The population of the state of Wyoming is just under 500,000 people. Most of the crew that convened for a ski trip at Jackson Hole hail from Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city pushing near the 1 million mark. The comparison shows just how much space the cowboys, elk and skiers have in Teton country. The city of Jackson’s population is 9,800, home to Snow King Resort that no one has heard of because of their close neighbor Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Most tourists flock to Teton Village for the upper crust privilege of ski-in-ski-out lodging. For those on a budget, stay at the Antler Inn in town for $75 a night and grab a local brew at Snake River Brewing Company. Lucky for me, I got to do both!
It was 58 degrees and raining sideways at GRR airport when Josh dropped me off. It’s supposed to be winter in Michigan but I had to fly west to Wyoming to find some fresh snow. Team Jackson Hole included travel buddies Ginger and Craig, plus they assembled a group of friends including the Tottens (Kit & Jeff), another Jeff and Jim from Aspen. Ginger booked a Nez Perce condo, no one could figure out the French Indian pronunciation during our stay. Three of the seven (me and the two guys I did not know) were coming in a day early to mingle with the locals. In truth, I flew on a Tuesday to save a bundle of cash.
Only two of seven made it into town Tuesday. Jim drove in from the Aspen area (11 hours of snow-covered state highways). Jeff’s flight was delayed so he missed his connection. I had the afternoon to check in and explore the town solo. The scenery was epic. The airport is a neighbor to Teton National Park, plus my shuttle drove right by the National Elk Refuge. Hundreds of elk with huge racks meandered along the snowy valley. Jackson is the perfect mountain town set against Snow King’s steep runs to the south. On a recommendation, I stopped at the town square to walk under the elk antler arches that are assembled each year.
Bundled up against the single digit temperatures, I shortened my walking tour and bellied up at Snake River Brewing during happy hour, ordered a flight followed by a burger and plate of fries. The Zonker Stout was a standout with the Jenny Lake Lager a close second. I sipped and munched waiting on my new friend Jim. He arrived in time for a late dinner, parched from the long drive. We caught up and made a plan for the next day when the whole crew would arrive.
Jim and I got a bonus day of skiing on Wednesday. I discovered that Jim is the older, more professionally accomplished version of Spicoli. We shopped for groceries and picked up the condo keys at the real estate office before heading to the mountain. We were on the slopes by 11, the Wyoming sun began to warm the crispy snow. I was no match for Jim’s native skiing ability. So we rode the chair together, then from the top he’d ski the trees or down a black and I chose the blues for my ill-equipped non-seasoned sea-level legs. The entire crew was united at the Mangy Moose that afternoon for the first of many après ski happy hours. The next few days became a blur of bourbon and beer toasts, squeezing our tortured legs in our ski boots. Each morning, putting on Ginger’s new ski boots turned out to be a two-person quest. After her first unsuccessful attempt, she called to Craig for help, “Honey, will you come over here and pull my tongue out!”
Per Jim’s bidding, he implored us all to, “Send it, dudes,” aka let it rip down the 4000 plus of vertical feet. Sending it became our trip mantra! Jackson Hole is a steep mountain, known for its abundance of expert terrain. At JH, the greens are blues and blues would be black at most resorts. Our legs screamed at us on this trip but the snow conditions, the spectacular views and a giant hot tub tilted the scale. I skied with the girls the next days while Jim took the guys in search of powder stashes in the bowls off the tram. Ginger, Kit and I conferred and determined we were sending it, but most likely ground, not express or overnight! This was evidenced by the number of times we stopped to rest our legs on Easy Does It off the Casper Chairlift.
The food and companionship were just as solid as the skiing and the mountain. Evenings, Craig would stoke a fire, we watched Olympic skiers and curlers in Peong Chang and Jim cued up hipster party music mix while we noshed on steaks, grilled asparagus with a bottle or three of red. On a particularly festive Thursday, we awarded Kit and Ginger the gold and silver medals respectively in the category of partying prowess.
After three days of skiing, my legs were failing to send so I hopped a flight home on Saturday and wished my new friends, the elk and the panoramic Grand Tetons adieu.