Winter Camping, Warm and Easy

Winter Camping, Warm and Easy

Ever met a yurtmeister before? A yurt, and its accompanying attendant, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort redefine winter camping.

Winter Camping, Warm and Easy

Ever met a yurtmeister before? A yurt, and its accompanying attendant, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort redefine winter camping.


Winter Camping, Warm and Easy
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s backcountry yurt might be the only one in the country to come with a yurtmeister, who is tasked with all of the cooking and cleaning.

WE DON’T KNOW it yet, but the snowstorm we’re camping in will dump enough to keep Jackson Hole Mountain Resort from opening many of its major lifts on time the next morning. Overnight, winds gust to eighty miles an hour at the top of the resort’s tram, up at 10,450 feet on the summit of Rendezvous Mountain. Temperatures aren’t frigid but, in winter in northwest Wyoming, that just means they’re above zero.

Even by winter camping standards, this is miserable weather.

Unless you’re camping in a yurt.

Mother Nature might be having a hissy fit outside, but seven of us are toasty and on the verge of falling into a food coma inside a yurt hidden in a pine forest on the rib between Rock Springs and the South Hoback at JHMR. Best of all? Dinner’s just finished—mixed green salad and pasta with a chunky meat sauce—and none of us have to do dishes. This yurt is the only one I’ve ever been to that comes with a yurtmeister. It’s also the only one in this area that isn’t hidden deep in the backcountry, necessitating hours of slogging on specialized skis or snowshoes to reach. You get to this yurt by skiing down. Take the tram up, enjoy Rendezvous Bowl, and continue down Rendezvous Trail until the traverse to the Hobacks breaks off to the south. Head for the southernmost Hoback. About halfway down, with your yurtmeister holding the resort’s boundary rope up for you to ski under, head out of bounds. The yurt is about five turns down the ridge, tucked into trees so well that skiers passing by below—the yurt is just above the track back into the resort from Rock Springs Bowl, so hundreds of skiers pass it daily—usually have no idea it’s there.

Winter Camping, Warm and Easy
Intermediate and advanced skiers ski down to the yurt from the top of the tram.

EVERYONE IN MY group has done yurt trips and winter camping excursions before, from the Bench Hut in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains to the Beaver Creek Cabin in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, the three yurts belonging to Teton Backcountry Guides on the western side of the Tetons, tents up Garnet Canyon in Grand Teton National Park, and snow caves on Teton Pass.

I definitely prefer yurts to tents. The former—circular, one-room structures that Central Asian nomads have been living in for thousands of years—gives me room to spread out, space to dry wet clothes and boots, a basic kitchen, bunks, and most importantly when spending a night in the wild where temperatures routinely dip below zero, a wood-burning stove.

Tents, which I’ve spent more winter nights in than I can count, are just a pain. Do it to say you’ve done it. Once. And then reserve a yurt, preferably this one since it comes with a yurtmeister and comfortably holds eight. And also because it’s equipped with most everything you need. You’re responsible for a toothbrush, clothing, and alcohol. That’s it. The yurt is stocked with sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and all kitchen utensils. But really, it’s the yurtmeister that makes it.

EVEN BEFORE LAURA Berger calls me three days before my group is going in to go over menu details and explain what she, as our yurtmeister, will do, “yurtmeister” makes me smile. I imagine how such a title would make a résumé stand out.

After learning that Berger will take care of all the hard stuff, from melting water to drink to cooking and cleaning during our stay, I graduate from smiling. I am in love.

Without a yurtmeister, yurts can be fairly labor-intensive. There is wood to split for the wood-burning stove, a fire to build, snow to melt and strain for water, dinner to cook under beams of light from headlamps, and dishes to wash and rinse in water often flecked with pine needles. With a yurtmeister, these chores, of course, don’t go away but the responsibility for them does.

Groups usually meet their yurtmeister by the staff-only entrance to the tram on the deck of the resort’s Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Cafe at 2 p.m. Since several in our group are Rock Springs Yurt veterans, we split into two parties. One opts for a later start and to skin up themselves, meeting Berger at the yurt rather than requiring her to show the way. (Note: This is not recommended—or allowed—unless you’ve been to the yurt before; it’s easy to find from above, but can be hidden from below.) The saner section opts to avail themselves of the fact that this is the easiest, and most fun, overnight yurt to get to in the entire Teton Range, and for several hundred miles in all directions. They take the tram up with Berger—her pack much larger than any of theirs and stuffed with enough appetizers, dinner, and breakfast for seven—and enjoy skiing Rendezvous Bowl and the South Hoback.

Winter Camping, Warm and Easy
The yurt can hold up to eight people and comes equipped with sleeping pads and bags. Even meals are provided. Those overnighting need only bring their personal gear and alcohol.

While Rendezvous Bowl and the South Hoback are ungroomed black diamond runs, Berger says she has helped intermediate skiers get to the yurt. “We just take our time,” she says. Less-skilled skiers can also talk to the resort about getting to the yurt via a combination of snowmobile and snowshoe. Parents with young kids have sometimes done this.

Advanced skiers looking for adventure can hire a trained JHMR backcountry guide for a half-day of sidecountry skiing that ends at the yurt.

Crazy locals can skin up themselves.

IT DOESN’T SEEM possible we will eat all the appetizers—cheese, fruit, and salami with an array of crackers and spreads—but we do. In about ten minutes nonetheless. We decide to give our stomachs a rest by taking a few minutes to unpack. We throw our backpacks onto bunks, which come with two-inch-thick sleeping pads. Some bunks are wide enough for couples to sleep comfortably. Berger stokes the wood-burning stove and then wanders outside to collect snow to melt for water. We get out of our ski clothes. One friend sprawls out on his bunk.

Unpacked, I’m amazed at the breadth of our makeshift bar. The yurt is BYOB and, even though we are all in our late thirties and early forties and no longer capable of the drinking we once were, we come heavily armed. There’s a flask of Baileys. Also one of Drambuie. And, just in case the card and dice games that make up a yurt’s usual evening entertainment get out of hand, an entire bottle of twelve-year-old Macallan. There’s also beer.

As fellow yurtgoer Rebecca begins mixing up hot chocolate with Baileys, I wander out onto the deck, which almost wraps around the yurt, to admire the storm and scope out the bathroom situation. Just in front of the yurt is the “pee tree.” One hundred feet away is a double outhouse, each stall with a toilet seat frame that accommodates WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bags. Berger has already promised she’ll teach us how to use these. I hope to ski out and back to the base area early enough the following morning so I don’t have to use one. Yurtmeisters do many things but will not carry out your WAG bag.

By the time I’m back inside, the yurt is warm and steamy, and dinner is about to be served. Dice and cards have been brought out. Kelly tears herself away from reading in a chair in front of the wood-burning stove to join everyone at the dinner table, which is covered in a checkered tablecloth and underneath a span of colorful prayer flags and a skylight.

THE NEXT MORNING, Berger’s alarm should wake us all up—the yurt is twenty feet in diameter, and the alarm is on the table in the middle—but no one (aside from Berger) stirs until the yurt fills with the smells of coffee and toasting bagels. Outside, the snow is coming down even harder than it was the night before.

We take our time over breakfast, but even yurts have a checkout time. An hour later, we’re packed and stepping into our skis. Twenty minutes later, we’re back at the resort’s base, no cleanup or schlepping of heavy packs required.



Reserve the Rock Springs Yurt through Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Mountain Sports School. The yurt has enough bunks for eight people to each have their own. $500/night for eight people; additional people are $10 and are responsible for their own sleeping bags. 307/739-2779,

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