JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming
Despite what the calendar said, winter officially came to Jackson Hole on December 16, 2010. That’s when the “in-season” hotel rates kick in (and go way up), all winter attractions open up completely, and the restaurants bring out the special “tourist” menus ($$$).
The lifts at all the Jackson Hole ski resorts were already open and running near 100 percent. The sleigh rides at the National Elk Refuge were already hauling wagon loads of shivering visitors. And snow tires or chains were required for most mountain roads.
Mother Nature welcomed winter with a rare clear day, steam rose from the melting ice on the roads, and the Grand Tetons showed off their wintry voluptuousness. What a memorable sight it was.
Okay, what to people do in Jackson Hole, during the winter? Here are ten of my favorite things:
1. Skiing. Snow King and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (at Teton Village) are best and easiest to get to (to check out the conditions, see one of four live webcams here). Grand Targhee is actually accessed through Driggs, Idaho. Several firms also specialize in heli-skiing; helicopters lift the adventurous to some fabulous, otherwise inaccessible back country.
2. Sleigh rides. Winter wildlife safari at the National Elk Refuge. Thousands of elk are protected in a huge meadow within the city limits. Sleigh rides are available in the preserve, to get visitors up close and personal with the native inhabitants.
3. Culture. Choose either the Center for the Arts or the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which is right across the highway from the elk preserve, with fabulous views. There’s also a cafe at the museum for noshing as you look; please note: once, at a press event here, I was served elk.
4. Grand Teton National Park. A great place for wildlife watching and drooling over the scenery (year-round). Check out also the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center.
5. Christmas on the Square. The city’s Central Plaza is festively decorated for the holidays. The famed antler arches are even lit with holiday lights.
Some folks are grossed out by the antler collections; don’t worry, no elk were harmed in the gathering of these. Elk regularly lose their antlers and civic groups such as the Boy Scouts collect them, to make the displays and raise money for worthy causes.
6. Ice skating. Ice skating is offered by all three ski resorts. Olympic hopefuls are known to practice in the area. Outdoor hockey rinks also appeal to amateurs and professionals.
7. Dogsledding. Plenty of places, including most of the big resorts, offer dog sled rides. Be forewarned, this is a very cold activity, and not suitable for the frail.
8. Eating. Jackson Hole and the surrounding area have no shortage of fine eateries, most of which specialize in steak (Jackson Hole is not noted as a haven for vegans). Everything seems to have “grill” in the name: Cadillac Grille, Snake River Grill, Silver Dollar Grill, Sweetwater Grill – you get the idea.
The South Entrance (north of Jackson Hole) is “open to commercially guided, tracked over-snow vehicles from December 15 to March 15, weather and snowpack permitting,” the national park service says. The West Entrance is a rather long haul, through Idaho, but an interesting and scenic trip if the weather allows. Personally, I like quaint Star Valley and Afton (a favorite source for dairy products and its famous cheese); the Coffee Cabin en route has a fabulous bakery. Pie and coffee, anyone?
10. Luxuriating. Some stunning resorts have set up shop in Jackson Hole in recent years, including the Four Seasons, a Rock Resort and Flat Creek Ranch (No. 1 rated in the area by TripAdvisor; follow the link to the full list of ranked lodging). Most will cater to travelers’ every whim. Also check out Jackson Hole’s many bed & breakfast options, plus a wide selections of private homes for rent (www.vrbo.com has a wide selection).
Still plenty of time to visit. “Winter” here tends to last until at least Easter, and sometimes Memorial Day. Schuss!
For the rest of the world, winter was scheduled to begin December 21.
December 16, 2010