Feature: 10 Activities That Aren’t Skiing

10 Activities That Aren’t Skiing

Yes, Jackson Hole has epic alpine skiing, but that’s not all there is to do in the winter.

// By Samantha Simma

The barks and howls of Alaskan sled dogs create a chaotic chorus in the yard outside the mushers’ hut at Togwotee Mountain Lodge, the home base for Continental Divide Dog Sled Adventures. But once in their harnesses, the canine athletes are all business—quiet and ready to work. With a quick “Hike!” command from their musher, the dogs, harnessed together as a team, take off, light on their feet even on snow and now nearly silent. The passenger secured in the sled’s cargo bed (and bundled up against the cold) finds the scenery—the tops of the Tetons poke through brief openings in the pine forest—as awe-inspiring as the soft whoosh of the sled’s runners on the groomed track is soothing. “Beyond the slopes of Snow King, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and Grand Targhee, there is so much our destination offers,” says Cory Carlson, chair of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. Here are our top 10 recommendations (in no particular order).

NUMBER 1: Get Your Glide On
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

There’s more to do in Jackson Hole besides steep and deep,” says Nancy Leon, executive director of JH Nordic (jhnordic.com; read more about Leon and jhnordic.com on page 59). “We have more than 100 trails on our website—200 miles of groomed trails and around 400 miles of ungroomed trails.” Compared to downhill skiing, cross-country skiing has a flatter learning curve; it is doable for all ages—Leon has friends in their eighties who still get out—and skill levels. “It’s easy to put on a pair of Nordic skis and, within half an hour, be moving on the snow,” says Leon. JHNordic.com is the resource for trail maps, grooming and conditions reports, and equipment rentals and guides.

NUMBER 2: Ice, Ice Baby
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

Figure skater and 1994 Olympic silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan took to the ice at the Rink on the Commons in Teton Village(skate rentals for $12, $8 with local ID; jacksonhole.com)when she was here on vacation. This rink is at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) and has a warming hut with skate rentals and hot chocolate. It’s next to the resort’s fantastical larger-than-life ice forest, where kids are encouraged to play on and in snow castles, trees, slides, and igloos. Over at the base of Snow King Mountain just south of downtown Jackson, Snow King Sports and Event Center contains Jackson’s only indoor rink ($8 for adults, $6 for kids, $5 skate rentals; snowkingsec.com). This rink is heavy with hockey leagues, but there is open skating daily. The Winter Wonderland rink inside the Jackson Town Square ($15 skate rentals, $8 with local ID; gtsa.us)lives up to its name; skate beneath the glow of the neon lights of the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar’s bucking bronc and the twinkling of thousands of lights wrapped around the trees towering above. If you’re a BYOS (Bring Your Own Skates) kind of person, check out one of the three outdoor rinks maintained by Teton County Parks and Recreation (free; tetonwyo.org). None of these offer rentals, but they’re rich with local flavor.

NUMBER 3: Maximize Your Footprint
Photo by Amber Baesler

“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” says Catherine Shill of the Hole Hiking Experience, which offers naturalist-led snowshoe tours at different locations around the valley (tours from $280; holehike.com). “Snowshoeing is a sport that can be enjoyed by anyone with the desire to explore the winter environment. It is truly winter walking, so distance and elevation can be customized to make the tour enjoyable for all levels.” EcoTour Adventures does snowshoe tours in Grand Teton National Park (tours from $135; jhecotouradventures.com). You don’t need a guide to snowshoe, though. There are dozens of trails and areas you can hit on your own, including Teton Pass, Cache Creek, and Grand Teton National Park (Teton Backcountry Rentals and Skinny Skis rent snowshoes). The park is the place to go for big views, with opportunities to traipse over the frozen Bradley and Taggert Lakes at the mouth of Avalanche Canyon. Cache Creek never completely freezes, allowing snowshoers to walk alongside a literal babbling brook and maybe spot a moose. Teton Pass is often less busy than the park and Cache Creek; the main trailhead is at the end of Old Pass Road. Trails start in the trees before gaining elevation to sprawling vistas of the Snake River and valley.

NUMBER 4: Who Let the Dogs Out?
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

Whether as a passenger or musher, when you’re behind a team of sled dogs as they charge across the snow, there’s no wrong way to experience dog sledding. Far from your average house pet, sled dogs deliver with strength, speed, and stamina, making dog sledding an efficient form of winter tundra transportation. Here though, it’s for enjoyment. Continental Divide Dog Sled Adventures (tours from $250 per person; dogsledadventures.com) operates out of Togwotee Mountain Lodge atop the Continental Divide—where the trails wind through thick pine forests and the Tetons occasionally peak through. Call of the Wyld leads one-hour tours at the base of the Tetons (tours from $350 per sled; callofthewyld.com)near Teton Village. Here the trees are minimal, affording unobstructed mountain views. Jackson Hole Iditarod Dog Sled Tours (tours from $310 per guest; jhsleddog.com), the area’s original dog-sledding outfitter—founder and eight-time Iditarod veteran Frank Teasley began taking guests out in 1981—operates in the Hoback River Canyon, and tours include a stop at Granite Hot Springs, which is only accessible in the winter via dog sled, snowmobile, cross-country skis, or a fat bike. 

