My longtime personal favorite escape, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, has always enjoyed a reputation as one of the nation’s best destination for expert skiers and snowboarders, thanks to its wealth of challenging and extreme terrain. It is also one of the top luxury ski vacation choices because of its broad assortment of top hotels and a vast list of restaurants, bars and great shopping. But this family-owned, world-class ski resort refused to rest on its laurels and, in the past two years, embarked on a major campaign to make it the go-to destination for all skiers. And as a result, Jackson may have dethroned Canada’s Whistler/Blackcomb as the No. 1 overall ski resort in North America.
With trails beyond double black diamond, like the infamous Corbet’s Couloir, Jackson always had terrain for the greatest skiers. With a top-notch ski school and learning area, though, it also proves a surprisingly benign and wonderful place to learn how to ski. But intermediates, which include most skiers and snowboarders, had been somewhat overlooked. Not anymore. Last winter, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort redeveloped its Casper Bowl area into an entirely new mid-level experience, a multimillion dollar investment that included regrading the slopes and extensive tree removal. All of this has turned Casper into a groomed paradise of gentle cruisers, served quickly and easily by a new, high-speed, detachable quad chair opened last December. Trail grooming continued this summer, further expanding and improving this area, and an additional snow cat was added for grooming for the upcoming winter season. If you are a middle-of-the-road skier or rider and haven’t been to Jackson lately, it will seem like a whole new mountain to you, one covered in corduroy.
The resort also just installed RFID (radio frequency identification) lift ticket technology and card scanners to get skiers on the slopes faster. Guests can now buy reusable “J Cards” with chips that will automatically open the lift access gates. Since the cards can be reloaded online, you’ll never have to wait in a ticket line again. The cards also include resort-wide charge capabilities, linked to a credit card, so you can shop, dine and drink your way across the property without carrying cash or a wallet.
Last winter, the ski-in/ski-out Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole in Teton Village, Wyoming’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel, brought the city its first celebrity-chef experience with the new slope-side Handle Bar, a fun and quirky gastropub by Michael Mina that features creative burgers, sausages and appetizers, along with happy hour specials and a lively après ski scene. It’s quite a departure for the sometimes-staid luxury chain. The draught beer here is even served in cowboy boot-shaped glasses.
Also in Teton Village, Spur Restaurant & Bar opened in the Teton Mountain Lodge last December, serving hearty, upscale “mountain cuisine” such as buffalo short ribs braised in local stout over cheese grits from respected chef Kevin Humphreys. In Jackson itself, just off the town square, a noteworthy relatively new addition is Bin22, an ambitious upscale liquor store, gourmet grocery and wine bar serving a surprisingly extensive and tempting menu of fancy cheeses, salumi, charcuterie and mostly Spanish-style dishes such as charred baby octopus and dates with chorizo.
There is one notable new restaurant opening in Jackson this season, Hayden’s Post at Snow King Hotel, the smaller ski resort on the edge of town. The theme here is upscale “mountain camping” with items such as whiskey-smothered chicken, bison chili and housemade jerkies. Desserts are also matched to the mood, with cinnamon buns cooked in cast iron pans and, of course, s’mores to round out the campfire theme.
All of these recent changes follow years of steady ski resort improvements here, including the replacement of Jackson’s iconic summit tram with a new faster model, and the opening of the on-mountain Couloir, one of the best fine-dining eateries on any ski resort in the country.
With all the changes, you’ll want to get to Jackson this winter for sure, and now it is easier than ever. Jackson Hole Airport is one of the closest and most reliable airports of any North American ski resort, landing full-size planes and typically not being affected by winter weather. Yet, this winter, things will still improve because of new non-stop service from Houston on United, plus new Saturday flights on Delta from Seattle and JFK in Queens, New York, which brings the total non-stop gateway tally up to 12 major U.S. airports. Three of these (Newark, San Francisco and Minneapolis) were added last winter. Now, even more vacationers can bask in the airport’s $20-million, three-phase renovation and expansion project (due for a 2015 completion) to make the already-streamlined experience even more efficient.
Photos Courtesy of Four Seasons