Because I travel more than half the year, it’s almost become a game to check off as many U.S. destinations on my tour map as possible, without much thought of visiting the same spot twice. Sure, my travels have taken me to some amazing places that I’m bound to visit again, but it’s always the exhilaration and mystery of visiting an unknown spot that excites me.
However, Jackson Hole, Wyoming — recently ranked the best overall resort in North America for 2014 by Ski Magazine — doesn’t fit my one-checkmark criterion. Instead, I’d prefer a frequent visitor or loyalty card to secure as many checkmarks as possible.
In the last year, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the small town twice: once over the winter ,with my snowboard strapped on, and once in the fall, with my New Balance hiking shoes and still-glowing Texas tan. Both visits were amazing.
The Jackson Hole Airport is serviced seasonally by American Airlines, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Skywest Airlines and United. Depending on your travel dates, Texas residents are lucky when it comes to getting there. American offers direct flights out of Dallas, and United offers a direct flight on Saturdays from Houston.
The airport is one of the smallest and cutest airports I’ve ever traveled through. Yes, I just described an airport as cute. It’s so picturesque that flight attendants are required to ask travelers not to stop for photos outside the tarmac for safety reasons.
The airport is located at the base of the Teton mountain range and is spectacularly crafted with elk horns adorning archways as you enter, making it feel more like a Western lodge — a Western lodge you’ll never want to leave until you realize you’re still in the airport.
Where to stay
Snow King Resort, the town’s largest full-service, year-round resort, recently finished a top-to-bottom $16-million renovation. It’s true when they say the King “got a new castle,” because it surely is fit for one.
Snow King Resort offers comfortable Western lodging along with some of the most luxurious accommodations you’ll find on a mountain. The hotel is located just six blocks from Jackson Hole’s historic town square, which is full of great dining and shopping options and more picture-worthy mountain views.
The hotel staff also goes through extensive “Tip of the Hat” service training. The first thing you’ll notice is the driver who picks you up at the airport greets you with a simple tip of the hat — an old-fashioned custom that shows respect and acknowledgement.
Because Snow King is located in “Cowboy Country,” that Western hospitality is peppered with good old-fashioned cowboy values and codes, providing a relaxed atmosphere for guests while still maintaining elevated service levels.
While at Snow King, indulge for an hour or two at Olga’s Day Spa, especially if you hit the mountain earlier that day. Olga Needham is the spa director and is considered the premier massage therapist in Jackson Hole.
Where to hang, drink and dance
If you’re staying at Snow King, your best bet for dining is Hayden’s Post, located on the second floor of the lodge, offering a sophisticated menu of dishes such as coffee-rubbed elk with huckleberry juniper jurs and fingerling-cauliflower puree, or Dutch oven bison brisket.
Insider’s tip if you order breakfast: Get a few things on which you can pour the homemade strawberry compote. Also, the big windows and wraparound deck are a nice way to spend your evening, as the resort offers s’mores by the fire on the deck.
For some nightlife with local flavor, head to Bin22 in the town square. The cozy spot has great value wines, craft beers and local spirits, and you can nosh on Spanish- and Italian-style tapas at community tables. There is also a small grocery with homemade pastas, pizza dough, cheeses, salumi and ice cream on the premises.
If you are in the mood for music, you can listen to live bluegrass at the Silver Dollar while you enjoy a nightcap. Or swing by the Million Dollar Cowboy and two-step your way throughout the sprawling bar and dance floor.
While you’re living like a local, check out Wyoming Whiskey, where Mark Gillespie, editor at Whisky Magazine, rated the bourbon a 95 out of a possible 100. No wonder the first batch (3,000 cases) was gone within mere minutes.
If you crave more adventure after taking a run down one of Jackson Hole’s 116 named trails, then try paragliding with Jackson Hole Paragliding — an adrenaline rush from 11,000 feet. JHPG provides tandem flights, pilot training and certification from basic to advanced. You literally have to run off one of the huge mountains — perhaps one of the scariest things to do while on vacation.
Before you visit Jackson Hole, here's one valuable piece of the cowboy code to remember: If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride!