Jackson Hole, One of America's Best Ski Resorts, Turns 50
“I thought some of my ski buddies were yanking my leg,” said Jerry Blann, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) president since 1996, after first hearing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had been rated the No. 1 overall ski resort on the continent for 2014 by SKI Magazine readers.
“SKI Magazine’s No. 1 rating wasn’t something we ever aspired to or that was even a target for us. We just never thought it was a possibility.” Also, Forbes magazine has ranked Jackson Hole as the best resort in America two years running now.
Today’s JHMR executives might not have been going for a No. 1 ranking, but, 50 years ago when Jackson Hole Mountain Resort first opened, that is exactly what the future founders Paul McCollister, Alex Morely and Gordon Graham envisioned. “It was always intended to be a world-class ski area,” says Morley, who is now 96. “We planned on bringing people in from everywhere. Back then there weren’t the rankings there are today, but we knew that the mountain and what we were going to create on it were going to be the best.”
As visionary as the founders were, it actually took the Kemmerer family buying the resort from McCollister in 1992—Morley and Graham had previously sold their stakes—and annually investing an average of $6 million since, to get it to the top.
Since its aerial tram first took skiers to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain, just outside the boundary of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole has been equally loved and feared by extreme skiers and snowboarders for its challenging terrain and 4,139 feet of vertical and powder. As recently as a decade ago though, skiers and riders at every other level just plain feared it.
The majority of the resort’s runs were black diamond. Grooming wasn’t a priority. The only thing in shorter supply than intermediate terrain was a base area with plenty of amenity options. Want to pamper yourself with an afternoon at the spa? Good luck.
This season Jackson Hole turns 50 and is as family-friendly and amenity- rich as most any destination resort. The transition is almost unbelievable. But not quite. What is unbelievable is that the resort has gone from punishing to polished without sacrificing its soul.
“We’ll never be a mega- resort or pure vanilla,” Blann says. “We’ll never be all things to all people. We have our mountain and we’ll be us.” Jackson’s “us” is “a small town where everyone helps everyone else out,” says Jackson native and former World freeskiing champion Jess McMillan.
“It may feel like this huge resort, but, at the same time, everyone will say, ‘Hello.’ It still has that small town camaraderie to it.” This year it also, as a birthday present to itself, has a new high-speed quad. The Teton lift, which accesses intermediate and advanced terrain previously only available if you had the strength and will to hike to it, is the best kind of gift: One that we all get to enjoy.