The 2011/2012 ski season has been a bit of a bummer for bona fide ski bums, since it hasn't put a dent in last year’s record-setting snowfall. Still, there’s plenty of powder to be had in prime ski destinations, and leading the (snow)pack is Wyoming, which has seen more snowfall than Colorado, Utah, California, or the New England region.
I recently spent several days at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (confession: it was the first time I’d strapped on skis in years), where bluebird skies, fluffy powder, and nearly nonexistent lift lines have surely spoiled me for my times to come out on the slopes. The resort has a reputation as an experts’ paradise – it boasts 4,139’ vertical feet of steep and deep runs, including the notorious Corbet’s Couloir and its two-story drop into a rocky chute – but I was surprised (and grateful) to learn that the resort also has plenty of fantastic terrain for just-getting-back-into-skiing folks like me.
Here with a few more unexpected discoveries that I made, primed for helping other first-timers to Jackson Hole, too.
- Jackson Hole refers to the valley; Jackson is the actual town. The official names are a constant source of confusion for visitors, but here’s an easy way to keep them in check: Hole is another word for valley, so think of Jackson Hole as the entire area spanning the mountain town of Jackson and its associated mountain resorts.
- Don’t try to take a photo of the antler arches at the airport. Flights into this charming regional airport all deplane on the tarmac, where you’ll walk under one of the town’s iconic arches made from the antlers of elk. You’ll inevitably reach for your camera, but you’ll probably be thwarted by an airport employee urging you to keep walking. Don’t dismay: There are more arches in the downtown square, about 20 minutes from the airport, and you can snap all the shots you want of those. (And don’t fret that any elk were harmed in the creation of the arches, either. The animals, which you can spot roaming along the National Elk Refuge near the highway, naturally shed their antlers.)
- Jackson Hole has an awesome culinary scene. Fiery Thai noodle dishes, delectable Italian, great local brews – Jackson Hole is cooking up some seriously good food along with its superb skiing. Three places to check out: Teton Thai (their location in Teton Village has limited seating, but is well worth the wait); Osteria, serving up delectable Italian-themed dishes and a superb wine list; and Couloir, a contemporary bistro that’s reached via the Bridger gondola.
- No matter the snow cover, Jackson hole is green. Recycling bins everywhere and a commitment to using local ingredients and sustainable materials are just a few of the planet-friendly initiatives here. Green-minded tourists should definitely check out Hotel Terra at Teton Village. Opened in 2008, this LEED-certified property features comfy decor with a sophisticated Western vibe, plus a decidedly green philosophy. Balconies, for example, are made with wood recycled from pickle barrels, linens are 100 percent organic, and the hotel purchases carbon credits. (Hotel Terra also features some great deals, especially midweek, and if you travel in a group, be sure to check out the one-bedroom suites. Split between four people, they’re the way to go: Between 720 and 790 square feet, they feature a separate bedroom, a pull-down Murphy bed, two full bathrooms and a full kitchen, plus free breakfast and one spa treatment; a recent web search revealed a 3-night weekend stay for just $488/night.)
- The Bridger Gondola is not the same as the aerial tram. Both are quick, easy ways to get to the top of the mountain, but the tram is only for expert skiers, since it takes you to the resort’s steepest terrain. It’s a common mistake to confuse the two, resort employees say, but thankfully it was one I managed to avoid.