Summer Provides Endless Opportunities for Recreation in the Tetons
By Brigid Mander
Since the winter of 1966, skiers of a certain type – usually those with a particular penchant for an adrenaline rush – flock to western Wyoming to ski the famed steeps of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In the summer, overall tourism numbers increase greatly when nearly three million people pass through Jackson, with visitors from all over the world on their way to see the jagged peaks of Grand Teton National Park and the natural wonders of Yellowstone. In the past, it was usually without a second thought for the mountain access the ski area offered.
Over the last ten years, however, that has changed drastically. Although the ski area was born through a 1963 special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service for a resort “specializing in skiing on National Forest Lands,” it is now a growing year-round destination. For decades, the base area village of the ski resort was not much more than sleepy mountain meadows in summer, with only a few curious sightseers out for scenic tram rides and hard-core locals running and hiking to the summit for a workout. Most businesses were closed for the season, and you had to take yourself into the town of Jackson for any kind of social scene, good food, and fun.
Now, thanks to some serious effort on the part of the resort and Teton Village, on any given midsummer day, the village is hopping with a vibrant sports and culture scene for both tourists and full-time residents. Kids jump on a bungee trampoline, people of all ages play on a rock climbing wall and a ropes course (and new this year, a drop tower) while rows of bikes glint on their way up the chairlift to the bike park.
People load the tram for sightseeing and the grab a bite of the famous Corbet’s Cabin waffles (a tradition for visitors and long time residents alike), as well as high altitude hiking and rock climbing. The gondola ferries people up for festive cocktails on The Deck and culinary treats at Couloir restaurant, while on the mountain, hikers, bikers, runners, and Frisbee golf players get after it under a sky often filled with the colorful wings of tandem paragliding flights.
Free concerts on Sunday evenings bring out crowds, as well as the classical Grand Teton Music Festival series, and, because of the increase in people, restaurants in the village now stay open throughout the summer, so people can enjoy choices ranging from Italian to Thai food.
“Teton Village is a hidden gem in the summer. It’s much quieter than town, with nice restaurants open, and all the outdoor sports options – from looking at wildflowers to paragliding – continue to expand,” says Anna Cole, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort spokeswoman. “It’s a great place for locals, families, and it is all super accessible to the mountains. But it still keeps its nice, mellow, vibe.”
The main attraction in summer centers around fun in the mountains. The resort has taken care to make sure people, whether they live here or are visiting, can find their level of adventure all in one spot.
The tram remains the number one attraction, despite the myriad of new options. Summer tram ridership used to hover at under 10% of annual revenue, but now, the access it offers has become so popular that it now comprises over 20% of yearly revenue, according to JHMR spokeswoman Anna Cole.
There are newly built hiking trails around the summit, such as the challenging Cirque trail and Ranger Overlook, on which you can run or hike and enjoy the high alpine environment. The resort is also planning to build a via ferrata, a protected climbing route that will allow visitors the experience of scrambling and climbing over exposed cliff faces and ridges on the upper mountain while clipped into, and fully protected by, bolted cables along the route.
The resort is happy to promote hiking up the 4,139 feet of vertical ascent to the summit – there is no cost for your human-powered ascent. Tram rides back down are free. And, due to new trail building, you can climb the whole length of 6.1 miles of nearly all single track called the Summit Trail. This same route is celebrated each August with the very burly Rendezvous Mountain Hill Climb. This non-profit running race up the trail to the summit, is held in honor of JHMR aerial tram mechanic Chris Onufer, who died in an avalanche in 2012.
If 4,100 feet of vertical ascent is not your goal, beautiful hiking trails exist across the lower mountain, where you can walk over little mountain streams and through thick fields of colorful wildflowers up to your waist. Another local favorite is to hike or run up to the Deck (at the top of the Bridger Gondola, elevation 9,095 feet) for a bite and some afternoon cocktails, and time with friends in the sun above the valley.
A few less physically strenuous, but more adrenaline oriented-options are also there for the taking: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is constantly working on improving their lift-accessed bike park, with jumps, wooden ramps and platforms, and smooth, flowy banked trails. The bike park has trail for everyone from beginners to those looking to improve their technical skills, and local riders flock to the park for a break from climbing under their own power, especially on Fridays when the resort offers discounted evening tickets.
The resort offers a Grand Adventure Pass, which is a one day pass to the tram (up-ward bound), the ropes course, a new drop tower, the climbing wall, the gondola, and bike park. Not everything costs money, of course: the popular disc golf course, hiking, cross-country biking, and the kid-favorite pop-jet fountains are all free of charge.
On an even higher adrenaline level, Jackson Hole Paragliding operates daily from the top of the gondola and the top of the tram, taking passengers for an average of 15-minutes flight above the Tetons and the Jackson Hole valley.
“We teach about 15 novice students per year,” said co-owner Scott Harris. “But we do about 2,500 tandem flights a year,” he said, for locals and visitors who want a birds-eye view of their mountain playground. “The village has gotten so much busier – and the music brings out so many people.”
Whether you spent the day playing on the mountain or working at an office in town, summer evenings at the village have become a big draw. While the renowned Grand Teton Music Festival (usually held in Walk Festival Hall) is not free, the Sunday evening shows attract a casual crowd of families and people ready to sit in the grass and listen to music. Before or after the concert, the bars and restaurants at the village offer it all, from buying a six pack and a picnic snack at the General Store to the more refined Four Seasons Bar and restaurants.
The mix of residents, visitors, and the myriad of outdoor sports options in a place that is more hidden from the summer crowds make the village the perfect place for a summer day or evening, and offers a great insight into the community and lifestyle that Jackson Hole represents.