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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., many Americans will be restricted stateside this winter. And, since a European ski holiday is an impossibility this season, there’s no better time to rediscover (or discover anew) the rugged beauty of the Teton mountain range. A trip to Jackson Hole is the closest thing you can get to a vacation in Zermatt without a passport. Wyoming’s jagged, snow-capped peaks are so reminiscent of the Swiss Alps that Grand Teton is known as America’s Matterhorn.
Often ranked among the best ski resorts in North America, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boasts near-limitless backcountry and the infamous ski run, Corbet’s Couloir. Yet, due to its remoteness (and a shortage of direct flights), this off-piste paradise remains decidedly less crowded than its neighbors to the southeast, Aspen or Vail—resulting in fresher trails and shorter lift lines. And the lines will be even shorter this winter, as ticket sales are limited to minimize the impact of COVID-19. Part of Jackson Hole still feels untouched—and this sense of unspoiled nature, of wild Western possibility, extends to the ski terrain, famous for being steep, deep, and challenging.
Though widely considered an expert’s ski mountain, Jackson Hole recently expanded its groomed terrain, rendering a larger portion of the mountain more accessible to travelers who prefer the après-ski to the ski. And though I would self-identify among the latter category, years of skiing in Jackson Hole have taught me invaluable lessons about slope-side etiquette and survival in the wild. I’ve survived off-piste whiteouts, close encounters of the moose variety, and barely contained panic attacks while surrounded by confident strangers on the Aerial Tram as it barreled towards the summit. (Performance anxiety about anything—much less a 20-foot vertical drop—is a genuine, entirely justifiable emotion when you have one hundred witnesses.) From navigating coronavirus restrictions to identifying the best après scenes on the mountain, here’s how to vacation like a local in Jackson Hole this winter.
Where to Ski in Jackson Hole This Winter
Tucked away in western Wyoming, in a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides, Jackson Hole’s remoteness plays a distinct role in its allure. Its inhospitable climate and conditions—an alpine desert that receives triple-digit inches of snowfall per year—made it undesirable to settlers and Native Americans for centuries. And, as such, it remained uninhabited until the turn of the last century. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort wasn’t established until 1965, but it quickly surpassed its downtown rival, Snow King Ski Resort, founded in 1939. Known as the “Town Mountain,” Snow King’s 400 acres of steep and challenging terrain looms over downtown Jackson. “Keep Jackson Wild” is the town’s mission statement for a good reason.
You can feel this vastness still when you visit today, even though Jackson Hole is now a well-known tourist destination. This past summer, it became even better known when seemingly every individual with an Instagram account traveled to western Wyoming—tourism boomed in Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and its northerly neighbor, Yellowstone. Now, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is implementing precautions to limit overcrowding this winter, and skiing at Jackson Hole will be different than in years past—though there are upsides to an emptier mountain as well. From a logistical perspective, the resort will no longer sell one-day tickets to visitors in-person. All tickets must be purchased in advance online—a rule that pertains to Ikon Pass-holders, as well, for whom preliminary reservations are required. Additionally, Season Passes (available in limited quantities) have already sold out for 2020-2021. Luckily, the resort just introduced the 20-Day MidWeek Bypass, which enables travelers to reserve a sizable amount of ski passes at once and allows for flexible weekday usage.
One bonus to capitalize on this winter includes signing up for some more ski instruction. As the resort is prioritizing smaller classes and personalized attention to each student, there’s no better time to book a lesson—as even group classes will have the benefit of individualized instruction (without the exorbitant costs). Additionally, the Tram will operate at one-quarter capacity (25 passengers per cabin) versus the usual 100. But perhaps this is not such a bad thing at all. Usually, the Tram’s atmosphere is an infectious mix of excitement and anticipation, blended with low-level terror (maybe that last bit is just me). Perhaps a more calm and intimate setting will soothe the nerves. (Plus, there will be fewer witnesses for your potential wipe out)
Due to limited Tram capacity, a bootpack will be placed atop the Sublette Quad, enabling visitors to hike up to Rendezvous Peak this winter and ensuring skiers truly earn their turns. If you’re going to brave Corbets Couloir or Rendezvous Bowl, hiking to the summit is far more impressive than riding the Tram. Another effort that will be implemented to minimize overcrowding includes loading lower mountain chairlifts (Teewinot, Après Vous, Sweetwater) earlier in the morning. Finally, the resort will enforce social-distancing practices and mandate proper face-coverings in lift lines. (But you will be so freezing already, it’s unlikely exposed skin will be a problem.)
