The elk-horn arches in the center of Jackson Town Square serve as a reminder of this Wyoming town’s hunting and beaver-trapping history. Home to the planet’s largest elk herd, the National Elk Refuge hosts an average of 7,500 elk each winter, which are kept alive during the harsh winters of Jackson Hole due to a careful culling of the herd. Some of that highly-regulated hunting winds up on the plates of diners at Jackson Hole’s acclaimed restaurants.
Incorporated in 1914, the town of Jackson, Wyoming celebrated its centennial with fanfare appropriate to a destination that, apart from elk, is home to luminaries like Harrison Ford and visited by the likes of Vice President Joe Biden. Jackson is the kind of town that can afford to spend $3 million on a state-of-the-art public restroom in the center of downtown. And yet, in spite of the numerous changes provoked by the area’s reputation for natural beauty and extreme sports, Jackson retains its genuine “Last of the Old West” atmosphere.
Jackson Hole Airport, for example, is the only airport operating in a national park. Home to Grand Teton National Park (as well as most of Yellowstone National Park), Teton County in Wyoming is, without question, one of the nation’s most stunning locales with mile-high mountains encircling the town of Jackson on the valley floor.
A recent luncheon at the James Beard House in New York featured a cornucopia of Jackson Hole culinary attractions “From the Range,” which included housemade charcuterie, buffalo carpaccio, and togarishi-seared steelhead trout. Wyoming chowchow enlivened fried oysters, while an entrée of elk ragù pappardelle featured huckleberries and juniper brown butter. A dessert of sweet corn fritters with sour huckleberry compote and Wyoming Whiskey ice cream was redolent of the halcyon pleasures of childhood summers.
Chefs Gavin Fine and Roger Freedman, the founders of Fine Dining Restaurant Group, helmed the James Beard House kitchen with the casual aplomb that comes from owning five of Jackson Hole’s best-loved restaurants and a catering company.
Recognized by SKI Magazine and Forbes as the premier “Overall Resort” of 2013, Jackson Hole recorded some of the deepest snowpack in its 50-year history, with more than 500 inches of snow. With 2500 acres of skiing and snowboarding in Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jackson Hole offers a plethora of recreational activities including National Elk Refuge sleigh rides, dogsledding, snowshoeing, and paragliding.
For those inclined to remain on the valley floor, Jackson is home to numerous shops. Opened in 2010 by John Frechette, MADE is filled with handmade items from over 160 artisans from across Wyoming and the USA, including the founder’s fused glass belt buckles. Next door is MADE’s brother boutique Mountain Dandy, which offers a curated collection of home items for the sartorial mountain man in a collegial atmosphere redolent of a vintage gentleman’s club.
Jackson’s local vintners include a handful of family-run enterprises including the organic-certified Ackerman Family Vineyards, celebrated for its signature cabernet sauvignon. Both Heron Wines and Niner Wine Estates produce exemplary pinot noir, while Jackson Hole Winery sources its grapes from Sonoma and Napa for award-winning wines produced at the base of the Grand Tetons.
The home of Wyoming’s first legal distillery, Wyoming Whiskey was founded on the fourth of July 2009, when Bourbon Hall of Famer Steve Nally, formerly of Maker’s Mark, began creating bourbon with Wyoming-grown corn, wheat, and malted barley.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opens for the 2014-15 winter season on Thanksgiving Day with more grooming and better intermediate terrain to complement its famously-steep couloirs and bottomless powder. For one of the region’s more spectacular dining experiences, reserve a table at Couloir Restaurant, located atop the Bridger Gondola.
In addition, Jackson Hole hosts the 2nd annual Jackson Hole Rendezvous, a three-day music festival held in late March to celebrate the arrival of spring.