From swampy marshlands to a major ski resort
By Leslie Hittmeier
The early days at Teton Village, when the base area was home to the Seven Levels Inn, the Aerial Tram dock, the Alpenhof Lodge, and the Sojourner Inn.
IN SPRING OF 1965, a Swiss-German couple living in New Jersey packed their bags, put their three kids in a station wagon, and drove more than two thousand miles to Wyoming. A world-class ski resort was opening near the town of Jackson and they were going to build and run a mountain lodge that paid homage to their European roots. It took Anneliese and Dietrich Oberreit seven months to design and build the Alpenhof Lodge. It opened with the new ski resort that December, just before Christmas. Other buildings in the base area that first winter? There weren’t many: the Aerial Tram dock, which was still under construction (it didn’t open until the resort’s second season), the Sojourner Inn, and the Seven Levels Inn. Out of these, the Alpenhof is the only building still standing. (Of course there’s still a tram dock, but it was redesigned and rebuilt in 2009.)
SIXTY YEARS BEFORE the ski resort, the Alpenhof, and everything that’s come since, Teton Village was known as just “Teton,” and there wasn’t much to it. It was one of the last places in Jackson Hole to be homesteaded; it had dry, rocky soil and swampy marshlands that attracted mosquitoes. In the early 1900s, the base area was Crystal Springs Ranch. In 1947, high school teachers Ken and Shirley Clatterbaugh and their kids, Bruce and Susan, bought this ranch and ran it as a summer camp for girls. The family wrote in a brochure that, “Life at Crystal Springs Ranch gives you a perfect opportunity to wear your beloved blue jeans for all occasions. Yes, even to Church! This costume becomes a necessity since horses will be our mode of transportation.” The ranch had a main house and several smaller nonwinterized guest cabins, which were located where the Alpenhof is today. There was also a recreation hall (for square dancing, of course) and a big barn that sat at the base of Rendezvous Mountain. null
In 1967, Jackson Hole hosted the final international ski race of the inaugural season of the World Cup. After the race, the series champion, France’s Jean-Claude Killy, said about Jackson Hole to Sports Illustrated, “If there is a better ski mountain in United States, I haven’t skied it yet.”
In 1957, 41-year-old Paul McCollister moved to Jackson Hole from the San Francisco Bay Area. Recently retired from the advertising business, he was asked by a San Francisco friend what he was going to do in Wyoming. McCollister’s reply? “I’m not going to do anything. I’m just going to play.” He bought a 398-acre cattle ranch (where Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis is now) and became the president of the Jackson Hole Ski Club, an organization that trained local alpine and Nordic ski racers at Snow King, Wyoming’s first ski resort (it opened in 1939).
McCollister wasn’t idle for long. By 1959, dreaming bigger than Snow King, he started researching locations for a new ski area in Jackson Hole. “I started skiing in 1950. Like most people do, I fell in love with it. It was a new thing in the United States at the time and I thought to myself, gee, it would be kind of nice to own a mountain,” McCollister told Jo Anne Byrd at the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum (JHHS&M) when she recorded his oral history in 1995. (McCollister died in 1999.)
Flying above the valley with his friend, Paul Von Gontard, McCollister spotted Rendezvous Mountain. The day after he saw it from Von Gontard’s plane, McCollister put on skis and climbing skins, removable attachments on the bottom of skis that allow skiers to ski uphill, and explored Rendezvous Mountain. “It was fantastic,” McCollister told the JHHS&M. In 1961, McCollister and his business partner, Alex Morley, a native of Wyoming, World War II vet, and lifelong skier, began purchasing the Crystal Springs Ranch from the Clatterbaughs for $1,355 an acre.
In 1963, McCollister and Morley formed the Jackson Hole Ski Corporation, and in 1964 they started building lifts and cutting runs. In 1965, Apres Vous Mountain, the peak immediately north of Rendezvous Mountain, opened to skiers. In 1966, the Aerial Tram opened, carrying skiers from the base area up more than 4,000 feet to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain.
MCCOLLISTER, WHO HAD skied throughout Europe, and Morley imagined a Bavarian-style base village, but left it to others to develop. The men divided the former Crystal Springs Ranch into 35 commercial lots and 123 residential lots. Commercial lots were $50,000 and residential lots $10,000.
In came the Oberreit family in their station wagon. By Christmas of 1965, they opened the Alpenhof Lodge. Its stucco walls, wood accents, and steeply pitched and shingled roof represented McCollister’s Bavarian vision well. The Oberreits ran the Alpenhof, which originally had 30 rooms (it now has 42) until 1988, when they sold it to Edward and Susan Cunningham, a San Francisco couple that had been longtime guests. The Sojourner Inn and Seven Levels Inn (so named for its three levels on the mountain side and four on the valley side) and Teton Village Sports also opened that December.
The year of 1967 was a big one for the base area: Dave Speck opened the Mangy Moose Spaghetti Emporium, and Alexander Colesberry “Colby” Wilson built and opened Hostel X, so named because a room there was $10 a night. (Wilson had noticed a need for accommodations the average family could afford; Alpenhof rooms were about $30 a night.) Parents staying at the Hostel could leave their kids at its day care center while they skied. Wilson moved his entire family—a wife and five kids—to Teton Village from Cleveland, Ohio. The Wilsons lived in the Hostel and operated it until 2008.
