A note to readers: LSJ recognises that borders are closed and tourism is impossible right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep future travel dreams alive. Those with wander lust may appreciate some escapism in reading through these pages. And we – alongside clients and colleagues overseas and in the travel industry – look forward to a time in which we can journey, explore and discover once again.
Jackson Hole is a destination steeped in thrills and mystique. Old money, epic scenery, some of the best skiing in North America and a gastronomic scene to rival the hipster suburbs of New York or Los Angeles await visitors to this iconic cowboy valley. Little wonder that it has become home – or perhaps a second or third home – to a long list of American billionaires, including film star Harrison Ford and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Taste, sip, explore and ski the best parts of Jackson Hole with this expert guide.
When people say Jackson Hole is “steeped” in thrills, there is a literal interpretation to be made. The “hole” is what locals call the valley, which includes the glittering town of Jackson and its charming neighbour Teton Village. This is hemmed in by the magnificent Gros Ventre mountain range on one side, and the towering, jagged peaks of the Teton Mountain Range on the other. It is the phenomenal Tetons that lure skiers and snowboarders to their slopes each year between November and April.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) has the largest continuous vertical drop of any ski resort in the US; run your skis from top to bottom and you’ll lose an impressive 1,262 metres in elevation. The resort also logs an average 14 metres in total snowfall each season, meaning powder snow days are a regular treat. Compare those numbers to Australian resort Thredbo’s 426-metre rise, and average two metres annual snow, and you start to understand why JHMR’s unofficial tagline has become “steep and deep”.
You don’t have to be a total adrenaline junkie to hit the slopes in Jackson; the ski school is world-class, and there are plenty of on-mountain bars and restaurants to après through an afternoon. Many locals say they prefer to visit in summer, when you can swap skis for a mountain bike, fishing rod or hiking boots, and drink in the incredible wilderness of the Tetons.
Jackson Hole lies at the foothills of two of the world’s most picturesque national parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the first national park in the United States and is teeming with waterfalls, canyons, hot springs, geysers, and hundreds of mountain biking and hiking trails. You can download maps of more than 1,500 kilometres of trails from the National Park Service (NPS) website.
If you’re not into hiking, choose an expedition (snowmobiling, horse riding, white-water rafting, camping, fishing) from the NPS-certified list of tour companies that take visitors through the national parks (note that only a few certified operators can enter the park during winter). Opt for a tour that includes a visit to the incredible teal and rust-coloured “Old Faithful” geyser, which faithfully erupts every day to the delight of audiences.
Bison, elk, coyote, bears, moose, and bald eagles roam the plains of Yellowstone and Grand Teton. You’re unlucky if you don’t spot at least some of these while driving into town (halted traffic usually indicates a roadside moose). But you can maximise your wildlife viewing by taking a luxe SUV tour with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris. During my half-day tour to Grand Teton in winter, we counted four coyotes, eight moose, 16 mule deer, a few bighorn sheep, one black fox, and infinite numbers of elk and bison. Four hours well spent.
Jackson Hole caters to some of America’s most discerning diners – Hollywood stars, Silicon Valley moguls, and high-powered law partners among them. Hence this remarkable valley in the landlocked state of Wyoming has developed a culinary scene to rival coastal capitals like New York and Los Angeles.
Don’t be fooled by the laidback vibe of Teton Thai; this is the highest-rated restaurant in Jackson on TripAdvisor, and a favourite for stars like Natalie Portman, for good reason. Awarded Chef Suchada Johnson has been perfecting the recipes since she was a small child cooking rice daily for her family in Thailand. Those years of talent become obvious when you experience the depth of flavour in her Panang sauce or pad Thai. Crying tiger beef will have you weeping for more of its delectable dipping sauce. Top it off with a spicy margarita to round out the hot mess.
Bin 22 is a casual-yet-classy bistro at the back of an expansive bottle shop. You can pick a bottle off the shelves and enjoy it alongside Spanish tapas plates like succulent barbequed octopus or crisp, garlicky prawns.
Head to Osteria for generous servings of swanky Italian food, including velvety handmade pasta, and woodfired pizzas adorned with prosciutto and artichokes.
You don’t even have to take your ski boots off for a long lunch at Piste Mountain Bistro, at the top of JHMR’s Bridger Gondola. That said, you may wish to undo the top button of your ski pants while tucking into the dinosaur-sized hoisin duck wings and moreish pulled pork sliders.
The cocktail menu at The Handle Bar comes with a list of rules to echo its cheeky vibe. Among them: you must have fun; there’s nothing wrong with drinking before noon; and if there is ever any confusion, the fuller beer is yours. The bar’s outdoor patio is ski-in and ski-out from JHMR, so winter crowds tend to swell from 4pm (lift closing time) onwards. Among the highlights on an extensive list of “libations” comes “The Jackson” – which mixes lime and vodka with locally grown huckleberries, a small crossbreed of blueberry that only grows in remote regions of North America.
Visiting a cowboy saloon is a must in Wyoming. The most lively in Jackson is Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which has real saddles for bar stools, and gaping moose heads mounted around its pine walls. Saturday nights are raucous, honky-tonk parties with live music and line dancing. Don’t be surprised if a real, leather-clad cowboy asks you to tango.
The Spur is a more contemporary watering hole, popular for its sun-drenched outdoor deck and US$6 (about AU$9) spicy margaritas before 4pm. Meanwhile, hipsters head for a quiet drink at trendy speakeasy The Rose.
A word to the wise: be wary that the effects of alcohol are magnified at higher elevations. If you’re not already legless after a hard day of skiing or hiking, it won’t take much to get that way at the bar.
A long commute back to your hotel is the last thing you want after skiing, biking and hiking America’s steepest slopes. Luxury hotel chain the Four Seasons knows this; it’s why it built a five-star resort in an enviable position at the very base of JHMR. You can ski right up to the huge oak doors of Four Seasons Jackson Hole, hand your equipment to a “ski valet”, who will store and service your skis overnight, and have them ready on the slopes for you to step into the following morning.
The Four Seasons’ outdoor heated pool and spa – which sits just metres from a ski run – is the envy of any skier or snowboarder zooming past. On winter afternoons from 5pm, the poolside café serves hot, complimentary s’mores: traditional American campfire treats made of hot toasted marshmallow and dipping chocolate, squashed between sweet biscuits. Adults can indulge at the fur-lined champagne bar, Fahrenheit 47, which is a chic outdoor igloo fitted with Moet-branded everything (both drinks and ski-themed décor).
The 158 rooms at the Four Seasons are vast, with private balconies overlooking the ski slopes, and marble bathrooms you can get lost in. It’s everything you’d expect from a five-star hotel in America’s richest outdoor playground. But you can also find superb, budget-friendly options among the range of condominiums (apartments or townhouses) serviced by Jackson Hole Resort Lodging. Condos range in size from one to five bedrooms and are great options for families and groups.