Family Tried and Tested: Our Wild West ski adventure in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Find out why this North American ski resort is great for families
It’s the go-to winter destination for A-listers in search of fresh mountain air, powdery snow and a cool, cowboy vibe but Jackson Hole isn’t just a holiday hotspot for celebrities. Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock recently rang in the New Year at the popular resort, which is also a favourite with Kim Kardashian and husband Kanye West, Tiger Woods, Pippa Matthews, Uma Thurman, Matthew McConaughey and Alicia Keys. Meanwhile Harrison Ford and wife Calista Flockhart have a home at there and influential US magazine Forbes consistently ranks it as North America’s top ski resort.
While Jackson Hole, which takes its name from the valley in which it is located, has long been a favourite with the stars, it has become just as popular with families, students and host of ordinary holidaymakers. Nestled in Wyoming - the heart of cowboy country with both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and an abundance of wildlife on its doorstep – Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers an interesting alternative to its European counterparts. And while its extreme terrain has made it a mecca for hardcore skiers and snowboarders for more than 50 years - the legendary Corbets Couloir is said to be the most difficult run in North America - the resort has recently become more family friendly with the addition this season of new runs and facilities aimed at children and learners. Meanwhile, the town of Jackson, with its great restaurants, bars and shopping, is a 20-minute drive away. With this in mind, my 13-year-old son Paddy and I headed across the Atlantic for a Wild West adventure.
Fun on the slopes
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort stretches across 2,500 acres on two mountains, 10,500ft Rendezvous and 8,500 Apres Vous and there are runs to suit all abilities. This was Paddy’s first time on skis and my first in 20 years, so the newly-completed Solitude Station, a one-stop ski school, rental facility and buffet dining area a two minute gondola ride from the base was the perfect spot for us to start our lessons. It was chilly and there was plenty of snow, but the sun was shining brightly, lighting up the mountain landscape that stretched below.
We started off on the nursery slope, where our instructors from the Mountain Sports School, Shawn and Gaen, taught us to snowplough and crisscross our way to the bottom. We were soon confident enough to progress to a green run - Paddy somewhat more successfully than his mum – while further up the mountain our friends, all seasoned skiers and snowboarders, whizzed down red and black runs.
The resort centre, Teton Village, surrounds the mountain base and there’s a great selection of restaurants, hotels and bars for après ski fun, including sledging. Down the road is Jackson Hole’s original ski resort, Snow King Mountain, a 400-acre, 32-run site, that’s been attracting serious skiers since 1939 and which serves as a training facility for the US ski team. Even the smaller runs proved a little challenging for me (not for Paddy though), there was other fun to be had in the shape of the Mountain Coaster, a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride around the mountain. As I’d expected, Paddy completely fell in love with skiing and before we’d even left Jackson he was asking when we could do it again.
Grand Teton National Park is right on Jackson Hole’s doorstep, while the famous Yellowstone National Park is a 90-minute drive away, and in summertime millions of tourists pass through the area. In winter the parks are still wonderful places to explore and we spent a morning driving through Grand Teton with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com, in search of animals and admiring the snow-capped landscape. At each stop, our tour guide set up a telescope and we spotted moose, elk and a golden eagle – although there were no wolves to be seen and the bear population was in hibernation.
We also took a trip to the National Elk Refuge, which has been preserving the winter habitat of Jackson’s elk and bison herds for more than 100 years, and took a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the 24,700-acre site, which is set in a valley just outside the town of Jackson.
The town of Jackson is a 20-minute drive from the mountain resort. Dating back to the late 19th century, it’s cool and fashionable, yet quaint and quirky too. Its centrepiece is the Town Square, which is accessed by four magnificent archways made of elk antlers and has an ice skating rink in winter. Jackson’s low-rise, wooden buildings house a great selection of independently run hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and shops such as Stio stio.com for outdoorwear, Mursell’s candy store and the Mountain Man Toy Shop, which sells impressive hunting knives and axes – which the kids enjoyed throwing (under supervision of course). They also enjoyed ten-pin bowling and burgers at the Hole Bowl, although their favourite activity didn’t cost a cent - running around having snowball fights.
Where to stay:
Accommodation at Jackson Hole includes everything from five-star hotels and private residences to hostels. In Teton Village, the Four Seasons Hotel fourseasons.com/jacksonhole is right at base camp and has ski-in, ski-out access to the slopes and a spa to ease those aches and pains. Paddy and I stayed just outside the village, sharing a lovely mountain lodge with two other families, rented from Jackson Hole Resort Lodging jhrl.com. It came with three ensuite bedrooms, wonderful views, an open plan kitchen, open fireplace and a hot tub out on the deck.
We split our stay between the mountain resort and Jackson town, where we stayed at the Anvil Hotel, a former motel that has been converted into a 49-room boutique hotel with a stylish, retro feel anvilhotel.com. For those that prefer a more traditional hotel, The Wort worthotel.com has been a local landmark since opening its doors in 1941. With its grand staircase and wood panelled walls hung with moose heads, the hotel is full of character, while its famous Silver Dollar Bar, a former gambling den, is now a live music venue.
Eating and drinking:
America may be the home of burger and fries, but there’s a whole lot more on offer in Jackson Hole. In Teton Village, those wanting a casual, no-frills drink when the ski lifts shut can get a beer or hot drink as they step off, but we headed to the comfy Ascent Lounge at the slope-side Four Seasons Hotel, where the adults in our party sampled whisky and rum cocktails while the kids drank hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows around the pit fire outside, enjoying some sledging in between.
At lunchtimes and in the evenings, there’s food to suit the most basic or sophisticated of tastes, from the bakery in town where we enjoyed pancakes and coffee for breakfast to the Rendezvous Bistro rendezvousbistro.net and Il Villaggio Osteria Italian restaurant in Teton Village jhosteria.com. Another local landmark is Snake River Brewing, Wyming’s oldest brewery, which serves a fantastic selection of hand crafted beer as well as delicious food snakeriverbrewing.com. The Wort Hotel’s Silver Dollar grill is worth a visit for local favourites like corn chowder, bison steaks and elk shank.
And a trip to Jackson wouldn’t be complete without an evening at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where live bands and country DJs play nightly as revellers dance, play pool or perch themselves on bar stools shaped like saddles. Taking centre stage in a glass cabinet is a real grizzly bear – killed by a hunting guide with his bare hands and teeth.
United Airlines flights start from £644.00 from London to Jackson Hole united.com/en/gb. A 10 night package holiday in January 2020 (5 nights at the Wort Hotel and 5 nights at Teton Mountain Lodge) with flights and transfers starts from £2,095.00pp with Ski Safari skisafari.com. For resort information visit: jacksonhole.com.