I am very fond of Jackson Hole, at first because I was introduced to it by one of the people I am most fond of, but upon my privileged third visit this past year, I realized that if you spend some time in this town, there are a lot of people that you can become fond of.
Jackson Hole is home to some of the best skiing in North America, a tremendously steep and difficult mountain, they are rumored to receive 60-80 inches more snow than Colorado and Utah during the year. When you look at the trail map you might think the color printer broke and there was only black ink left, but the mountain really is almost 70% black diamonds. You can ski for hours and not ski the same runs, traverse the entire mountain and still find fresh powder even on powder days, even during the holidays, the town’s max capacity is 7,000 so there is always pow for everyone.
But the locals value one thing above all others: their beloved Tram which was recently rebuilt a few years ago. Go to the top of the Tram, stop in at Corbet’s Cabin to warm up (even at 0 degrees Fahrenheit the cabin is packed) and make sure you get some of the famous waffles with Nutella for your longgg run down the mountain. You will need the carbs, and the sugar, and any other form of energy you can muster up to help you on the slopes.
During our trip, we were granted the greatest honor anyone in Jackson can get, first Tram with Steve Jones and the TGR crew. For those of you not obsessed with ski porn, Jones and his brother Todd are the founders of Teton Gravity Research (aka TGR, named after the beautiful mountain range that Jackson Hole is a part of) and they are the new Warren Miller. Their production company has turned into an emerging media empire comprising the most beautiful, scenic, and extreme skiing, snowboarding, and now surfing films you can find. Many of their films feature their baby brother Jeremy who is extreme skiing’s Shaun White. Steve was gracious enough to take two city slickers up with him and show us around the mountain. On the way up, we laid our skis down and stretched out on the Tram at 8:15am (only to realize on later Tram rides that this experience was an anomaly, this thing is a cattle car full of expert skiers, no one gets access like this). The night before, some of the locals prepped us telling us that tomorrow (the day we took the first Tram) could be one of the best ski days of the year because we had just got dumped on and the Tram was closed that day because of high winds so we would be the first to ski a full day of fresh powder. And it didn’t disappoint. It may have been the best skiing I have ever skied. This is the ultimate Jackson Hole experience, but good luck trying to explain this to the locals because they will look at you like either A) you are full of sh*t or B) a die-hard Democrat who just found out you were going to have lunch with Obama at The White House. (Sidenote: Even though Wyoming is a red state, like most ski towns Jackson Hole is a blue section in a red sea).
But you cannot explain Steve Jones or the Jones family just by the skiing. You only understand them when you see Steve happily at the Mangy Moose on Christmas Eve with two Jews from New York. He might even invite his parents to join you, and his gorgeous, sweet, and very pregnant wife might even stop by to meet you. At any point between the Jameson shots, Coors Lights, and TGR films on ALL of the screens at the Moose, Jones might look at you and say, “you guys can leave anytime, don’t feel obligated to stay, I know everyone in here.” And that isn’t a humble brag, it is just the truth. After a few minutes most of the bar has come over to kiss the proverbial ring, and the others are either bewildered or too intimidated and just look on with astonishment at this local legend. But Jones has no ego, just a love of skiing, film, and Jackson Hole, and enough humility and love to welcome anyone to his town.
The snow may be what Jackson is known for but it is the people (and I’d argue the food) that make it really special. Need skis? Go see Gov (which I am pretty sure is short for Governor since everyone talks about him like they went to grade school together) at Pepi Steigler’s. You will have a team of experts help you with the latest and greatest ski and snowboard gear. Most likely they will talk you into a pair of Kastles since they have been the Kastle Dealer of the Year for three years in a row, but once on the mountain you will understand why there are no discounts on these skis, it’s because they are the best skis you will ever ride.
Or try to find Anna Cole, the local PR maven with the sweet Virginia accent who will make sure you hit all of the best spots. She might connect you with Liz who will make sure you are setup at all of the Fine Dining Restaurants (like New York the best restaurants are owned by the same guys, in this case Gavin Fine the fellow tribe member, LA transplant who graciously hosted us at The Q, Osteria, and The Kitchen all of which are in his portfolio and on my list of my favorite restaurants in the country). Still craving ski town food via LA? Stop by Teton Thai and meet Sam and his wife, Sam is working the front of the house while his wife is cooking up a storm in the kitchen. I don’t eat Thai, and this is the new bar that I will forever judge Thai food. A kitchen the size of my NYC closet (read: small) with 3 Thai women (yes Thai experts in a Thai restaurant in Jackson) making some of the best and spiciest Asian food you will ever have. From years of suburban Chinese food, I have become a bit of a spring roll expert, and I can tell you that the best are at Teton Thai. Or swing by the new Handle Bar at the Four Seasons and you might run into master chef Michael Mina making the rounds at his new spot. Feel like partying? Head to town, walk the streets which will flash you back to a century ago where you feel like Billy the Kid walking into a saloon only to find trendy hangouts filled a crowd of 20-somethings that have made the lifestyle decision to put skiing above all else.
There are few towns I can recommend as highly as Jackson Hole. Go with someone special, or go alone and meet some special people, either way it will be one of the best trips you go on.