Jackson Hole Celebrates The Big 50

18 November 2015
Read Time: 3.6 mins

The ‘Wild One’ turns 50 this year, and we’re not talking about that vintage hit song by Australian rock-and-roll legend Johnny O’Keefe.

The Wild One, in this case, is Jackson Hole, the Wyoming ski resort with a reputation for hardcore terrain and rugged outdoor spirit.

When the resort opens for the 2015/2016 season on Thanksgiving Day, 26 November, it will mark 50 years since it began operating.

As always, there will be plenty of Thanksgiving turkey to bless the annual harvest, but many die-hard skiers will also be celebrating this year for the vision and fortitude shown by Jackson Hole co-founders and passionate skiers Paul McCollister and Alex Morley.

 Jackson Hole founders Paul McCollister and Alex Morley back at the very beginning

Their entrepreneurial drive created the resort, which has become one of the most popular for Australian skiers and snowboarders travelling overseas.

Their vision was also responsible for establishing Jackson Hole’s iconic aerial tram that lifts skiers up Rendezvous Mountain, one of the toughest parts of the 1,000-hectare resort.

Most runs off Rendezvous are at least double-black diamond and from the tram you can also see the famous Corbet’s Couloir that has a reputation as one of the fiercest descents possible. Thousands go to it, according to the resort, to chase “winter glory”.

The narrow chute usually requires a fresh-air drop of several metres, before the skier or snowboarder lands on the 55-degreee slope, with rock faces on either side.

A sharp right-hand turn needs to be executed pretty well straight away, and then the chute starts to fan out on a 45-degree slope. If you make it through to this section, and if you can check your speed successfully, you are probably home and hosed.

 The stomach-tingling beginning of Corbet's Couloir

US Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe, known for his speed and bravery on skis, says: “When you are at the bottom of Corbet’s it doesn’t look too bad. But then as you ski up to it from the top, it almost makes your stomach tingle.”

Moe is talking on a short video that is part of a Born To Be Wild webinar series that has been gradually dropping into You Tube.

The series is by action-sports media company Teton Gravity Research, well known in the ski fraternity for its cutting-edge reels. It includes retro ski footage from private collections and chronicles Jackson Hole’s history with the pumping soundtrack of the Steppenwolf ‘Born To Be Wild’ anthem in the background.

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A Hearty Dump Of Celebrations

The 50th anniversary will mean a season full of celebrations at Jackson Hole, from parties to music concerts and lots of fireworks.

The celebrations start the day after opening, on 27 November, with the resort staging ‘Flashback Friday’. Lift tickets on this day will cost just US$6, the same price they were when Jackson Hole opened in 1965.

 Ride the lifts for $6 to Jackson Hole's alpine wonderland on Flashback Friday

But whether you make it to Jackson Hole for this bargain ticket, or not, the resort is a long-term proposition for Australians and one of the legacies of the 50th year is going to be the new Teton Chairlift.

It opens 19 December, along with the new casual Piste Mountain Bistro at the top of the Bridger Gondola. The day will include an apres party with music, film, hot drinks and fireworks.

The new lift is a detachable high-speed quad, servicing 80 hectares, half of which was previously only accessible by hiking. There are three new groomers off the lift that include intermediate terrain, as well as a steep piste called the Kemmerer Run.

The Kemmerers are the current owners and they have invested heavily over the years to keep the ageing resort in world-class shape. Part of their US$130 million spend, since 1992, has been on Apres Vous Mountain, where the resort’s easiest skiing is found, and where it all started way back in 1965.

 Sometimes you need to walk to find the best runs; it's all part of the Jackson Hole experience

From Cowboys To Wildlife

Jackson Hole is popular for its demanding skiing (try S&S Chute or the Alta Chutes), but its cowboy flavour also has strong allure.

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar epitomises the western vibe like nowhere else. The bar, known for its country music, has hosted Willie Nelson and has saddles as bar stools (don’t get you foot stuck in the stirrups when you dismount!).

It’s in Jackson Hole township, 19 kilometres from the ski runs. The town has a boardwalk at the front of some of its shops (just like you see in Western movies) and a good selection of places to stay and eat.

High on the list of recommendations for dining are the Q Roadhouse and Brewing Company and The Kitchen.

For lodging, consider the Wort Hotel with the Silver Dollar Bar, which has a bar inlaid with silver dollars. The Wort has prime position in the middle of town, but if you don’t mind being in the countryside the Spring Creek Ranch is a good choice.

 Jackson Hole stays true to its cowboy roots

Regular shuttles operate between the town, ranch and ski slopes. Alternatively, you can stay slope side at pretty Teton Village. The ski-in and ski-out luxury Four Seasons hotel is there, as well as a great selection of apartments.

The apartments are a popular choice with Aussie families, who typically stay for about 10 days and save money by preparing meals at ‘home’.

There’s less entertainment in Teton Village than the main town, but one place not to miss is the Mangy Moose Saloon, nominated as one of the 10 hottest apres bars in the world.

Nature lovers will enjoy Jackson Hole.

Yellowstone National Park can be seen on a day trip (try a snowmobile tour) and the National Museum of Wildlife Art has a collection of 5000 items. The museum puts on a Wild Wednesday winter dinner that combines art viewing with good food and wine.

The National Elk Refuge is another attraction not to miss. It is just outside Jackson Hole township and up to 10,000 elk graze there in winter.

You can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride or other nature tours to see the elk, bison, moose and eagles.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals.

Robert Upe

Robert Upe is an award-winning travel writer and editor, specialising in skiing. At last count he had visited 50+ snow resorts. He has co-authored skiing guide books and was travel editor for Fairfax. Off snow, he has a passion for travel in Asia.