Where to Dine on the Slopes
When it comes to dining on the mountain this winter, expect virtual menus, digital ordering, and a variety of new outdoor options—including three base-area tents that will serve takeaway and pack lunches. Corbet’s Cabin will continue to serve their famous Top of the World Waffles —albeit take-away only. However, they will be available at Off-Piste Market, at the base of the mountain in Rendezvous Lodge. If you prefer dining at higher altitudes, we recommend Rendezvous Bistro, or Piste Mountain Bistro, located at the summit of Rendezvous Mountain and the top of the Bridger Gondola, respectively.
Finally, we saved the most decadent institutions for last—transport yourself to Europe with a culinary adventure to the Italian countryside while dining slopeside in Teton Village at Il Villaggio Osteria, or indulge in some traditional Alpine bliss with cheese and wine at the Bistro at The Alpenhof. A mid-day favorite, the Alpenhof is beloved for its après scene, as well—rendering its proximity to the Aerial Tram potentially dangerous for champagne-fueled (slightly delusional) patrons. Beware your liquid courage—not only does the heaviness of the food make mastering Black Diamonds more challenging, but the giddiness of the wine makes the prospect seem easier than ever.
Where to Après-Ski and Be Seen
As for après (a vital part of the entire experience), check out the live music and freewheeling spirit of the aptly-named Mangy Moose—you’ll certainly be mangy after a day of skiing Wyoming’s back-country, and you might just run into a moose on the mountain. I did once. It was the last run of the day, in the Hobacks back-country, and I was utterly exhausted. I skied to the tree-line and reclined in the snow beside some shrubbery and a giant rock. I was trying to catch my breath when I realized the heavy inhales and exhales I was hearing weren’t my own. I turned to find myself inches away from a moose and her calf. She grunted. I raced down the mountain quicker than I ever thought possible.
If you want to enjoy a slightly more upscale post-ski setting, head to The Handlebar at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole. While there, roast some s’mores and enjoy prime people-watching from the gorgeous terrace. Jackson Hole may pride itself on being the anti-Aspen, but make no mistake: This is still a “ski-and-be-seen” destination, albeit one that is slightly more understated. (Which isn’t saying much when compared to the furs—faux and decidedly less so—on display every Saturday night at Little Nell.) Don’t trust us? Then believe the exceedingly chic downtown boutique, Made, which sells merchandise adorned with the words: ROCK CLIMBER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER, SOCIAL CLIMBER: JACKSON HOLE.
Ready to say goodbye to all that? Walk over to the Bodega and order a sausage and a sloshie instead. The casual visitor would never expect this unassuming grocery in Teton Village to serve some of Jackson Hole’s most beloved—and dangerously drinkable—creations. It should come as no surprise that the concoctions—essentially an alcoholic slushy—tends to get its drinkers sloshed.
Where to Discover Off-Mountain Adventures
Skiing isn’t the only way to enjoy Wyoming’s wide-open spaces and endless supplies of fresh powder. Skip the slopes for an afternoon to discover why the off-season is the best season in and around Grand Teton National Park. Snowmobile to the Granite Hot Springs to enjoy the vast beauty of all that western Wyoming has to offer—all of which is more readily appreciated when not navigating Jackson Hole’s famously steep and deep vertical drop. In the afternoon, sign up for a sleigh ride at the National Elk Refuge to explore the magnificent, snow-covered valleys at the foot of the Teton mountain range.
Finally, travelers should strap on their skis once more—the Nordic edition, this time—for off-piste cross-country skiing along the undulating valleys and frozen rivers of the National Park. Dogsledding is another popular option for winter safaris—and one that requires far less effort from its participants. But regardless of whether you dogsled, snow-shoe, Nordic ski, or snowmobile, you must be sure to stop by Dornan’s afterward—a bar and restaurant at the Moose entrance to the National Park that boasts both the best pizza in all of Jackson Hole and the best views in all of Wyoming.
Where to Stay
Jackson Hole has a plethora of options for travelers looking to enjoy the Western-chic ambiance and understated sophistication of a glamorous mountain retreat. (And who isn’t?) Of course, there is the Four Seasons Resort—an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, which has seamless mountain access and even more seamless luxuries at your disposal. Additionally, the Snake River Lodge is an enticing proposition for visitors who value spa days as much as they do powder days. And if you’re looking for world-class views from your infinite pool, look no further than Amangani—another American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. Amangani means ‘‘peaceful home’ in Shoshoni, the language of the tribe who once lived in this high mountain valley. Though Amangani’s privacy and seclusion was a luxury even before the pandemic, it has become a downright necessity in 2020. And the resort has taken extra measures to ensure the safety of their visitors. You now have to be a hotel guest to frequent the bars and restaurants—just one more reason to book a room during your next trip.