Destinations: Action Jackson - Ski Mag

Destinations: Action Jackson

Features
Author:
Publish date:

John snagged a ski tip on a bush, flipped upside down, and somersaulted down the slope. His hat and goggles flew north and east, his gloves and poles went south and west. Another skier would have seen the humor in this and called out encouragingly, "Dude, awesome yard sale!" I saw only the potential for brain damage, paralysis, compound tib-fib fractures, and grade-three ACL sprains.

Not to worry. Even before I reached him, he bounced up and started collecting his stuff. "Dad," he said enthusiastically, "I fell!" Yeah, I noticed.

We were in a natural halfpipe called Dick's Ditch, one of several gulches of distinction at Jackson. The terrain here is perfect for youthful high jinks. You ski straight up the sheer bank on one side until your skis stall out like an underpowered Cessna. Then you tilt your upper body back toward the trough so that gravity pulls your skis into the fall line and sends you streaking across the bottom of the gully and up the other bank.

We emerged from Dick's Ditch a half dozen swooping turns later, and John did what any 10-year-old would do¿he begged to ski it again. I consulted my watch. "No time," I said. Dejectedly, he followed me down the mountain to our next activity.

Poor kid. Saddled with a father who had a grand plan for the family ski vacation. In my scheme this was not to be an ordinary ski trip but the Grouts' Great Adventure. Before the week was out, we were going to sample everything Jackson Hole has to offer, from snowmobiling to dogsledding to whatever else we could pack in around our days on skis. God bless 'em, the rest of the family¿wife Barbara, 14-year-old daughter Claire, and John¿would get to join me.

But hey, we're wasting time.

Snowmobiling to Goosewing Ranch:I stood at the Lower Slide Lake parking area, 20 miles from Jackson, looking at the two 500cc snowmobiles we had rented, feeling both anticipation and guilt. I've been openly critical of noisy, smelly snowmobiles in the backcountry, and now here I was, getting ready to take two of them into the Gros Ventre Range east of Jackson.

John had no such reservations. Little boys, after all, love machines, especially if there's a chance they might get to drive them. Barbara was eyeing the snowmobiles warily, like a greenhorn preparing to mount a wild horse; Claire was trying to look her best in a rented matte-black snowmobile suit that had all the style of an overstuffed pillow.

Snowmobiling is huge in the Jackson/Yellowstone area. About 20 local companies rent machines (some with guides, some without), and there are over 500 miles of maintained, interconnected, car-free mountain roads and trails to ride on. Snowmobilers with buns of steel think nothing of riding several hundred miles a day. When snow conditions are perfect, you can ride from Lander, Wyoming, up through Yellowstone National Park, past Old Faithful, and on to West Yellowstone, Montana¿344 miles of off-road exploration.

We fired up our machines and paralleled the Gros Ventre River for 17 miles of scenic splendor to Goosewing Ranch, a summer dude ranch that doubles as a snowmobile resort in winter. About two dozen machines were parked outside, their owners inside the ranch house consuming big plates of food and trading I-can-top-that snowmobiling stories.

After the lunch crowd had saddled up and dispersed, John begged to drive a machine himself, so we each took one of our two snowmobiles and made a big, slow loop on the widest roads. I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed cranking the throttle hard and feeling the machine leap forward. I could imagine myself blasting over one of the smoothly packed roads at 60 miles an hour. But of course that would have set a bad example for John.

That evening we ate a hearty dinner, soaked in the hot tub, and slept like pine logs in one of Goosewing's cabins. Next morning we rode another 15 miles or so farther up the Gros Ventre, searching for wild game (bighorn sheep, deer, bald eaglesand spotted a bull moose in an aspen thicket near the river. That afternoon we roared back to the trailhead with only a slight delay when Claire, in the driver's seat with Barbara behind her, had misjudged the snowmobile's turning radius, forgot where the brake was, and crashed into a picnic table, catapulting both of them off the machine. Whoops. My grade for snowmobiling: B+ (Fun, yes, but they are noisy.) John's grade: A+

Skiing with Pepi:Pepi Stiegler, longtime Jackson Hole ski-school director (now retired), who won a gold medal in slalom at the 1964 Olympics, leads free, daily Ski with Pepi clinics on the mountain. One afternoon, while the rest of the family recuperated from my rigorous schedule in our slopeside Eagle's Rest condo, I rode the smooth new Bridger Gondola to the staging point just below the Headwall and joined a group of about 15 other mature skiers who wanted to meet the famous Pepi and maybe learn how to ski like an Olympian. In faintly Austrian-accented English, with just a touch of Olympian aloofness, Pepi explained the basics of expert skiing, gave a Pepi talk on having fun and being safe, and sprinkled in a few laughs. A bravura performance. As far as I could tell, everyone in the group went away satisfied. Grade: A-

