JACKSON, Wyo. — On the western edge of Wyoming, a mile above sea level, surrounded by the 13,000-foot peaks of the Teton Range, Jackson Hole is one of the most spectacular places on Earth.
Lewis and Clark expedition member John Colter, the first European descendant to see the valley, wrote such grandiose reports that people back East found it hard to believe such a place existed. These reports later attracted visitors to Jackson Hole and nearby Yellowstone National Park in the late 19th century.
Then in 1939, Snow King opened as the first ski resort in the area. Today the region's annual mountain snowfalls of 10 feet and spectacular landscape attract hundreds of thousands of winter enthusiasts from all over the world.
And though Jackson Hole (Jackson is the town, Jackson Hole is the valley) is best known for skiing, there's no limit to the ways you can enjoy winter here.
One of the most popular activities, dog sledding, dates to the early settlers. And eight-time Iditarod veteran Frank Teasley has the best dogs in town.
But we're not talking about the frostbitten toes and frozen tears of Alaska's famous 1,000-mile Iditarod race here. Teasley's dog-sledding outfit, Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, provides a warm, comfortable cruise through Wyoming's jaw-dropping Gros Ventre Wilderness area, a trip suited to all levels of adventurer.
The daylong tour (highly recommended) provides close-up views of elk, moose, bighorn sheep and bald eagles against an epic backdrop of 11,000-foot peaks. The final destination is the soothing Granite Hot Springs, where you'll stop for lunch and take a dip in nature's bathtub.
What I like most about Teasely's operation is how well he treats his dogs. Teasley started his company both as a way to train new dogs but also as a kind of retirement home for older dogs, who might have passed their prime.
Don't get the idea that these pups are suffering out here. In fact, Teasley received the coveted Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award for the best cared-for Iditarod team.
If you're looking for a wilderness experience with few more creature comforts, visit Brooks Lake Lodge. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lodge was built in 1922 and served as a stopover for adventure-seekers headed to Yellowstone National Park. The lodge was so popular that it soon became a primary destination and was converted into a dude ranch for well-to-do Easterners in search of the Wyoming experience. Today the lodge retains most of its historic beauty, albeit with some very nice added touches, such as a full-service spa. Dedicated to the selective private experience, Brooks Lake Lodge has only a handful of lodge rooms and private cabins, keeping the guest load small.
In winter, the lodge is accessible only via a plush ride in its warm and comfy snow cat. But for the adventurous, the staff is happy to supply you with a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes if you want to hike the five miles in.
The lodge offers guided snowmobile tours, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, a full-service spa and a menu of five-star meals that will fuel all your outdoor adventures.
If you're looking to see some Wyoming wildlife, join a guide for a Rocky Mountain safari that will take you out to greet the herds of bighorn sheep, elk and moose that migrate down from the highlands to winter near the lodge.
At the end of the day, let one of the lodge's many roaring fireplaces warm your chilled face and soothe your aching muscles while you enjoy a selection from the lodge's excellent wine list. As my brother Neal (who introduced me to Brooks Lake Lodge) likes to say, "It's all about the apres ski."
Of course, it's impossible to talk about Jackson without talking about skiing and snowboarding, and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has some of the most challenging terrain anywhere.
With more than half of its trails rated as expert, this resort has teeth, or should I say Tetons. Anyone who has dropped into Jackson famous Corbet's Couloir knows exactly what I am talking about.
And though Corbet's is a rite of passage for any expert skier or rider, my favorite spot on the hill (or should I say off the hill) is Cody Bowl. If you don't mind hiking across a 10,000-foot-high ridge over slippery rocks in a blizzardlike crosswind while your lungs are screaming for air, you'll love Cody. That first near-vertical drop into the bowl is what every skier and rider lives for.
For a more of a down-home experience, head to Jackson's local resort, Snow King. But don't expect a bunny slope with rope tows. This is Wyoming, where everything is big; and these are the Tetons, which like to be steep. And though Snow King definitely will kick your butt, it won't kick your wallet. (A season pass can be had for as little as $149.) Those who want that real "townie" feel can skip the lifts, put their skis on their shoulder and climb the King. There's no better way to earn your local stripes.
If you want endless first tracks and acres of waist-deep powder, give High Mountain Heli-Skiing (heliskijackson.com) a call. These guys will take you for the ride of your life deep in the backcountry of the Hoback, Teton or Gros Ventre ranges. But don't forget to bring your gold card; a full day of helicopter skiing costs roughly $1,000 per person.
No matter how you like to enjoy the snow, Jackson Hole delivers. Just don't be surprised when you get home and start telling stories people find hard to believe.
If you go
Nonstop flights from: Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark and San Francisco on United; Atlanta, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City on Delta; and Dallas on American.
Expensive: Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole, 800-914-5110, fourseasons .com/jacksonhole
Midlevel: Teton Mountain Lodge, 800-631-6271, tetonlodge.com
Midlevel suites with kitchen: Love Ridge Resort Lodges, 800-533-7669, loveridgelodge.com
Economy: Wyoming Inn of Jackson Hole, 800-844-0035, wyominginn.com
Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, 800-554-7388, jhsleddog.com
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 888-333-7766, jacksonhole.com
Snow King, 307-734-3136, snowkingmountain.com
Brooks Lake Lodge, 866-213-4022, brookslake.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun