To ski or not to ski—that is the question for wintertime visitors to Jackson Hole, Wyo. The laid-back but sophisticated resort town—an eight-hour drive, or a 90-minute flight, from Denver—offers one of America’s top-rated ski destinations in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. With a 4,105-foot vertical drop, reliable snow, and some of the most challenging skiing in the U.S., Jackson is a great alternative for Coloradans who want to do something different this winter. And if you’re looking for winter pursuits that require less adrenaline, Jackson has plenty to offer for you, too—including spas, a charming museum, wildlife viewing, and a dizzying array of places to eat, drink, and shop.
Head for the hill
About 12 miles from the center of town, Rendezvous Mountain soars to 10,450 feet, looming over the enormous valley known as Jackson Hole. Nestled nearby are luxury hotels like the Four Seasons, Hotel Jackson, and Rusty Parrot Lodge, barebones budget accommodations including Hostel X, and a wide range of condos. On powder days, skiers line up early to ride the 100-passenger aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous, with the hope of inscribing signature tracks in Rendezvous Bowl or the legendary Hobacks. Those more inclined to sightseeing can buy single-ride tickets to the top or up the Bridger Gondola to the 9,000-foot level. Before taking that ride, ask red-jacketed mountain hosts at the base about weather conditions. Snowstorms or fog at the top can limit visibility to 50 feet, rather than the 50 miles available on a clear day. After a day on the hill, squeeze into the upscale slope-side Handle Bar, which often features an inexpensive craft-beer special to go with its $15 cocktails. The nearby Mangy Moose is the place for pitchers of beer, juicy burgers, and live music.
Be hip at the Square
The Town Square is the centerpiece of Jackson, surrounded by shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Each corner of the square features a huge archway made from elk antlers. A small ice rink welcomes skaters, with skate rentals available. With such a chic crowd in the area, art galleries and elegant home-furnishing stores abound in downtown Jackson, including RARE Gallery, Azadi Fine Rugs, and Mountain Trails Gallery. For something a little more modest, check out the jewelry, ceramics, hand-stitched pillows, and other local handicrafts at The Workshop, or pick up a few gifts with a Wyoming flavor at MADE. For outdoor clothing, check out locally owned Stio, with stores downtown and in Teton Village.
Live the wild life
As many as 7,000 elk spend the winter at the National Elk Refuge just outside town. Visitors can take a one-hour sleigh ride for an intimate view of the magnificent animals; ask at the Jackson Hole Yellowstone Greater Visitors Bureau. For a more comprehensive look at the local fauna, book an all-day wildlife tour, like those run by the Teton Science School. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Elk Refuge, the excellent National Museum of Wildlife Art features eight separate galleries with works by such famed artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, John Audubon, Charles Russell, and Carl Rungius.
Deciding where to eat in Jackson may be the most taxing part of your trip, but you can’t go wrong for breakfast at either The Bunnery (omelettes, pancakes, and sticky buns) or the charming Persephone (croissants, brioche, and well-made espresso beverages). At lunchtime, grab a hearty made-to-order sandwich at the deli counter of Lucky’s Market. Or if you’re more into grazing, head to Jackson Whole Grocer and Cafe on the outskirts of town, where you can choose from a variety of self-serve soups, salads, hot entrées, and sandwiches, then chow down in front of the fireplace.
There are bargains to be had at happy hour, including at the cozy cabin of King Sushi, where half-price drinks and sushi specials are offered from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Nearby Teton Tiger evokes the colonial era of Singapore with potent half-price drink specials and savory appetizers from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The choices for high-end dining in Jackson seem endless, but you can’t go wrong at Snake River Grill, whose menu leans toward creative yet hearty dishes like buffalo New York steak and Alaska halibut with honeycrisp apples. Another favorite dining destination is Trio, said to be a favorite of part-time Jackson resident Harrison Ford. Menu items range from artichoke risotto to elk T-bone steak.
For pizza, the relatively new and wildly popular Hand Fire Pizza sits inside a former movie theater, with an open kitchen and a creative menu. Burger mavens often head about four miles south of town to The Bird, which features communal tables and gut-busting hamburgers made from ground brisket.
Get into the beat
The Wort Hotel features dancing to live bands several nights a week, with an emphasis on Americana acts. Around the corner at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, guests perch on bar stools with seats shaped like saddles and kick up their heels to country bands. Every Sunday evening locals descend on the Stagecoach Bar in nearby Wilson, where the Stagecoach Band has performed popular covers for more than 30 years. The photos on the walls include one of Bob Dylan and local skiing legend Bill Briggs jamming in the eighties. Mondays are open mic nights at Dornan’s 12 miles outside of town. With the Tetons looming in the background, locals perform acoustic numbers to a respectful and attentive audience.