Dinner at The Mangy Moose:This Teton Village institution (founded in 1967) is decorated with such goofy eclecticism (old-time posters and flags, heads of horned beasts, a bathtub with a dummy in it, an airplane hanging from the ceiling) that the decor is the entertainment. Big portions, a salad bar, and an all-American menu that pleased the kids. Good service, too. Grade: A-

Lessons from Steep Camp: Our visit coincided with one of the multiday Steep Camps (now called Steep and Deep Camps since camp founder Doug Coombs went into exile in France) the Jackson Hole ski school runs each season. I audited the course for a couple of mornings, tackling slopes that I never would have attempted on my own, slopes with very definite no-fall zones. In the steep camp, you not only get instruction and encouragement to go beyond your comfort zone, you also get a guide who will take your group to places on the mountain you'd never, ever find on your own. John Kosinski, from Tarrytown, New York summed up how I, too, felt about it: "This camp changed me from a guy whose knees were quaking at the top of these steep runs to someone who actually looks for steeps and skis them with relish." Grade: A

Sleigh ride on the National Elk Refuge:Lame and tame¿that's what I assumed. Wrong. Established in 1912, the National Elk Refuge, an enormous flat meadow just north of town, is home to the largest concentration of wild elk in the world, more than 10,000 of them during the winter months. Big, horse-drawn sleighs take tourist groups out onto the Refuge each hour, coming close enough to the animals that you can take a decent picture with a disposable camera. We saw pairs of bulls locking horns and pushing against each other in friendly fashion (the elk version of going to the gym, apparently). The commentary from the sleigh driver was funny, the other people in the sleigh were a typical mixed lot, their comments ranging from intriguing to imbecilic. Grade: A-

Night tubing at Snow King: Founded in 1939, 400-acre Snow King ski area rises steeply right from the edge of the town of Jackson. It's a favorite with locals, a night-skiing mecca, and a great place to have the powder to yourself after a storm. Its King Tubes Snowtubing Park has become Jackson's gravity-powered sliding alternative. On a night when the temperature was less than zero, John, Claire, and I bought our tickets, picked our tubes according to personal color preference, and did our best to scare ourselves for three hours. "Really, really fun!" said John. Grade: A-

Biting a burrito at Cafe a Mano:"Spirited flavors, adventurous foods," the menu says. This is not gourmet food but a place where you go for a quick, wholesome meal and a chance to talk to some locals. Grade B+

Touring Grand Teton National Park:Jackson Hole is the only ski resort in America with an attraction like Grand Teton National Park at its doorstep. One afternoon Barbara and I rented touring equipment from the Jackson Hole Nordic Center and took a guided excursion to the mouth of Granite Canyon. Our guide, Steve Markason, who worked summers as a firefighter for the Forest Service rappelling out of helicopters, showed us how to identify animal tracks in the snow¿those of coyotes, snowshoe hares, moose, and pine marten, among others. He gave us a little of the geology of the Tetons and infected us with some of his enthusiasm for these roadless woods abutting the magnificent peaks. It was a perfect day, cloudless and windless, and as the shadows of big trees lengthened on the untouched snowfields, both Barbara and I wished we'd brought the kids. Grade A+

Trying to get into the Blue Lion:This small restaurant on Millward Street in Jackson serves what the menu calls "creative cuisine in an elegant but casual atmosphere." We heard it was good, and we tried getting a reservation three nights running. But never did succeed. Grade: incomplete.

