After three years of non-stop improvements, Jackson Hole is taking a breather. So this is the year to visit. Even with the changes-two new access lifts, two high-speed quads, a skier-services building and improved snowmaking-Jackson still maintains its Wild West soul, prompting one reader to comment, "Trail layout is so natural, you'd drive past the resort if you didn't know it was there." But once you're on the mountain, you can't miss why Jackson is No. 1 in Challenge and No. 2 in Terrain in North America. Its 4,139 vertical feet and 2,500 acres (in addition to 2,500 acres of easily accessed backcountry) make Jackson "definitely a skier's mountain." Add 500 inches of annual snowfall and your choice of glades, chutes and bowls, and you get "a huge, challenging mountain" with "leg-burning vertical and kick-ass steeps." After skiing thousands of vertical feet, you want your pillow nearby: Teton Village, the resort's base area, "needs more ski-in/ski-out lodging," a reader laments. To address that, Jackson Hole broke ground this summer on two base-village projects: the Four Seasons Resort Hotel and Teton Mountain Lodge, both slated to open in 2003. Though it may appear that Jackson is gravitating toward the high end, you'll still see moose roaming around and a stuffed one hanging from the rafters in the Mangy Moose. Even with all the recent changes, Jackson Hole pledges to maintain its best assets, which are, as one reader conveniently lists: "steeps, beauty and a great town."
WHAT'S NEW A revamped Snake River Lodge and Spa in Teton Village, ski-in/ski-out lodging with an indoor/outdoor pool; Team Extreme, a youth-instruction program that teaches mountain safety.
A GOOD DEAL The "Powder Package" includes five nights' lodging and four days' skiing for $266 per person, Jan. 3-Feb. 8; 800-443-8613.
MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Off-Hill Activities, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Value, Lifts, Service, Lodging, Dining, Après-Ski.
HIGH/LOW RANK Challenge (1), Terrain (2), Scenery (6); Access (48), Family Programs (48), Grooming (60).
DON'T MISS The Old Yellowstone Garage (307-734-6161). Its owners serve wine from their friend's Italian vineyards and traditional specialties.
READER REMARKS (+) "The crown jewel of expert skiing, unlimited out-of-bounds." "A must-ski in your skiing lifetime."
(-) "The tram: too old, too slow, too cold in line." "Tough terrain. Probably wouldn't bring your family."