Nat Geo staffer Erin Block just returned from a winter adventure in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “As a rule, I am a warm-weather person,” she says. “But one day I decided it was high time I stepped far out of my comfort zone.” That’s how she decided to try her hand at skiing for the first time—on some of the biggest and steepest slopes in the United States. The last word? “There was no better place to bundle up and leave the warm behind.”
Memorable moment: As a first-time skier, getting off the Teewinot lift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and gliding down the majestic slope, without falling once, was the highlight of the trip. To be honest, I can’t take all the credit. A shoutout goes to T.J. “Jimmy” Anderson for being such an excellent instructor. I was, by all accounts, a lost cause until he came along. Mission accomplished.
Standout culinary experience: For a mountain town, Jackson has some of the tastiest food I’ve experienced in the American West. That being said, there are two places you must visit while you’re here.
The first is The Handle Bar in Teton Village for après-ski eats. You can walk right off the lift onto their outdoor deck. Heaters and gas fires surround you as you watch skiers zoom past with a cup of hot mulled German-style Glühwein in hand.
Afterwards, clean up and head to town to meet the locals at Bin22. When I walked in, I was shocked to find myself in the middle of a liquor store. Walk through the rows of regional micro-brews and wines to the back where you will be seated family style to enjoy your meal. Any wine you find at the store can be yours at market price, or trust their experts to guide you through a table-side tasting. Try everything, but go with the house-pulled mozzarella.
Must-attend event: Make sure your trip includes at least one Friday night. Your first stop will be the Silver Dollar Bar at the historic Wort Hotel. It is not uncommon to see ski bums and ranchers alike two-stepping to a live bluegrass band. Don’t miss it.
When your feet need a break, walk one block to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a Jackson institution. If you talk to locals during the day, they’ll tell you it’s a tourist place, but arrive anytime after 10 p.m. and you’ll see those same locals dancing to country music and ordering drinks from the Cowboy’s signature saddle bar stools.
Outdoor adventure: While many of the most popular activities in Jackson Hole are high-octane, one of my favorite experiences was a relatively reserved horse-drawn sleigh ride through nearby National Elk Refuge. After doling out comfy blankets to keep you warm, your driver will serenade you with everything there is to know about the wild ungulates that roam the land. Better yet, they’ll get you so close to the elk that you’ll be able to pick out the flaws in their antlers.
Authentic souvenir: There are campy souvenirs aplenty to take home from Jackson Hole: a hand-carved wooden bear claw, an old-timey photo, the list goes on. But if you like beer, there’s one purchase that will keep you coming back to Jackson year after year.
Microbreweries may have loyal followers, but Snake River Brewing has a cult. Each year regulars and would-be initiates gather on the deck of the brewery, waiting for the keg to be tapped and the Mug Club lottery to begin. With a mere 200 special mugs to go around, a spot only becomes available if a current member fails to re-up. One by one, eager drinkers add their name to a handwritten list. Once all of the beer in the keg is gone, the lottery is closed. Last year only 15 or so mugs were up for grabs. Though it could take years to join this exclusive group, it’s worth it to see your self-decorated mug hanging regally above the bar.
Biggest selling point: Jackson Hole is not simply a winter destination. It offers gorgeous hiking and plentiful wildlife-viewing opportunities during all seasons. And, with two national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone, in close range, it’s a true escape, especially for the active traveler. It’s just you and the mountains, any time of year.