1. Hit the Slopes!
With an average annual snowfall of more than 500 inches, skiing in and around the Tetons falls well into the world-class category.
Snow King, known as the “Town Hill,” offers a lot for such a small area. The hill boasts one of the steepest sustained pitches, top-to-bottom, of any area in the lower 48. A favorite lunchtime destination for locals, it hosts many national ski teams during the early season and local, state and regional Alpine races throughout the winter. The King also offers night skiing under the lights until 7 p.m.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort celebrated its 50th season in 2015-16 and has been named the No. 1 Ski Resort in North America by Forbes magazine five years in a row. Considered the closest to a European ski experience within the U.S., JHMR boasts acres of expert terrain and out-of-bound skiing, plus the longest continuous vertical rise of any ski area in the country: 4,139 feet. This year, the resort welcomes a second gondola lift!
Grand Targhee Resort is located on the typically snowier west side of the Tetons in Alta, Wyoming, and is known for the most powder days of any ski area in the country. With a vertical drop of 2,270 feet, it offers a mellower atmosphere with excellent skiing for all abilities and plenty of challenges if you look for them.
2. Play in the Snow
• Old Pass Road, Cache Creek Trail, R Park and Rangeview Park are popular places to sled and play in the snow. You can purchase sleds, snow tubes and flying saucers at K Mart or Headwall Sports, or check with your hotel to see if they have any for guests to use.
• King Tubes (Snow King Mountain Resort). Anyone more than 42″ tall can snow tube. Cost: ages 14 and up one hour/$20; kids 13 and under/ $15. Buy an extra hour for only $5. Open Tuesday through Friday 2 to 7 p.m., weekends and holidays 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; closed Mondays (except Presidents Day).
• Grand Targhee Resort Tubing Park. A magic carpet whisks you up the hill for each tube run. Tickets are $14. Open Wednesday through Friday 3 to 7 p.m., weekends noon to 7 p.m.
3. Go Snowmobiling!
With hundreds of miles of trails and some of the most beautiful winter terrain in the country to explore, a snowmobile trip in Jackson Hole is a day you won't soon forget. Rent a snowmobile or join an outfitter for guided half- and full-day tours. Tours are mostly early wake-up affairs that make the most of an entire day of snowmobiling.
Where to go:
- Yellowstone National Park is closed to vehicular traffic in winter, making a snowmobile tour on the park’s snow-covered roads a special, once in a lifetime experience.
- Togwotee Pass: Zoom along the Continental Divide trail system on the No. 1 ranked snowmobile terrain in the country.
- Cruise out to Granite Hot Springs and then hop into the welcoming thermal pool.
Or ... GO COACH!
Experience the snow-covered roads of Yellowstone National Park in a snowcoach—one of the only ways to access Old Faithful in the winter. Snowcoach tours in the park offer a warmer, more social and relaxing alternative to snowmobiling for you and your group. Snowcoach tours also offer guided interpretations of the wildlife, history and geological features of the world's first national park.
4. Take a Sleigh Ride
Riding on a horse-drawn sleigh is one of the most unique ways to enjoy the winter landscape and to get up close to certain species of wildlife. Cozy up with a lap robe, sip hot mulled cider and enjoy this classic winter pastime as you absorb Jackson Hole's spectacular scenery.
• Refuge tours: If you want to get really close to Jackson Hole's resident elk, consider a sleigh ride on the National Elk Refuge. Tours are conducted by the Bar-T-Five's Elk Refuge Scenic Tours and depart from the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center at 532 North Cache in Jackson between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, from December 17th to early April. Dress warmly, as you will be sitting still for about an hour in the open sleigh.
• Dinner rides: A dinner sleigh ride is a dramatic way to cap off a day in the snow. Mill Iron Ranch offers rides on their ranch among a wintering herd of about 1,500 elk, followed by their famous T-bone steak dinner. Spring Creek Resort offers sleigh rides around the top of East Gros Ventre Butte, affording unsurpassed views of the Tetons on one side and the twinkling lights of Jackson on the other.
7. Get Into the Backcountry
Jackson Hole is internationally renowned for its backcountry skiing. With access available from within the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, atop Teton Pass and Grand Teton National Park, getting into the backcountry is easier than ever. But be warned: it's also easier than ever to find yourself in trouble. Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers and Grand Teton park rangers are dispatched several times a year to extract the unaware or unprepared from the Teton backcountry.
All backcountry travelers, regardless of their chosen mode of travel—Alpine or Nordic skis, snowshoes or ice ax and crampons (for ice climbers)—need to be prepared for and educated about every possible condition and scenario. An avalanche course is highly recommended. Start at a local shop like Teton Mountaineering or Wilson Backcountry Sports to find out what information and gear is required for a successful backcountry experience. Or contact a local guide company, such as Exum Mountain Guides or Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, about available courses and trips. Always check the avalanche conditions at jhavalanche.org.
