Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Stunning - Even If You Don't Ski!

Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Stunning - Even If You Don't Ski!

Why Oming? joked a non-skiing friend when I told him I'd been enjoying a week in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the stunning ski area that had just been celebrating its 50th anniversary. Well here's why!

In December 1965 this cult ski resort opened its slopes in the "cowboy state" to the public for the first time. It was destined to become one of the most iconic ski resorts in the world.

The remote and rugged Wild West outpost in the top left-hand corner of Wyoming is an extension of the awe-inspiring Teton mountain range. In the winter of 2015-16, to celebrate its half century, it staged a spectacular series of events.

Over the previous decade, Jackson Hole, whose slopes are at Teton Village, 12 miles from the cowboy town of Jackson, had invested heavily in new facilities, lifts and terrain upgrades. The new Teton high-speed "quad" chair now allows skiers and snowboarders to access some exhilarating slopes, including some that were previously only "hike-to" terrain.

The resort gets its name from the Virginian trapper David Edward Jackson. The region was originally known as Jackson's Hole, hole being another name for valley - this particular one being 60 miles long and 15 miles wide. When you ski on Jackson's slopes, it sometimes almost feels as if you're drifting through the air on some kind of snowy space walk.

Back then there was a strong French influence too, with French-Canadian trappers hunting in the area - hence the names of Jackson's two joined-at-the-hip peaks of Rendezvous and Apres Vous, as well as some of the names of runs. And then there are the Tetons - an old French word for breasts! In the 1820s, the trappers dubbed these magnificent peaks "Les Trois Tetons" (The Three Breasts). Today they're called The Grand (13,770 feet), The Middle, and The South Teton. Between 1810 and 1840, this area was a crossroads for the six main trapper trails that converged in Jackson's Hole.

Thanks to the Tetons and wild beauty of the valley they overlook, Jackson Hole was used as a backdrop in more than a dozen classic movies, perhaps most notably "Shane". In 1932, John Wayne's first speaking part was featured in "The Big Trail". (It's also believed to be the first time he rode a horse!)

The big attractions today - apart from the Tetons, which rise like giant shark's teeth from the valley floor - are the top-grade skiing, the wild and remote location, and the impressive variety of wildlife, including elk, moose, coyotes and bald eagles. And the largest wolf pack known to exist in the American West roams the Gros Ventre (French for "fat stomach") hill-country across the spectacular valley about 30 miles northeast of Jackson.

It was the resort's founder, Paul McCollister, who named his exciting new ski area Jackson Hole. In the 1940s he'd loved fishing here, in the Snake River and Yellowstone National Park.

At Teton Village, the Mangy Moose is the most popular après establishment, complete with a stuffed moose dangling from the rafters, high above skiers enjoying beers and margaritas after a dynamic day on the slopes. The village is also home to the resort's iconic Tram which McCollister constructed in 1966 to help create a European atmosphere - probably the most famous cable car in the country.

McCollister sold the resort to the Kemmerer family, who'd enjoyed a long association with the area, in 1992. The Bridger Gondola was added in 1998, and the latest version of the Tram was constructed in 2008. A new gondola - the resort's second - is planned for the winter of 2016-17, replacing two old chairlifts: Eagle's Rest and Sweetwater.

The Tram accesses the cream of Jackson's tougher in-bounds terrain (including the infamous Corbet's Couloir, which many people gaze down in awe, but relatively few conquer) while the gondola opens up slopes that are generally more appropriate for intermediates. Which slopes I made for!

Arnie Wilson

I flew to Jackson Hole with United Airlines and stayed at Spring Creek Ranch (1800 Spirit Dance Rd, Jackson, Wyoming 83001, USA - Phone 307-733-8833

http://www.springcreekranch.com/) in a truly magnificent location almost 1,000 feet above the town of Jackson, with the best view of the superb Tetons you could imagine. It's roughly mid-way between the ski area at Teton Village and the picturesque town of Jackson, with its cowboy bars and wooden sidewalks - so handily placed for both skiing and tourist attractions.

I also stayed at the Snake River Lodge in Teton Village - the ski area base.

The UK tour operator Ski Independence http://www.ski-i.com 0131 243 8097 offers seven nights at the Snake River Lodge in low season from £1279 per person based on two sharing. The price includes flights from London, transfers and accommodation on a room only basis.