NUMBER 5: Sleigh All Day
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

On the northern edge of the town of Jackson, a wildlife fence marks the end of residential neighborhoods and the start of the National Elk Refuge. Spreading north to the boundary of Grand Teton National Park and east to the base of the Gros Ventre Range, the refuge’s 24,700 acres are the winter home of about 8,000 elk, which migrate down to the flats from the mountains. In clusters cows and bulls mingle, the bulls’ racks branching out and back from the tops of their heads. You can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride right into the herd. The cold, quiet air is interrupted only by the facts shared by the Double H Bar sleigh ride leaders (tours from $15 for children, $27 for adults; nersleighrides.com). With a blanket covering your lap, don’t be surprised if you’re awed into silence as the sleigh carries you within a snowball’s throw of the elk. (Throwing a snowball at the elk is illegal though; instead, see if you can spot a “monarch,” a bull elk with 16 points on its antlers.)

NUMBER 6: Make Some Noise
Photo by Ryan Dorgan

Put on a helmet and place your thumb on the throttle during a day of snowmobiling. Teton Tour Company (tours from $260 per driver; tetontourco.com), Scenic Safaris (tours from $265 per person, private tours from $1,900 for two people; scenic-safaris.com), and Old Faithful Snowmobile Tours (tours from $325 per driver; snowmobilingtours.com) provide guests with full- and half-day tour options with destinations that include Yellowstone National Park, the Continental Divide, and Granite Hot Springs. In and around Jackson Hole, hundreds of groomed trails wind over the mountains and through the woods. Guided tours often include all the snow gear you’ll need, as well as meals and a training session on how to safely operate your machine. For experienced sledders, an off-trail adventure in over-the-hood powder is easy to access if you rent a snowmobile from Leisure Sports or Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals. Just be sure to make a plan before departing—it’s easy to get turned around while carving doughnuts through untracked snow.

NUMBER 7: Go for a Spin
Photo by Price Chambers

Those with a need for speed will be satisfied at Snow King Mountain’s King Tubes ($20 for one hour; snowkingmountain.com). Your partner in crime for this activity is your tube; together you will travel about 300 feet up the mountain standing on a Magic Carpet lift. From the top of the lift, you look down on three tubing lanes, and, in the distance, the tippiest tops of the Tetons. But tubing isn’t about the views, it’s about the sting of cold air on your cheeks and the thrill of spinning down the slopes. (You’re kept from flying out of the tubing lanes by large berms of snow between lanes and at the bottom.) Riders as short as 42 inches are welcome, and those of all ages have been known to squeal with delight during the descent. For a full day of fun, this activity can be purchased as part of Snow King Mountain’s Big King Pass ($90 per pass; snowkingmountain.com), which also includes access to the resort’s ski lifts and Cowboy Coaster.

NUMBER 8: Where the Wild Things Are
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

Bull moose, their paddles wide and almost as white as the snow, forage for vegetation among the sage flats while herds of bison gather on the frozen tundra, their breath crystallizing in sparkling clouds as soon as it leaves their nostrils. Wildlife-viewing opportunities do not disappear during the winter. You can do this on your own, but Jackson Hole EcoTour guide Tenley Thompson says hiring a wildlife guide is the best way to maximize your time in the park. “Guides know wildlife hotspots and can customize your experience to see the animals you want to see,” she says. In and around Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park, EcoTour Adventures (tours from $140 jhecotouradventures.com), Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris (tours from $145; jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com), and Scenic Safaris (tours from $160, scenic-safaris.com)take guests on half-, full- and multiday trips in heated 4×4 vehicles. Guides are armed with the best binoculars and spotting scopes. A four-hour tour will likely grant you sightings of bighorn sheep clattering along cliff edges and bald eagles soaring overhead; if your goal is to spot a wolf, a multiday tour is your best chance.

NUMBER 9: Seek Out Serenity
Photo by Price Chambers

“I see people seeking relief from dry air, windburn, extreme temperatures, and the altitude,” says Grace Mahoney, an esthetician and owner of Grace Spa. “[These conditions] lead to dry, dehydrated skin.” To remedy these ailments, there are almost one dozen spas throughout the valley. The Hydrating Facial at Grace Spa ($125; gracespajh.com) is beneficial for rejuvenating mountain-wary skin. For all-over hydration, the spa at Four Seasons Resort and Residences’ Alpine Glow Body Wrap ($250; fourseasons.com) uses the hydrating powers of arnica and chamomile to restore moisture to even the driest skin. At Teton Mountain Lodge’s SpaTerre, you can get an oxygen treatment and soak in the rooftop hot tub. The oxygen treatment (10 minutes for $20, 25 minutes for $30; tetonlodge.com) can be added to any spa service, and the hot tub is available to all spa clients.

NUMBER 10: Après Scene
Photo by Bradly J. Boner

At the Mangy Moose(3295 Village Dr.,Teton Village, mangymoose.com), there’s a taxidermied moose hanging from the ceiling and a stage that showcases both local and national bands, including Jason Aldean and Blues Traveler. Find a more refined atmosphere—that’s nonetheless lively—at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences’ Handle Bar (7680 Granite Loop Rd., Teton Village, fourseasons.com/jacksonhole). Adjacent to JHMR’s Teewinot ski lift, the Handle Bar pours draft beers into giant glass boots, which you can enjoy inside or next to an outdoor fireplace on the bar’s patio. Near downtown Jackson, Snake River Brewing (265 S. Millward St., Jackson, snakeriverbrewing.com) opened in 1994 as Wyoming’s first brewery. Since then it’s twice been named Small Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and has also developed a menu of comfort food equal to its beers. JH