November 22, 2009 in Awayfinder destinations

Jackson Hole 2009: Skiing the Diamond Dust

Jean Arthur Awayfinder Correspondent
 
Jean Arthur photo

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Stars dominate an evening arrival at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. They dapple the sky like an appaloosa pony – then they move and reveal themselves to be grooming machines, combing some 2,500 skiable acres.

We continue to watch them twinkle like until we get closer to Teton Village and can better distinguish between the Big Dipper and big groomers.

Teton Village tucks under Rendezvous Mountain so well, that the hotels, eateries and shops of the village look petite in comparison. At center is a clock tower, also outlined with twinkle lights.

We check in at the 2-year-old Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa, a four-star hotel and a four-minute walk from the tram dock. It’s evening, yet the staff instantly makes us feel welcome. A young man from Peru greets us at the door, unloads our gear, parks the car, and even tosses out our backseat trash.

While it’s about a 10-hour drive from Spokane along mostly Interstates 90 and 15, the resort offers a free airline ticket to visitors who purchase three airline tickets to Jackson Hole for winter 2009/10. Car rentals are available from the airport, but local transit services can eliminate this service.

“The free ticket is valid on any of the three major U.S. carriers that fly daily to Jackson Hole from eight non-stop cities,” says Jackson Hole Central Reservations General Manager Edye Smith. From Spokane, Delta and United Airlines reach Jackson via Salt Lake City and Denver.

The “4th Flies Free” offer must include five nights lodging, a minimum three-day lift ticket for each traveler, and be booked by Jan. 1, 2010. Travel dates run from Nov. 28 – Dec. 18, 2009, and Jan. 3 - April 4, 2010. Details are available through Jackson Hole Central Reservations, 888-838-6660.

Inside the 145-room hotel’s comfy lobby, people lounge in front of the fireplace or in the nearby rooftop hot tub.

Our room is simple and elegant, with a king bed, foldout sofa, rocking chair and gas fireplace. Prepaid lodging saves 15 percent off the $269/night rate, although, similar to the airlines, visitors can purchase three nights and get a fourth free.

A walk-in closet features boot and glove dryers — great for when we rise early to catch a ride aboard the new tram, “Big Red,” which zips 100 skiers or riders nine minutes over a 4,139-foot vertical rise. It’s an ear-popping trip that leaves the base area at 6,311 feet and parks at 10,450 feet.

The top is wind-blown and crunchy for 20 turns in Rendezvous Bowl—a perfect warm-up run for a day above the clouds. We hit each bowl, from south to north before taking a break at mid-mountain Casper Lodge.

We dash down runs which seemed like star streaks last night, and ride the tram into the bowls in hopes of seeing Olympic gold medalist Tommy Moe, Ski Guide and Special Ambassador. Since just about everyone here seems to look and ski like World Cup downhillers, we are never sure if we spot him or not.

It is, however, a three-sundog day. The 10-degree temps, atmospheric moisture, an inversion and sunshine create the sundog phenomenon, where frozen, airborne moisture, called diamond dust, refracts sunlight into circles of rainbows. It’s unusual to see three full sundogs, a ski patroller tells us—so unusual that the ski shop sells out of disposable cameras that day. We seek bowls of diamond dust with names like Cheyenne Bowl, Laramie Bowl, Tensleep Bowl and Casper Bowl.

After a quick lunch in the Bridger Center lodge, the kids drag me to the Rodeo Grounds Terrain Park below Eagle’s Rest chairlift.

Teens can enroll in the Teen Extreme Fall Line camp, a four-night package available through Teton Mountain Lodge’s sister property, Hotel Terra. It includes a three-day terrain camp, where teens explore majestic terrain and pick up new moves. Kids receive Teton Gravity Research’s new extreme skiing DVD, a signed poster by local stars and a Hotel Terra black beanie. Packages start at $505 based on two adults and one teenager 13-18.

Younger kids have a learning area called Wild West Woods where they spend half or full days with instructors between Teewinot Quad and Eagle’s Rest. The Cannon Ball Shutes—named for the old avalanche gun, Sneaky Woods and Deepest Darkest, and Surprise Rock, are part of kids’ own ski map. Pizza and movie nights in the evening add to the kid fun.

New this winter is JH Tapped, a GPS iPhone — the first of its kind among ski resorts. It uses the iPhone’s GPS to locate the user and friends—or parents and kids—on the official trail map and log the user’s runs and vertical feet traveled. See www.ResortsTapped.com for details.

By day’s end, we all look forward to the lodge’s Solitude Spa and rooftop hot tub. From massage treatments to facials and manicures, the staff assures a relaxing afternoon or day. What piqued my interest the most was a soul reading by Jackson Hole’s Carol Mann, who promises “a one-of-a-kind clairvoyant glimpse into the blueprint of your soul and the multi-dimensional puzzle of who you are.”

“In one of your past lives,” Mann says, “you were a soldier in the 10th Mountain Division, a skier serving in World War II.” I could be a skeptic or a believer, but whatever Mann downloads from the cosmos is one of the most unusual amenities in ski country.

Other activities in Teton Village and Jackson vary from Western saddle barstools at the Cowbay Bar, to sleigh rides on the National Elk Refuge where some 7,500 elk roam. Visitors find ice skating, dog sled tours, cross-country touring, snowmobiling and museums.

Some of the best eateries in the Rockies include The Snake River Brewing and Restaurant, the Snake River Grill in Jackson, and the Mangy Moose and Osteria Italian Cuisine and Wine Bar in Teton Village. Kids love Mountain High Pizza Pie and the Rendezvous Bistro in Jackson. Breakfasts are serious affairs here with places like the Bunnery bakery, Jedediah’s House of Sourdough, Pearl Street Bagels and Nora’s Fish Creek Restaurant.

We visited the National Museum of Wildlife Art, a 51,000 square-foot modern building of local rough stone that houses some 5,000 pieces. My favorite, The American Bison Gallery chronicles three centuries of the massive beasts in various art forms.

Jackson offers so many activities that it’s hard to choose between shopping, local and Yellowstone National Park wildlife safaris, and cross-country ski areas. But once new snow begins to fall, my family gets antsy to return to Big Red and more diamond dust.

A storm blows in new powdery snow—no stars this night. The morning tram line wends through cattle gates. Each nine minutes more powder lovers cram through tram doors and pour out at the summit, click into bindings and launch into Rendezvous Bowl’s depths. While it feels crowded for a few turns, the herds disperse into the different bowls and their own diamond dust for the day.

For more information, contact Jackson Hole Ski Resort (888) DEEP-SNO, (307) 733-2292, www.jacksonhole.com.

Jackson Hole Central Reservations, (888) 838-6660, www.jacksonholewy.com.

Teton Mountain Lodge (800) 631-6271, www.tetonlodge.com

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