Wyoming’s previous slogan “Like No Place on Earth” didn’t make sense until I stepped out of the plane at the Jackson Hole airport. As a skier I’ve seen scenic mountain ranges, but none prepared me for the Grand Tetons. The craggy spires slice through endless sky creating a panorama so arresting I almost tumbled down the jet-way. Thankfully, I caught myself because a fractured femur is a ski trip downer.

Previously, Jackson Hole was just another locale on my Must Ski list. But I soon discovered there’s much more to Jackson than world-renowned slopes. This rustic paradise offers a vast playground of adventure year round.

The Hole Deal: Jackson vs. Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole refers to the airport and surrounding region, which is a valley encircled by jagged peaks (hence the “Hole”). This area encompasses Grand Teton National Park and neighboring towns like Wilson, Kelly and Moose. Jackson is the largest in the vicinity and home to Snow King, Wyoming’s first ski area, and nearby Teton Village hosts Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. A word to the western wise: referring to Jackson as “Jackson Hole” will out you as a moron tourist (aka: “touron” as locals say).

Snow and Tell: Jackson’s Winter Wonderland

Jackson’s ski (and board) reputation is “steep and deep,” which refers to sharp inclines and boundless “cowboy powder” (slope slang for soft flurries) topping around 500 inches per season. Snow King sits just eight blocks from Jackson’s Town Square and its high verticals cater to experienced locals, fearless shredders and future Olympians.

I skipped that in favor of my intact femurs and hit the varied terrain in Teton Village. The peaks boast 2500 acres divided into beginner (10%), intermediate (40%) and advanced/expert (50%) chutes. I found the trails beautiful and challenging, but heads up: some blues bruise toward black when compared to Colorado, Utah and California. The mountain was well marked and easy to navigate when my map wasn’t smeared with Carmex.

Advanced riders glide up the 100-passenger aerial tram to the Rendezvous summit for a bevy of moguls. I tackled the Casper Bowl where plentiful blues provide backdrops to strut your stuff and spill your thrills. Even in high season, the resort isn’t as populated as others so post-tumble expletives go unnoticed. There are trails and instruction for all levels, kid programs and tours of secret stashes in-bounds and off-roading through backcountry. Be sure to map your peak plan of attack.


There are bountiful options, but I chose Jackson Hole Sports for convenience because lugging cumbersome equipment in the cold makes me cranky. Their mountain-based location provides storage and quick access to gear and tuning. Check online for pre-booking discounts.

After stowing your skis, head north to The National Elk Refuge. Visitors can access (via horse-drawn sleigh) this preserve that restores and manages a winter habitat for the Jackson Elk Herd, endangered species and large game. Tours run December through April.

Other frosty frolics: tubing, cross-country skiing, and sleigh rides.

Jackson Summer: Roam or Go Home

After my ski vacation, I couldn’t wait to return for Jackson’s summer spoils. I’m a runner and hiker, so the array of thawed green trails beckoned. For my first trail run, I picked the shady Hagen pathway near Cache Creek, a woodsy, moderately elevated area dusted with wild fauna and mountain bikers. My run soon slowed to a crawl complete with heavy breathing. Tip: prepare for higher altitudes!


Two days later, my mountain legs fared a little better above Phelps Lake in the extraordinary glacial slants of Death Canyon. The trek teems with “switchbacks,” zigzagging paths that snake up the mountain and never seem to end. But the natural beauty eased my weary limbs and urban impatience until I lost myself in the surroundings. And I might’ve been really lost if I hadn’t followed a walking Jackson Hole encyclopedia/guide. Map your routes or grab a local before heading into the wild. 

Additional standout hiking: the trails near Jenny Lake, which provide some of the most picturesque Teton vistas in the valley, and up Snow King for spectacular views of Jackson. Feeling winded? Board The Alpine Slide. Your inner child (and maybe your actual child) will love downing the hill in a self-controlled toboggan. Other summer standbys: biking/fishing, rafting and Granite Hot Springs.

Cowboy Chow

Jackson is a boots and jeans town, but peak performance vittles abound. For breakfast, go with Café Genevieve’s turn-of-the-century log cabin swelling with brunch hits like fried green tomato Benedict and Huevos con chile verde. Blue Lion’s cozy cottage serves local delicacies like elk tenderloin, Idaho red trout and notable rack of lamb. Finally, Trio’s lively bistro offers extensive eats with a sweet post-grub finish: huckleberry ice cream.

Saloons Worth the Sip

After vigorous activity, nothing feels better than taking off my boots and slipping into a hot toddy or cool brew. Whether you’re sliding in from the slopes or a freshly hiked switchback, hit Mangy Moose for mountain views, bustling herds sporting raccoon suntans, and several après suds on tap.

No trip to Jackson’s wild west would be complete without a stop in the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar studded with frontier weaponry, silver dollars and saddle stools. As a Texan I often balk at western clichés, yet I saddled up and enjoyed resting my boots for a spell, y’all.

In a word, Jackson is outdoorsy. But there’s no shame in feeling indoorsy. For these moments choose Dornan’s in Moose, just a short trot from Jackson. Enjoy pizza and cocktails under framed Tetons thanks to the bar’s mammoth windows. I’ve enjoyed many indoorsy times here and still marvel at the town’s name where I saw exactly zero moose.

The Wild Artsy West

Teton County is crawling with wild game yet only one deer crossed my path. So I sated my animal sightings at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, a stony structure blended into a butte overlooking The Elk Refuge. More than 550 artists represent a varied collection of over 5,000 works. Between oil, bronze, photography and watercolor, there are different strokes for all folks. Robert Bateman’s Chief, which depicts a buffalo in a dust storm, held me captive. Don’t skip the video chronicling Bateman’s fascinating process.

Where to Hole Up

The valley offers plenty of lodging, so choosing where to hang your hat depends on priorities. Ski-in/ski-out choices flock The Village, but staying in Jackson provides wider options for activity. We picked Jackson-based Rusty Parrot Lodge & Spa, where the rustic ambiance is elegant and charming, but not stuffy. Same goes for the friendly and knowledgeable staff whose Jackson passion shows.

During summer try Jenny Lake Lodge. This destination topped my list because my stepmother worked there during college breaks. Her folklore tales of lake-lined peaks and wildflower-dotted meadows were brought into focus as I stood under the Tetons grandeur wondering why I spent college summers in Fort Worth.

More sleepy seconds: The Wort, The Rawhide Motel and Alpine House.

Before you wander Wyoming’s “Forever West” (the current slogan) frontier in any season, roundup ideas here. For old school cowboys and cowgirls with questions, use this handy ditty that spells what it swells: 1-888-Deep-SNO