My life is your vacation
- Jackson Hole Wyoming.
While walking around my east Jackson neighborhood - Jackson is the biggest town in Jackson Hole valley - I first saw this bumper sticker. I was 26, healthy, debt-free, starting my writing career, and amazingly, obliviously, wonderfully naive.
Of course, my life was a vacation. Skiing or climbing 300 days a year was just the cherry on top.
Fast-forward 13 years, and I've joined the real world. Life as a whole is no longer a perpetual vacation, but it's still generally awesome, and I still live in a vacation destination. If I have a productive morning at work, I spend the afternoon skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Moose sometimes wander through my front yard. In the winter, when I look out a window as I wash dishes - at least when the cottonwood tree my neighbor is obviously fertilizing with steroids is bare of leaves - I see the Grand Teton. One night last winter, elbow-deep in warm, sudsy water and admiring my mountain view, the snow-spackled peaks pink in the setting sun, I decided it was time to take a vacation - in Jackson Hole.
Even if only for a weekend, I would leave the dishes behind, see a moose without worrying whether it was going to eat my new aspen trees, and do something I usually don't: cross-country ski.
Turpin Meadow Ranch is about as far north as you can go in Jackson Hole and still be in Jackson Hole. It's at the back of Buffalo Valley, in the Absaroka Mountains at the eastern base of Togwotee Pass - one of the few weaknesses in the five mountain ranges surrounding Jackson Hole.
We turn from U.S. Route 89/191 onto Buffalo Valley Road. Immediately, the snowbanks are taller than the road is wide. We drive - the road mostly parallels the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River - until we no longer can. Ten miles. From November to May, the county plows the road only as far as the ranch. We pull up to its historic log lodge. It has been precisely an hour since we left downtown Jackson, but I feel light-years away.
The Tetons are right here, though. As we stand next to a group of parked fat bikes - with four-inch-wide tires capable of riding on top of packed snow - the range looks so close. I know it's not, but I don't question the optical illusion. I check in and pick out rental boots and skis as fast as possible. I'd rather be cross-country skiing and looking up at the Tetons than standing in a parking lot doing the same.
Jackson Hole has long been known as an alpine ski destination. Snow King Mountain opened in 1939 several blocks from Jackson's Town Square. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened across the valley in 1965, and, in 2013, Ski magazine readers voted it the best overall ski resort in North America. Jackson Hole also has Nordic skiing, though. Turpin Meadow Ranch, opened Dec. 31, 2013, is Jackson Hole's first destination Nordic ski resort.
Hans and Nancy Johnstone, who both competed in the biathlon in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, own a boutique inn in downtown Jackson. They teamed with Dan Nordstrom, conservationist and chief executive of gear company Outdoor Research, to resurrect and revamp the historic Turpin Meadow Ranch. The ranch's lodge and eight main cabins date from 1932. When the group bought the property in 2012, it hadn't been used in several years, and its appropriateness for hosting winter guests had always been questionable, considering that the cabins did not have foundations. Heat came from space heaters.
Winterizing the buildings - all of the cabins were lifted, put onto foundations, and hooked up with heating and gaslighted fireplaces - and adding modern bathrooms onto each took nearly two years. Designing 25 kilometers of cross-country ski trails went much faster.
A benefit of being at the base of the Absarokas instead of the Tetons is the surrounding terrain. The Tetons do not have foothills; they explode without hesitation 7,000 feet up from the valley floor. Nordic skiing in the Tetons is either flat or very much uphill.
Trails at Turpin Meadow roll as they wind through pine forest and open meadows. There are rolls for every skill level. Because my five other times cross-country skiing started with my edgeless skis slipping out from beneath me and my coccyx (and ego) getting badly bruised, I head for a loop that is rated easy. I allow my boyfriend, Derek, a much better Nordic skier, to accompany me only after he promises to explore a more challenging trail on his own later. Rio, our 12-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, doesn't seem to care what we ski. (Turpin Meadow is dog-friendly.)
