Above image Courtesy of Spring Creek Ranch.
It’s a playground for the rich and famous in the Tetons and so much more, making it worth the trek to Northwest Wyoming.
Jackson, Wyoming has always been a bit of a mythical place to me. It’s one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the United States and is surrounded by some of the world’s most iconic and photogenic mountains.
For years, I considered it a playground for the rich and famous in the wilds of Wyoming, but even lifelong beliefs about a place can be obliterated upon visiting.
Despite multiple ski areas in the vicinity, including Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, winter is offseason in this remote area of Wyoming. In the summer, the town’s proximity to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park means that it’s overrun with tourists from around the globe.
In the winter, however, only intrepid skiers venture here or those who love spending a cold winter night in front of a roaring fire. Real wood fireplaces are incorporated into much of the interior design here from vacation homes to bars and restaurants.
My husband, Ryan, and I were in town specifically for Piedmonte in the Tetons, an intimate food and wine event held annually at Spring Creek Ranch. Just minutes from downtown Jackson and 20 minutes from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Spring Creek Ranch is located on a beautiful mountainside and offers lodging, fine dining and personalized activities. They can arrange for guests to experience everything from a carriage ride to a wildlife safari.
Piedmonte in the Tetons
Piedmonte in the Tetons brings a little bit of Italy, including a chef from the Piedmonte region, to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. Guests of this multiple dinner affair experience first-hand the wonders of Italian food and wine.
Chef Carlo Zarri and Spring Creek Ranch’s executive Chef Michael pull out all the stops. Our first dinner was truffle and hazelnut themed with Zarri as the head chef. Bob Allen, a local wine distributor famous for his knowledge of Italian vintages, talked about each of the wines that had been chosen to accompany each course.
The microgreen salad and beef tenderloin with truffle mayonnaise paired with a 2016 Pecchenino Dogliani San Luigi Dolcetto was the standout for me. Italian vintages have long names and thankfully each full wine name was printed on menus in front of us.
Several nights later, we reconvened at Granary Restaurant for a wild game dinner prepared by Chef Michael which of course, featured Italian wine. The elderberry and bourbon wild boar won much praise at our table, which included a local food writer.
We weren’t sure what to expect at Piedmonte in the Tetons but quickly assimilated into the small crowd of diners, mostly locals or people who fly in for this event. Everyone was friendly and quick with a joke and there was none of the pretentiousness we had feared. We stayed late one night chatting with locals over more wine in the restaurant’s cozy lounge getting the lowdown on the regional restaurant scene.
Art & Dining
Most of the food in Jackson is elevated like the Melvin Burger at Thai Me Up. Featuring bacon, an egg, Shishito peppers and chili mayo, it is one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten. While there are no problems getting into casual restaurants such as Thai Me Up, it’s a good idea to make reservations at the town’s fine dining establishment because people like to eat out in Jackson.
For those who crave simple pizza, stop in at Calico’s on the way back from a day on the slopes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. During happy hour they serve scrumptious, affordable pizza by the slice in the inviting bar which features a fire roaring in the large fireplace.
The National Museum of Wildlife Art is a must-stop when in Jackson. Just a few minutes from town with a restaurant facing the Elk Refuge, it always has a variety of art on display from the 1800s to modern day. It’s fascinating to see the way wildlife art has changed over the years as our relationship to nature has changed.
I highly recommend arranging a tour because browsing this place with a docent increases the value of a visit here. Don’t miss lunch at Palette’s, which looks out over the refuge. The southwestern soup with roasted corn is perfect for a cold weather day.
Most people don’t associate Jackson, a town about 6,200 feet above sea level, with growing food, but at Vertical Harvest, in the middle of downtown, they are growing vegetables. Vertical Harvest is housed in a three-story, 13,500-foot building dedicated to growing green, fresh food. It is one of the most unique businesses in the mountain west.
Producing 100,000 pounds of produce each year, Vertical Harvest is a hydroponic greenhouse that utilizes one-tenth of an acre infill lot to grow an annual amount of produce equivalent to five acres of traditional agriculture.
The story here is not only about food, there’s a real heart-warming human narrative as well. Vertical Harvest hires people with “different abilities” (also known as special needs), a population that has a 78 percent unemployment rate in Wyoming. They believe this population deserves the opportunity to participate in the workforce, earn a competitive wage and contribute to their community in a meaningful way.
Vertical Harvest offers tours of their facility. Interested parties must sign up in advance.
Ski Jackson Hole
The ski resort is located outside of town but not far and skiing here is truly unique. The mountain features 4,139 feet of vertical drop making it one of the longest in North America. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort often has cold, hard snow at the top and softer snow bottom. Newbies can find terrain here but it’s extra exciting for skiers who love a challenge.
The sheer drop inspired the first ever Kings & Queens of Corbet’s competition that brought world-class skiers to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort last winter. Skiers “performed some of the most fantastic, awe-inspiring aerial maneuvers this editor has ever witnessed,” wrote Henrik Lampert of FreeSkier.com.
Drivers should be cautious when traveling from town to the ski resort. Locals pay close heed to the speed limited along the highly traversed route not only because it’s patrolled but since there are numerous wild animals in the area. It’s never fun to get a ticket but hitting a moose will ruin a vacation.
Other places to ski and ride near Jackson include Snow King Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee.
Come for the Wildlife
While it’s the home of amazing food and skiing, Jackson is first and foremost where to go to see wildlife and there’s no better way to see it than on a guided outing. Our daylong excursion with Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures was a day to remember.
This eco-conscious company takes small groups into the Elk Refuge that borders the town and into Grand Teton National Park, just minutes from Jackson. They provide a tricked-out safari vehicle, spotting scopes, water, snacks and lunch. They even furnish all the gear needed for the afternoon group snowshoe trek.
In addition to the accouterments provided guests, Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures have knowledgeable guides who are experts at finding and spotting wildlife. Despite falling snow and pea soup-like conditions during most of our outing, we saw tons of wildlife including moose, bison, coyotes and more. It was like being in a David Attenborough special and I was in heaven.
Winter may be offseason here for human tourists but the National Elk Refuge fills to the brim with thousands of elk. Created in 1912 to provide winter habitat for elk from the surrounding high country, the six-mile-wide and ten-mile-long refuge is home to other animals such as bighorn sheep, trumpeter swans, coyotes and the occasional wolf. Watch for carcasses in the refuge because they attract golden and bald eagles.
The park borders the town of Jackson and has free admission making a visit here easy.
Jackson is more than the playground of the rich and famous, it’s rich in experiences that cannot be enjoyed anywhere else, making a trip here truly one-of-a-kind.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is the founder of HeidiTown.com and the author of The Heidi Guide in Mountain Living. She specializes in festivals and travel in the west. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.