Words and Photos by: Rachael Hodson
For most, the thought of skiing Jackson Hole, Wyoming conjures up images of breathtaking scenery, jaw dropping terrain, fat skis and deep powder. With over 4000 feet of vertical and some of the steepest terrain available in the lower 48, expert skiers and snowboarders head to Jackson Hole for the ultimate in big mountain riding. What you may not consider, however, is that Jackson Hole is also the ideal place for that quintessential family ski experience.
Jackson Hole offers skiing at its most raw—untamed and extreme. But there is plenty of terrain for all levels, an esteemed ski school and an engaging day care if your kids aren’t quite ready to hit the slopes. It is also home to abundant wildlife, fabulous restaurants, wooden boardwalks, and of course, cowboys in tight jeans. This is cowboy land and hard core. Your little cowboys and cowgirls will find plenty of Wild West fun just for them! Here are a few places to hit to get the most out of your Jackson Hole family vacation
Stay: There are many exceptional accommodations in the city of Jackson, as well as Teton Village, where the ski area is, but the Teton Mountain Lodgewas the perfect spot to call home for three days with two rambunctious boys.
Minimal schlep to the slopes means happy parents and happy children. With upscale rooms, friendly staff and an in-house restaurant, The Spur (who’s Marley Nachos are out of this world), The TML, as locals call it, is an ideal location for families and is comfortably situated within walking distance of Jackson’s lifts. The warm indoor pool and hot tub offer hours of soaking and child’s play.
Eat: After the 5 1/2 hour drive from Salt Lake City with my two young sons, we were ready for some bang-up grub. With a heaping plate of ribs and fries found on the children’s menu, a stop at Bubba’s BBQ deliciously took care of our hunger and my wallet couldn’t have approved more.
Another locals favorite, The Merry Piglets, features fresh Mexican food prepared to order with pasture-raised meats. Some highlights include mahi-mahi fish tacos, enchiladas and my boys’ favorite, carnita’s burritos.
The Snake River Brewery & Restaurant is loud and fun and no one will mind your children letting off a little steam. Classic, affordable bar food will send you home full and ready for a new day. Don’t miss the homemade S’mores.
While skiing, lunch at Rendezvous, found at the top of the Bridger Gondola, is an impressive place to relax and unwind. The wraps are delish and the sliders, grilled up especially for kids, were an enormous hit.
You can’t really visit Jackson without a feast at the Mangy Moose with its cowboy motif and some serious western food that you kids will love. It’s classic Jackson and it’s tradition. Find some friends, bring the kids and dig into some Moose wings and shrooms. You’re not going to find light-hearted sissy food here. Cowboy up and chow down. Another local hit are the World Famous Huevos Rancheros at Nora’s in Wilson. Heard on the street: “You will give up your mom’s breakfast for Nora’s.”
Things to do off the slopes: We arrived with a few hours to spare before check-in at the Teton Mountain Lodge, so we decided to hit King Tubes at Snow King ski area. We spent the next two hours enjoying the exciting and nicely maintained hill virtually to ourselves. Snowking is located right in the city of Jackson, so you don’t have far to go to grab food once the tubing adventure is done.
The National Elk Refuge offers the chance to see wide open spaces and Rocky Mountain Elk battling it out for supremacy. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, who help to preserve, protect and manage one of America’s most significant elk herds, provides a way for the public to access these magnificent creatures by way of horse drawn sleigh. It is an opportunity not to be missed! Although, the sleigh rides have become the main attraction, take the time to enjoy the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center. Activities and special events are also offered which should prove to be a worthwhile and educational experience for your children (especially when they are skipping school like mine were).
My first impression of the new Jackson Hole Children’s Museum was that it was small and I immediately worried that my 10 year old would lose interest. As KJ Morris, designer, founder and director wandered through with me, her enthusiasm for the building, her creative spaces and the children of Jackson Hole renewed my curiosity and interest. KJ has spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how she could fascinate and hold children’s attention as they touch, play and learn in the facility. At the end of our visit, my boys did not want to leave. A bribe with a ride on the indoor zip line finally helped convince them.
A few other noteworthy things to do:
Open gym and play at Axis Gymnastics. If you’re lucky, you will be in town for Kid’s Night Out.
Indoor Ice Skating at Snow King or outdoor in the town square.
Snowshoeing Grand Teton National Park with a local naturalist.
Nordic skiing around Emily’s Pond or on Cache Creek Trail.
Take your kids on the adventure of a lifetime and head out with Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours. Visitors love this and the tours fill up fast.
Take the tour up Granite Creek Canyon and wonder at the wildlife.
Family adventures and activities in the Hole are endless. Visit the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce for more ideas and escapades with your little ones.
Ski: As an ex-ski instructor and competitor, I rarely send my children for lessons, but the word on the street was that JHMR has possibly the best ski school and daycare in the country. With that in mind, I handed my my youngest son, age 7, over to the Rough Riders at the Jackson Hole Ski Schoolfor what may have possibly been his favorite day of skiing ever. Isaac was over the moon with his instructors, Ryan Haight and Taylor Upton, who made his day one to remember. They showed him secret stash parks, how to hit the log slides and catch a little air. He was full of insider Jackson Hole info by the time we hooked up with him at the end of the day.
With specialized programs, top-notch instructors, insane facilities and plenty (really, plenty) of beginner and moderate terrain, I am sure your child will love visiting ski school at JHMR! Although, my older son, age 10, was happiest ripping the steep chutes and bowls that make Jackson famous, he was also content checking out the new, updated Casper Lift and intermediate terrain and stash parks found mid-mountain. Both Casper and Apres Vous lifts offer thrilling bumps, cruisers, trees and parks for smaller adventurers and the fairer hearted.
With the end in sight, we woke up early the next to pack the car and hit the Hole for a few last laps on the tram and gondola. Wind packed powder on the top and near whiteout conditions led to some heart pounding, adrenaline pumped, lines for my boys. What’s Jackson without a little extreme attached anyways? The day wound down with a little sunshine and some last park hits before saying goodbye to the amazing ice castle found in the village commons. The worst part about Jackson Hole might just be the goodbyes.