WHEN WILSON’S SON, Benny, was growing up in the ’70s, a Jackson Hole lift ticket was $3 for kids and came with a free hot chocolate. (An adult lift ticket was under $10.) And there were tons of kids around. The mountain manager, Dick Randolph, and his wife, Peg, had seven kids; the Oberreits (of the Alpenhof) had three; and Chad and Ruth Carpenter, part owners of Crystal Springs Inn, had five. Teton Village kids made up half of the school in the community of Wilson. “Sometimes the [school] bus just wouldn’t show up to pick us up and we’d all just go skiing,” Wilson says. “At the time it was just Apres Vous and the tram so the adults would go on the tram and we would have Apres Vous all to ourselves.” The whole ski resort and base area was their backyard. They’d sled and build forts all over; they’d get kicked out of the hotels they lived in and do their homework together outside. “You’d go to your friend’s house for a sleepover and it would be at a hotel. And you’d just have free reign over the place,” Wilson says.
Benny and his friends also ripped. They were taught to ski by some of the best skiers in the world. McCollister had recruited Pepi Stiegler, an Olympic gold medalist slalom skier from Austria, to be the head of the Jackson Hole Ski School. Stiegler convinced his Austrian and German race friends to come for a visit; some ended up staying because the skiing was so good. Among Stiegler’s recruits were Gisala Kenyon, Franz Ernstberger, Walter Perwein, Günther Damith, and Erich Hotter—all of whom had taught at the best European ski schools. In Jackson, you could take a lesson with them for $25.
THINGS IN TETON Village stayed low-key for a couple of decades. “In the ’70s and ’80s there was nobody here,” Wilson says. “Before snowmaking there were a lot of years where there was no snow at the base. The average date the Village used to open was December 15; we had a [season], ’76-’77, when the village opened on January 10 and closed March 15.”
Regardless, the resort’s terrain continued to make a name for itself. In 1967, Jackson Hole hosted the final international ski race of the inaugural season of the World Cup. After the race, the series champion, France’s Jean-Claude Killy, said about Jackson Hole to Sports Illustrated, “If there is a better ski mountain in United States, I haven’t skied it yet.” The resort hosted more international races in 1969 and in 1975. In 1970, it hosted the first national Powder 8 Championships. (It has hosted the Power 8 Nationals every year since, weather permitting.) Skier numbers gradually increased: In its first season, Jackson Hole had 22,200 skier days, a count of the number of skiers over a season. In 1975, this number was up to 101,500. In 1985, it was 213,400.
By the late 1980s, it was obvious the resort needed some serious capital investment. In 1992, McCollister sold Jackson Hole Ski Corp. to siblings Connie, Jay, and Betty Kemmerer, who had a family history in Wyoming stretching back more than one hundred years. Almost immediately the ski area began to see improvements: In 1992, the Thunder chairlift was upgraded from a double to a quad. In 1997, the family made the beginner-friendly Teewinot lift into a high-speed quad and also upgraded the Apres Vous chair from a double to a detachable high-speed quad. In 1997, the ski area’s first gondola, the Bridger Gondola, opened, along with new intermediate trails.
Teton Village began to see changes too. In 1999, the Teton Village Association began to charge for parking in the base area. In 2000, the Snake River Lodge and Spa, the base area’s first spa, was built where the Sojourner Inn formerly sat. The Teton Club, a hotel/fractional-ownership project, opened in 2001. In 2002, Teton Mountain Lodge opened. In 2003, Four Seasons Jackson Hole opened on land formerly home to ramshackle maintenance sheds and a dirt parking lot. In 2008, Teton Village got its first LEED-certified boutique hotel, Hotel Terra, which opened just uphill from the Hostel and was the first Teton Village hotel to be included on Conde Nast Traveler’s annual “Hot List.”
“We’ve seen a lot of changes in this valley,” Paul McCollister said in his 1995 interview with Byrd. “In the old days, when you went to a party everyone went in their Levis and you knew everybody. Today when you go to party everybody is dressed to the nines and you hardly know anybody. There has been a big social change in this valley.” And he said this before the Village got its first, much less its fifth, spa. JH
The many lives of the Seven Levels Inn
Looking for the Seven Levels Inn? It is now the Caldera House. In 2013, four friends purchased the property for $8 million, promptly tore the old building down, and built a six-story, 70,000- square-foot condo-hotel (that opened last winter). Between welcoming the first skiers to Jackson Hole Ski Area in 1965 and its demolition, the Seven Levels led many lives. In the ’80s, it was remodeled and renamed the Village Center Inn. Its basement bar was a favorite hangout of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol for many years before they decamped to “The War Room” in the Sojourner. (Now they relax in the “Boom Boom Room,” which is underneath the tram). For almost a decade, Teton Gravity Research (TGR), a production company often credited with revolutionizing the ski film industry, was headquartered in office space in the Village Center Inn. At one point the Inn was home to a Pizza Hut that sold 5-cent beers. Benny Wilson remembers ordering an entire dishwasher rack of PBR. It was also home to the Bear Claw Café, where the sport of gelande quaffing was created (gelande quaffing is too difficult to explain—Google it). The Bear Claw turned into the Village Café, which served cheap beer and deliciously greasy slices of pizza until it shut down just before the building was torn down.
Paul McCollister and Alex Morley confer at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort during construction of the original Aerial Tram in the mid-1960s. Courtesy photo.
Before Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Ken (pictured) and Shirley Clatterbaugh ran Crystal Springs Ranch, a summer camp for girls, at the base of Rendezvous Mountain. Photo Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum
Pepi Stiegler, an Austrian and the 1964 Olympic champion in slalom racing, was Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s first ski school director. He kept the job until 1994. Jackson Hole News & Guide file photo.