A quick scroll through the #jhdreaming side of Instagram will demonstrate very quickly what the popular wintertime activities in Jackson Hole are.
From a ride on the cherry-red tram at the ski hill and a group pose under the antler arches, or an elk-viewing ride on a horse-drawn sleigh to a world-class dish at a local restaurant — we’re certainly not suggesting it’s a bad list. Those are some of our favorite wintertime moments, too!
But we’ll let you in on a little secret: wintertime fun and beloved traditions were unfolding in Jackson Hole long before they were Insta-worthy. If you’d like to experience the snowy season in the Tetons like a true, longtime local, dig in for some tips that will help you leave that beaten path behind.
Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
No, Jackson Hole isn’t home to a well-hidden tree farm. Rather, it’s surrounded by one. Many locals skip the grocery-store lineup of off-the-truck trees, and instead head out into the forest as a ritual to kick off the holiday season.
“Some people worry that harvesting a tree from the forest is harmful or causes damage to the ecosystem,” says Mary Cernicek, public affairs officer for the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “But it’s actually the opposite. We rely on people harvesting Christmas trees as an important part of our management plans.” Pine, fir, and spruce trees are not only perfect for holiday decor; they can also threaten other species of trees if not managed.
“Aspens are preferred in these areas, primarily because of their importance to native species,” she explains. “We love letting everyone know that they’re not only getting a unique tree, they’re actually helping out the forest as well as a lot of local wildlife.”
If you’re up for this adventure, stop by the Visitor Center at 532 N. Cache St. and pick up a permit and map of where you’re allowed to scout out a tree. Make sure you’ve got a way to cut it down (hand saw or hatchet), and a way to safely secure it to your vehicle. Will it be a perfect, flawless cone shape? Nope. Will it be the most unforgettable Christmas tree you’ve had? There’s a very good chance.
Ice Skating on Lakes
In the years before Zamboni-perfect ice rinks dotted the Jackson Hole area, the locals had to be a bit more resourceful. And truthfully, some still prefer the wild-forged glide to be found on the surface of a local lake. Both Lower Slide Lake and Jackson Lake offer ideal rink-free skating options at certain times during the winter.
It’s a special combination of factors that help the lakes create these conditions, and they’re certainly not guaranteed. Temperatures need to dip low enough to set up a significant layer of ice — experts recommend at least 4 inches thick to ensure safety — but also need to be free from deep layers of snow. When the stars align and the conditions are right? Old-timers tell stories about skating for miles on end.
If the conditions aren’t ideal for a lake skate, don’t worry. There are plenty of ice skating options around the valley that are guaranteed to be ready for your blades. Teton County Parks & Recreation maintains four outdoor rinks, there’s one right in the Town Square, and also on the Commons in Teton Village. Unlike lakes, some of these places offer skate rentals, too.
Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above … If you’re not used to the depth of darkness on a winter’s night in the West — miles from the nearest source of human-crafted light — make sure that experiencing the night sky in the Tetons is on your to-do list.
On a clear night, you’ll see layers of distant stars and planets that you’d never glimpse through the lights of the city. Ideal places to find a light-free spot include the road heading past the airport and into Grand Teton National Park, the Gros Ventre Road that heads toward Kelly, Wyo., or on the road that follows the edge of the National Elk Refuge. (Note: Unless you’d like the opportunity to meet our highly professional and friendly sheriff’s deputies or park rangers, please make sure you’re parked in a safe place that isn’t on private property.)
If learning a little more about what you’re seeing sounds interesting, join Wyoming Stargazing for one of their exceptional programs. Free, public stargazing — with experts, high-powered telescopes, and more — is held at the Stilson Parking lot every Thursday at one hour past sunset. If you’d like to delve deeper, and enjoy a private stargazing or night photography tour, get in touch with Wyoming Stargazing at wyomingstargazing.org.