Learning rope skills at Teton Rock Gym:How did we end up spending several hours one evening sweating routes up an indoor climbing wall at Teton Rock Gym? A couple of the instructors in the Steep Camp were regulars here, and they invited the campers. Nobody came but the Grouts. Too bad. TRG is small but beautifully designed, the ideal place for beginners to learn sport climbing for fun and fitness, and so they can come back to Jackson in the summer and do some real Alpinism. Grade: B+

Going to Grand Targhee:Targhee deserves a feature story of its own. This place is one of the powder capitals of North America, with practically empty slopes, an exquisite little base village, and a cat operation that's ideal for powder novices. We drove over from Jackson after a modest dump and skied powder all day long. Targhee doesn't have Jackson's pitch or the variety; what it has is wide-open spaces and almost infinite powder lines. Grade: A

Dog-sledding with Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog tours:Driving a dog team is an interesting contrast to riding a snowmobile. For one thing, the dogs don't make any noise as they run, and when you stop, you can hug 'em and they'll lick your face. We took a half-day tour with one of Frank Teasley's guides and two dog teams. Teasley, a serious musher who placed sixth in the 1991 Iditarod, raises and trains more than 150 Alaskan sled-racing dogs. He refers to them as "well-trained athletes who are also affectionate and friendly." The dogs love to run, pulling you along plenty fast enough to get the wind whistling through your hair. You slow them by stepping on the drag brake behind the sled or literally throwing out an anchor when you want them to stop completely. This was Barbara's favorite activity of the entire week. Grade: A

What we didn't get to do:Ride snowmobiles to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park; go snowcat powder skiing at Targhee; view wildlife with a Great Plains Wildlife Institute Safari; spend a night in a yurt on Teton Pass; go heli-skiing with High Mountain Heli-Skiing; soar over the Tetons in a glider; take a tandem paraglider ride from the top of Rendezvous Peak ....

But, they're already on the list for the Grouts' next Great Adventure at Jackson Hole.

Go to Destination: Jackson Holere you go for a quick, wholesome meal and a chance to talk to some locals. Grade B+

Touring Grand Teton National Park:Jackson Hole is the only ski resort in America with an attraction like Grand Teton National Park at its doorstep. One afternoon Barbara and I rented touring equipment from the Jackson Hole Nordic Center and took a guided excursion to the mouth of Granite Canyon. Our guide, Steve Markason, who worked summers as a firefighter for the Forest Service rappelling out of helicopters, showed us how to identify animal tracks in the snow¿those of coyotes, snowshoe hares, moose, and pine marten, among others. He gave us a little of the geology of the Tetons and infected us with some of his enthusiasm for these roadless woods abutting the magnificent peaks. It was a perfect day, cloudless and windless, and as the shadows of big trees lengthened on the untouched snowfields, both Barbara and I wished we'd brought the kids. Grade A+

Trying to get into the Blue Lion:This small restaurant on Millward Street in Jackson serves what the menu calls "creative cuisine in an elegant but casual atmosphere." We heard it was good, and we tried getting a reservation three nights running. But never did succeed. Grade: incomplete.

Learning rope skills at Teton Rock Gym:How did we end up spending several hours one evening sweating routes up an indoor climbing wall at Teton Rock Gym? A couple of the instructors in the Steep Camp were regulars here, and they invited the campers. Nobody came but the Grouts. Too bad. TRG is small but beautifully designed, the ideal place for beginners to learn sport climbing for fun and fitness, and so they can come back to Jackson in the summer and do some real Alpinism. Grade: B+

Going to Grand Targhee:Targhee deserves a feature story of its own. This place is one of the powder capitals of North America, with practically empty slopes, an exquisite little base village, and a cat operation that's ideal for powder novices. We drove over from Jackson after a modest dump and skied powder all day long. Targhee doesn't have Jackson's pitch or the variety; what it has is wide-open spaces and almost infinite powder lines. Grade: A

Dog-sledding with Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog tours:Driving a dog team is an interesting contrast to riding a snowmobile. For one thing, the dogs don't make any noise as they run, and when you stop, you can hug 'em and they'll lick your face. We took a half-day tour with one of Frank Teasley's guides and two dog teams. Teasley, a serious musher who placed sixth in the 1991 Iditarod, raises and trains more than 150 Alaskan sled-racing dogs. He refers to them as "well-trained athletes who are also affectionate and friendly." The dogs love to run, pulling you along plenty fast enough to get the wind whistling through your hair. You slow them by stepping on the drag brake behind the sled or literally throwing out an anchor when you want them to stop completely. This was Barbara's favorite activity of the entire week. Grade: A

What we didn't get to do:Ride snowmobiles to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park; go snowcat powder skiing at Targhee; view wildlife with a Great Plains Wildlife Institute Safari; spend a night in a yurt on Teton Pass; go heli-skiing with High Mountain Heli-Skiing; soar over the Tetons in a glider; take a tandem paraglider ride from the top of Rendezvous Peak ....

But, they're already on the list for the Grouts' next Great Adventure at Jackson Hole.

Go to Destination: Jackson Hole

Related