully equipped, nicely decorated two- and three-bedroom condos available for fractional ownership—from 2 to 12 weeks a year. On every visit, you get free ski passes.
FLOUR AND FLOWERS Save yourself that first-day trip to the grocery store—ask the local delivery service, the Flying Tomato (307/690-6758; www.shopanddelivery.com), to stock the cupboards before you arrive. To have your mountain home filled with flowers (or even a fully trimmed Christmas tree), contact Flower Hardware (800/667-1001; www.flowerhardware.com).
Hole For the Holidays
At dusk on Christmas Eve, ski instructors bearing torches stream down Jackson's slopes, creating a ribbon of light. For a good view, stand near the Bridger Gondola base. A similar children's parade winds its way along the lower runs that same night—and any interested kids can participate. Santa himself takes up residence in the Stage Stop Building, near the town square, December 15 through 24.
SALLY WADYKA, a freelance writer and former editor at Vogue and Glamour, went to Jackson Hole to ski two years ago and has never left.