Getting paid in POW in Jackson Hole, WY
I AWOKE FROM A DEAD SLEEP at 6am to the sound of the ski patrol bombing for avalanches high on the mountain. Jumping out of bed like a little kid on Christmas morning, I went to the window. It was still dark but I could see that it had finally stopped snowing. Over two feet of fresh powder lay on the ground. It is so fucking on.
A little less than 24 hours prior, all of this seemed hopelessly out of reach. I’d risen at 4:30am the previous morning at my apartment in Brooklyn to catch a flight from Newark to O’hare to transfer to Jackson Hole, the legendary ski resort I’d heard people rave about all my life.
They were getting a ton of snow, so much I worried we wouldn’t be able to land at the Jackson airport, but our flight had taken off from Chicago on time, so I was confident we were in the clear. Maybe I could even sneak in a half day of skiing, I thought.
Then this: “Attention please! We need a doctor. Anyone with medical expertise, we really need your assistance in examining one of our passengers.” The frantic tone in the flight attendant’s voice was audible through my headphones. Someone near the back of the plane was having heart complications. Five minutes later the captain’s voice came over the intercom.
“OK, folks. We’ve got a bit of a dramatic situation developing here on the aircraft and we’re going to make an emergency landing in Denver to get this passenger to the paramedics as soon as possible.”
A setback. But getting this woman to the paramedics was everyone’s first priority. We landed 10 minutes later at DIA. The paramedics rushed on board and helped her off the plane after a couple minutes of taking vitals. “Now what? Do we refuel and continue to Jackson?” the girl next to me asked. The captain confirmed my worst nightmare.
“Folks, the weather in Jackson seems to be deteriorating and we’ll be deplaning here in Denver and re-booking you on a flight tomorrow. Please grab all your belongings and the agents at the gate will be handing out hotel vouchers.”
The captain had just taken a steamy shit on our hopes of powder turns today or tomorrow. I called United reservations before we were even off the plane and she was having trouble finding me a flight at all the next day.
“Everything’s overbooked. Maybe I can get you on the last flight to Jackson tomorrow night. It gets in at 11:30pm.”
“No. What about a different route? Fly me through Salt Lake. Anything there?”
“Nothing through Salt Lake. I could fly you through LAX? That gets into Jackson at 9pm tomorrow night.”
I hung up before losing my temper. The thought of drinking myself into oblivion at the Chili’s next to the airport Marriot in Denver that night and then spending the entire day Munson’d at DIA made me want to slit my wrists.
I scanned the crowd for people who looked as pissed and disappointed as me. Two young couples stood next to me weighing their options. I went up and introduced myself. “Let’s just say fuck the po-lice, rent an SUV, and drive!” I said. “Google’s saying it’s nine hours and some change.”
“That’s what we’re thinking too. If we got a Suburban, would you want to squeeze in?” one replied.
Twenty minutes later I was in a black Suburban with four self-described “New York Yuppies” speeding north on Hwy 25 towards Wyoming. 540 miles, 75 stories, and one speeding ticket later, we came over Teton Pass in a full blown whiteout.
I’d been up for almost 24 hours, inside of which I’d eaten McDonald’s twice and Wendy’s once (a disgusting record for me), but the ordeal was over now. My new friends dropped me off and I stumbled into the warm, sexy arms of the Four Seasons. This place is the single best luxury hotel in Jackson Hole and a sight for sore eyes after a hellish day of travel.
“Can I get you a cold beer, sir? We heard you had some trouble getting here.”
“Driving all the way from Denver…well, it should all be worth it tomorrow. It’s been snowing for almost 72 hours straight. You’re going to get paid in pow in the morning.”
After five hours of sleep, the avalanche charges woke me. The explosive sounds gave me butterflies. There was no way I was going to be able to go back to sleep for an hour. Jackson Hole had been getting snow for almost 72 hours straight.
After destroying a huevos rancheros at the hotel’s Westbank Grill, I made my way down to the ski-in/ski-out “ski concierge.” Fifteen minutes later, I stepped into some huge Atomic fat skis and got in line with a bunch of other powder fiends.
Given all the snow, there was high avalanche danger and the gondola remained closed as the Jackson ski patrol ensured every sketchy slope was bombed. I haven’t felt anticipation like that since 1999 when I ran with the bulls in Pamplona. The line got bigger as more people crowded into the cue. The smart ones had pitchers of Bloody Marys.
When the lift ops got the green light, they started loading the gondi. The crowd erupted and charged toward the gates. Somehow, against all odds, I had stumbled my way into one of the best mornings of the 2012 American ski season.
The next five hours were all-world. I made more friends and they showed me all the best stashes: Casper trees, laps on the Thunder, Sublette. Long, 4000+ vertical runs from the top of the tram all the way down “the Hobacks.” My beard looked like a frozen waterfall and my legs felt like they were going to catch fire.
I was in heaven.
Jackson is without question one of the most awesome ski towns in the world, but the mountain also lived up to the hype that I’ve been hearing for the past 20 years. Not only do they have a ton of steep terrain, but the tram, gondola, and high-speed lifts enable them to move people up the mountain quickly and spread the crowds out across the hill and keep lines short, even on a big day.
It stared dumping again that afternoon, and over the course of the three days I was there they got well over four feet of snow. It was one of the most legit ski weekends I’ve had in my entire life.
Eating and drinking
The Mangy Moose — This super fun bar is where Jackson goes for après. It’s close to the tram; no matter where you end up at night, you should start at the Moose.
– 80 W Broadway #7 Jackson, WY (307) 739-2166
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar — This place has rockstar status in Jackson. It’s in town, an 18-minute cab from the Jackson Hole village. It is huge, with two long bars down each side with saddle seats. The place was packed when I walked in and they had live music in the back where patrons were swing dancing on the dance floor.
– 25 North Cache Street Jackson, WY (307) 733-2207
Nora’s Fish Creek Inn — This is towards town and away from the village, but it’s a great place to grab breakfast on the way to the airport.
5600 W Highway 22 Wilson, WY (307) 733-8288
Four Seasons — If you are in the market for a luxury hotel, the Four Seasons is the one you want. Full-blown “ski concierge” (makes life a lot easier) and ski-in/ski-out location, just feet from the gondola or a ski down to the tram, it has all the convenience you want. The best location in Jackson Hole village.
7680 Granite Loop Road, P.O. Box 544, Teton Village, Wyoming (307) 732-5000
Shooting Star — Amazing interior design and architecture. This is a private “buy-in” type of club but if you get the chance to play golf or stay on the premises, I suggest taking a tour of their entire facility. It is ridiculous.
6765 North Crystal Springs Drive, Teton Village, WY (307) 739-3270
[Editor’s note: Ross’s accommodation for this trip was arranged and paid for by Four Seasons.]