We combine the three-mile Summer Homes Loop with the Willows Loop and finish just before dusk. I manage the whole thing without once falling. For the last mile, I'm even comfortable enough to look away from the trail. While skiing. This is good, because if I weren't, I'd have been stuck standing near the bank of the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River, staring at the Tetons. It's one of the views you can't tear yourself away from.
Each of these - the river and the mountains - is gorgeous on its own. From the Willows Loop, their sum is much greater than the individual parts. I know Jackson Hole better than a regular vacationer, so I can authoritatively state that this view of the range is one of the best in the entire valley.
I walk into the main lodge ready to share my success with the manager and any other guests who might be hanging out over cookies, served in late afternoon, or wine, beer, and cocktails, available all day at a cozy bar. But the dinner menu distracts me. Mixed green salad with a locally made sheep's milk cheese. Risotto and short ribs from a local cow. Apple cobbler for dessert. Best of all? There will be no dishes to do.
IF YOU GO
Where to stay
Turpin Meadow Ranch
24505 Buffalo Valley Rd., Moran. 307-543-9147, turpinmeadowranch.com
Historic log cabins with gas fireplaces, Pendleton wool blankets, and bright, cheerful interiors. No TVs or cellphone service. Cabins, including breakfast, from $149 a night (double occupancy). Winter season starts Dec. 23; two-night minimum stay.
285 Glenwood St., Jackson. 307-739-1570, alpinehouse.com
Turpin Meadow has a boutique, sister property a five-minute walk from Jackson's Town Square. Packages that include nights at both properties are available. The inn is closed until Dec. 7 for the off-season. Rooms from $145.
Where to eat
Turpin Meadow Ranch
(See information above)
All meals are served in the main lodge, decorated with vintage maps of the area, river rocks, and taxidermied heads of an elk and a buffalo. Breakfast is for overnight guests only. Anyone can come up for a hearty lunch, but reservations are required for the multicourse dinner. Lunch (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily) from $8; dinner (5 to 8 p.m.) from $20.
15 W. Broadway, Jackson. 307-733-3253, atelierortega.squarespace.com
Bonbons, Viennoiseries, coffee drinks, and gelato made by a culinary Olympian (seriously, Oscar Ortega has competed at the Culinary Olympics). Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., from $2.
1110 Maple Way, Suite B, Jackson. 307-264-2956, picnicjh.com
Kevin Cohane studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and his wife, Ali, designed a space you'll want to hang out in all day. Check out their salads, cocktails, and sandwiches. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. ; weekends. Pastries from $3; lunch from $8.
2550 Moose Wilson Rd., Wilson. 307-739-0700, qjacksonhole.com
Toss peanut shells on the floor at this restaurant/microbrewery, with a menu ranging from curry to the best ribs in town. Open daily from 5 to 10 p.m., entrees from $14.
Turpin Meadow Ranch activities
Twenty-five kilometers of trails at all levels are groomed six days a week for both classic and skate skiing. Rent skis, boots, poles from $20/day. Day passes cost $15 (one-time fee for guests).
Fat bikes are allowed on Nordic trails when conditions permit. This winter, the ranch also has groomed, fat-bike-specific single-track trails. Bike rentals from $30; guided rides from $120.
No other destination Nordic resort in the country also does guided snowmobile trips. A spur to the 500-mile-long Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail starts from the ranch. Guided trips with lunch cost $125 for a half-day, $200 for a full day.
Jackson and Teton Village activities
Après Ski and Art
155 W. Broadway, Jackson. 307-733-0905, diehlgallery.com
Sip wine, snack, and check out the valley's changing art scene while still wearing your ski clothes. Open 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday though Saturday, through March. Free.
400 E. Snow King Ave., Jackson. 307-201-5096,
Sit in an individual, cart-sled hybrid on this gravity-powered coaster, which can reach up to 27 m.p.h. as it twists and turns down 370 feet. Keep in mind that the coaster can be closed because of weather or operational issues, so call ahead. Open 2 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Adults, $21; kids, $8.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
3395 Cody Lane, Teton Village. 307-733-2292, jacksonhole.com
Ski magazine readers haven't ranked any other resort No. 1 for both extreme terrain and overall excellence. A gondola serving terrain for beginners and intermediate skiers makes its debut this season. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Lift tickets from $81.