The Village Commons

An ice rink (hot chocolate nearby) and life-size snow sculptures that kids are encouraged to play on at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort? Yes, please. 

By Whitney Royster //  Photography by ryan dorgan

Families gather around the Village Commons ice rink for a presentation of Peter and the Wolf.

GOING ON A SKI vacation with your family is a lot of work. OMG. The planning, the gear, the expense, the whining. Just how many suitcases, exactly, did you pack? Did you need a support vehicle? Getting on the first chairlift is like an Olympic gold medal. You’ve made it. You did it. It’s too bad the chairlift doesn’t allow for a nap.

While parents have yet to figure out how to nap on chairlifts—if you have, please share your secret with me—elsewhere in Teton Village, the Powers That Be are trying to make it easy for families. Witness the Village Commons. Stretching from behind the tram to the Mangy Moose Saloon, the park, which is a grassy field, patio, and water park in summer, is transformed in winter to a celebration of ice and snow where kids can run around (and parents can sit down by a warming fire pit).

The kids climb into snow caves and up the side of a snow castle. Maybe they’ll slide down the castle’s other side. They inch dangerously close to a snow arch under which people are walking, and if you are lucky, they don’t try to peg anyone with snowballs.

The area is run by the Teton Village Association (TVA)—a sort of micro Chamber of Commerce just for Teton Village—and is created in partnership with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR). The specific departments at JHMR that help with the park are those who have snowmakers, and/or chainsaws. In other words, everyone’s favorite kind of partners. “We just want to make a great, fun, family-friendly space in the commons,” says Melissa Turley, TVA president. The summer vibe has been a huge hit. “It’s lively and people love to hang out. We’re trying to carry that over in to the winter. That was the goal originally.”

SO HOW DOES it work? Like this: You take your skis off, hopefully change out of both your boots and the kids’ boots (the best part of skiing—admit it), and walk out there. Then you tell your kids to go play. Then you do the best thing you will do on your vacation—you sit down. I promise it will be awesome.

The kids climb into snow caves and up the side of a snow castle. Maybe they’ll slide down the castle’s other side. They inch dangerously close to a snow arch under which people are walking, and if you are lucky, they don’t try to peg anyone with snowballs. They storm snow castles and raid snow villages. They rescue imaginary prisoners and chase unicorns, easily this valley’s most elusive wildlife. They get lost in the snow forest.

There is also an ice skating pond, which is the site of the water pop jets in summer. New this year is a mini-Zamboni, which will smooth the ice surface. Bring your own skates and skate for free—that’s what Olympic figure skating medalist Nancy Kerrigan did last year—or rent skates on site for $7. The ice rink is subject to weather of course. Last year, warm weather melted it and closed the area to skating for several weeks in January, but this is usually not a problem Jackson Hole has.

LOCALS AND REGULAR visitors may remember the area was the site of a sledding hill for nearly a decade. Then a snow skate park came in—a mini-terrain park for people to try on mini-skis and do mini-jumps and mini-tricks on rails and other (mini) obstacles. Today Raynon D’Arge is JHMR’s manager of Park and Pipe Operations. In addition to helping with the Village Commons, in winter he manages the terrain and stash parks and in summer the resort’s mountain biking and hiking trails. 

With a crew of a dozen or so, D’Arge first built the snow skate park, then that grew to include snow sculptures. “It’s been an evolution,” he says. The skate park had two little castle creations. “Like, two piles of snow that we shaped basically into little towers. The kids loved those so much that we ended up not doing the snow skate [park], but transformed it into a sledding hill and different types of snow castles.”

D’Arge knows what he’s doing not because he has a degree in Snow Castle Management, but because he is cooler than you are. Way cooler. He grew up in Elk Mountain, Wyoming, (you’ve been near there if you have driven I-80 from Rawlins to Laramie), population 200. “We would build snow forts so big people were coming off the interstate just to look at it,” he says. “We had forty people come and stand in one room. We’d get all my friends and town kids with shovels.” Now he does it at a grown-up level, complete with tools specifically designed for building snow caves, like an overhead digging shovel.

The crew puts the sculptures together in a quick span of three days, sometimes, when weather permits, before Christmas. The snowmakers at JHMR start the project by blowing a huge pile of snow in the area. People call it the “snowmaking whale.” It gets a hard shell, but the inside is gooey and soft. D’Arge’s crew moves the gooey snow around, and then starts carving it. Every year they do something different. One year they used computer drawings to help. Last winter, D’Arge’s 10-year-old daughter, Alena, came up with the idea of a snow forest. They also build overhead bridges and archways. (By last winter’s end, these had morphed to look like the collapsed Coliseum.) Kids precariously crossed drawbridges, and parents? Parents pulled in closer to the fire. 

At night, the Village Commons gets even cooler. Last winter, there was a temporary snow/ice sculpture by Jackson Hole Public Art staffer and local king of whimsy and fun Bland Hoke Jr.: The Beacon. The Beacon is difficult to describe but we’ll try: It was a 10-foot-tall, 32-foot-in-diameter enclosure of ice bubbles, each with glowing LED lights inside. (Hoke made bricks of ice, then drilled a hole into each brick. Insert science about water expanding as it freezes, and you get tiny explosions. “Each one is like its own tiny universe,” Hoke says. Can’t picture it? Search #thebeaconjh. It was highly Instagrammable.

So ultimately, the Village Commons works like this: The kids get hot chocolate; you get beer. In a remarkable thirty-minute interlude in your vacation, no one is whining, no one is cold. No one is hungry, no one is bored. No one is mad at their sibling. Instead, you are all in a glowing, snow fairy-land together.


NUTS & BOLTS

The Village Commons is open 24 hours a day, every day. There is no entrance fee. Skate rentals are $7 per time. BYO skates and skate for free. Even if you don’t ski, the Village Commons is worth the trip from town to Teton Village. Some parents, and we are not naming names, have gone to the Commons with children and created a mini-co-op for the afternoon. “You ‘watch’ the kids for twenty minutes and I’ll shop, then we switch.” Be brave. We are all in this together. 


Kids and parents explore Bland Hoke Jr.’s The Beacon ice sculpture.

Families gather around the Village Commons ice rink for a presentation of Peter and the Wolf.

The Village Commons ice rink has played host to Kazakh and Armenian national champion skater Akop Manoukian and his rendition of Sergei Prokofiev’s classic children’s tale, Peter and the Wolf.

| Posted in JH Living
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