5. Take a Dog Sled Tour
Imagine silently gliding through the snow on a sled powered only by an experienced team of Alaskan Huskies. Dog sledding tours have a wide range of costs because they are very customizable, from half-days to multi-overnights. It’s best to call the outfitters and discuss trip options and costs with them for the most clarity and choice.
Watch a dog sled race!
Held during Jackson Hole's annual WinterFest in late January/early February, the Eukanuba Stage Stop Sled Dog Race is the only race of its kind. It starts on Jackson Town Square and traverses four states before finishing in Evanston, Wyoming.
6. Take To the Ice
Free outdoor rinks
"Winter Wonderland" on Town Square: Free. Hours: Anytime if you have your own skates. The rink is manned from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and noon to 9 p.m. on weekends; free hot chocolate and skate rentals ($5) are available in the Stage Stop building.
Powderhorn Park Rink: Free. Family skate time is noon to 8:30 p.m. daily.
Rodeo Grounds Rink: Free. Family skate time is 2 to 4 p.m. daily.
Owen Bircher Park Rink (Wilson): Family skate time is noon to 2 p.m. daily.
Snow King Sports and Events Center ice arena: Public ice skating Monday to Friday, noon to 2 p.m.. Cost: adults $8/kids $6; rentals $5. Call 307-201-1633.
Jackson Hole Moose Hockey: The Moose play a 30-game home schedule at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights throughout the winter at the Snow King Sports and Events Center ice arena. Cost: adults $10/kids $5. For more information, call 307-201-1633 or visit moose.pucksystems2.com.
8. Explore the Best Nordic Trails
Take in Jackson Hole’s amazing wilderness on cross-country skis, snowshoes or a “fat bike.” With most of the roads in Grand Teton National Park closed in the winter, a half- or full-day cross-country ski or snowshoe tour with an outfitter such as Hole Hiking Experience offers a truly unique glimpse into the park's winter habitat. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort also offers guided tours, classes and rental gear.
Day passes are available to groomed trail systems of Teton Pines Cross Country Ski Center, Grand Targhee Nordic Ski Area and Trail Creek Nordic Center. Looking for an all-inclusive experience? Stay in a cozy cabin at Triangle X Guest Ranch, the only concession open in Grand Teton National Park in the winter, which offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and wildlife viewing right outside your front door. Or go to Brooks Lake Lodge & Spa, on the eastern edge of Jackson Hole, where you can enjoy miles of Nordic trails, plus ice fishing, snowmobiling and more.
For Do-It-Yourselfer’s, multiple options are also available in town and throughout the valley. Popular destinations include the Cache Creek and Game Creek trails near the town of Jackson, the Snake River levee at Emily Stevens Park and the Wilson Centennial Pathway. In Grand Teton National Park, skiers and snowshoers enjoy the trails to Bradley and Taggart lakes or the Phelps Lake overlook.
9. Go Heli-skiing or Snowcatting
Talk about splurge-worthy experiences! Here are two unique snowy adventures well worth the price of admission.
Fill your day with run after run of untouched powder by heli-skiing. Your flight with High Mountain Heli-Skiing will take you deep into the mountains around Jackson Hole, where a guide will point out the best bowls, chutes and glades to make your turns of a lifetime.
Sign up for a day of Snowcat skiing to experience a memorable ride that delivers untracked snow off the beaten path. Most trips provide guides, lunch and enough powder laps to tire out even the strongest legs. Visit Jackson's neighbor to the west, Grand Targhee, and relish in a day of Snowcat skiing on Peaked Mountain.
10. Watch Winter Wildlife
Though the bears are still hibernating, winter is a good time to see large animals in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Elk and moose migrate to lower elevations in winter and the lack of leafy cover combined with the valley's snowpack make for easy viewing.
For the best chance of seeing critters of all shapes and sizes, embark on a half- or full-day trip with one of the area's experienced wildlife safari outfitters. Guided by a trained biologist and conducted from the comfort of a specially equipped van with spotting scopes and a large sunroof, you will remember this excursion forever.
You'll definitely catch more drama in the winter and never more so than during the chilliest months of December and January. Competition for space and food is increased, while predators like wolves and mountain lions take advantage of prey weakened by the harsh conditions. Late winter is also mating season for wolves, coyotes, bald eagles, owls and ravens.
The Last Word
As you can see, there are many ways to keep yourself occupied during a jam-packed winter sojourn in Jackson Hole. Rather than closing off adventures, the snow opens up new vistas, routes of exploration and days of fun that match every activity level. For more ideas on how to make the most of your winter's stay in the valley, check out some trip descriptions and a checklist for a day off the slopes.