USA: BLACK AND BLUE AT JACK­SON HOLE

Jack­son Hole is what skiers’ dreams are made of.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY JENNIFER ENNION

Jack­son Hole is what skiers’ dreams are made of.

White sur­rounds us: white fog, white snow, white pine trees. There’s lit­tle vis­i­bil­ity at Jack­son Hole Moun­tain Re­sort’s in­fa­mous Cor­bet’s Cabin, perched above some of the best black runs in North Amer­ica and home to belly-warm­ing waf­fles. But low vis­i­bil­ity is part of the game when you’re more than 3,000 me­tres above sea level in the Amer­i­can Rocky Moun­tains. Dim light is ex­pected, too, when storm clouds hun­ker down for a cosy win­ter’s day. It is this cloud cover that blessed my hus­band and I with the thick pow­der ly­ing be­neath our snow­boards and the on-and­off fat-flake show­ers we re­ceive all day. We couldn’t be hap­pier: this is ex­actly why we’ve ven­tured to Wy­oming.

We started our day early at the lux­u­ri­ous but homely Spring Creek Ranch, 10 min­utes from down­town Jack­son. While de­vour­ing a hearty break­fast, we over­heard whis­pers our visit co­in­cided with “the best storm of the sea­son”. It wasn’t a morn­ing for lazi­ness. Ba­con and eggs were scoffed; boards and boots thrown in the 4WD. Ex­cit­edly, we joined the march of SUVs to­ward Jack­son Hole Moun­tain Re­sort, about 25 min­utes’ drive away. Once there, our first stop was the Aerial Tram, re­ferred to by lo­cals as ‘Big Red’ and packed with pow­der hounds ea­ger for the holy grail of ski­ing – fresh tracks. It was a busy ride but as soon as the doors opened at Cor­bet’s Cabin, the crowd dis­persed and we were left star­ing down Ren­dezvous Bowl and at our first run of the day.

When the snow is this good there’s no time for warm­ing up on blues. We need to track out the un­touched slopes be­fore

ev­ery­one else does. We drop into the bowl and de­scend deeper into the fog. We’re snow­board­ing by feel – the pitch and pow­der dic­tat­ing our turns. A few min­utes later, we ar­rive at a clus­ter of pines where the air is clear, and, just be­yond, lies some of the best off-piste we’ve ever rid­den – it’s steep, chal­leng­ing and soft. We take one look at each other, point our boards straight and race, slash­ing and carv­ing and spray­ing snow in our wake; hol­ler­ing and hoot­ing with adren­a­line. By the time we reach Sublette Chair, mid-moun­tain, our thighs are burn­ing but our smiles wide. Af­ter one run, we’re Jack­son con­verts.

The rest of our day is spent chas­ing bowls, glades and off-piste. We even skip lunch to make the most of con­di­tions. Af­ter fly­ing along more blacks, and tum­bling down a dou­ble­di­a­mond or two, we spend the af­ter­noon check­ing out Jack­son’s in­ter­me­di­ate runs, and they don’t dis­ap­point ei­ther. With two moun­tains (Ren­dezvous and Apres Vous) and 1,011 hectares of ter­rain, there are a tonne of trails to ex­plore. The new eight-per­son Sweet­wa­ter Gon­dola, which re­placed Ea­gles Rest and Sweet­wa­ter chair­lifts for the 2016/17 sea­son, also means faster and bet­ter ac­cess to the Soli­tude (begin­ner) and Casper (in­ter­me­di­ate) ar­eas, as well as to a new chil­dren’s ski-school fa­cil­ity which is set to open next sea­son at Soli­tude mid-sta­tion. The sea­son be­fore (2015/16), dur­ing 50th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, the re­sort not only opened the Te­ton Lift but also new blue and black trails to go with it. Add to that ac­cess to more than 1,214 hectares of back­coun­try ter­rain and Jack­son Hole is a skier’s dream.

Al­though the re­sort pri­mar­ily caters to ad­vanced and in­ter­me­di­ate riders (50 per­cent of named trails are ex­pert; 40 per­cent in­ter­me­di­ate), first-timers will still be con­tent.

And, if you need a break from the snow, you won’t be short of other ac­tiv­i­ties to revel in.

Ev­ery­thing from snow­shoe­ing and guided fat-bike tours to wildlife sa­faris and snow­mo­bil­ing is avail­able. You can even take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the nearby Na­tional Elk Refuge.

Af­ter our first day, how­ever, we set­tle for après in Te­ton Vil­lage, at the base of the moun­tain. There, you can choose

from count­less high-end, on-snow bars and restau­rants. One of the most pop­u­lar is Spur Restau­rant and Bar, a short walk from the lifts. Hav­ing won count­less awards, Spur is the place to en­joy dishes cre­ated with re­gional and or­ganic pro­duce, as well as lo­cal beers. Cock­tail lovers will want to or­der the Wy­oming Wild­flower made with Grand Te­ton vodka, honey mint syrup and grape­fruit juice. Te­ton Vil­lage is also where you’ll find in­dul­gent day spa ex­pe­ri­ences (try Snake River Lodge and Spa), along with nu­mer­ous ski re­tail­ers.

The fol­low­ing day, we de­cide to give our thighs a break and en­joy an­other clas­sic North Amer­i­can pas­time – snow­mo­bil­ing. At Scenic Sa­faris, in the town of Jack­son, we get kit­ted out in a head-to-toe out­er­wear one­sie, wa­ter­proof win­ter boots and gloves, and a full-face hel­met. Then, we’re off – a coach-load of ex­cited young men and women tow­ing a trailer laden with four-stroke sleds. About 45 min­utes later, we reach the trail head within Gros Ven­tre Wilder­ness, in the Bridger-Te­ton Na­tional For­est.

Again, we’re sur­rounded by white, with a val­ley full of vir­gin pow­der to our right and more snow coat­ing the hill­side to our left. We breathe it all in be­fore tak­ing off down a groomed trail like a line of ea­ger duck­lings, stop­ping only when we chance upon wildlife. Na­ture is front of mind for Scenic Sa­faris, with its mod­ern fleet of sleds emit­ting low emis­sions and lit­tle noise. It’s good to learn as Gros Ven­tre Wilder­ness is a mi­gra­tory cor­ri­dor for elk, an­te­lope and moose. Snow­mo­bil­ing here is a quintessen­tial Rocky Moun­tain ex­pe­ri­ence and makes for great con­ver­sa­tion later over a tip­ple or two at an­other very Wy­oming at­trac­tion – The Mil­lion Dol­lar Cow­boy Bar.

Lo­cated in the main square of Jack­son, the bar is an in­sti­tu­tion, with lo­cals and tourists drawn here for the buf­falo wings, pool ta­bles and horse-sad­dle bar stools. Al­though the town ap­pears staged, farm­ers, ranch­ers and fur trap­pers have been com­ing here since the early 1800s. It makes Jack­son a top spot to im­merse your­self in Amer­ica’s Wild West cul­ture, both past and present. Add to that one of the best ski re­sorts in the world and you’ve got your­self one cracker of a win­ter va­ca­tion. •

Open­ing im­age: Grand Te­ton Na­tional Park, © Amy Jim­mer­son. Above: Get­ting ver­ti­cal at Jack­son Hole, © Eric Sey­mour.

Clock­wise from left: Te­ton Vil­lage sits at the base of the two moun­tains; Big horn sheep take in the views; The antler arch in the town of Jack­son, © Hannah Har­d­away Pho­tog­ra­phy.

From left: Snow­mo­bil­ing with Scenic Sa­faris; A baby moose, © JRyan.

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