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JACKSON HOLE: Action in Wyoming's Grand Tetons

January 29, 1989|SHARON APFELBAULM | Apfelbaum is a free-lance writer living in Palm Springs. and

JACKSON, Wyo. — Huddled on the snowy bank of the Snake River at Moose, Dornan's may be the world's most scenic bar. Before its picture window, skiers gather to sip Irish coffee at sunset and pay homage to the stunning mountain panorama. Peaks and jagged pinnacles tower over this valley like a Gothic cathedral. The Grand Tetons, a choir of majestic granite spires, trumpet their beauty through the high country basin called Jackson Hole.

While Jackson Hole offers an unspoiled paradise for winter recreation, the region resounds with a sanctity and power that enrich the spirit. Dramatic vistas and wildlife abound. The valley is part of the largest chunk of wilderness left in the world's temperate zones.

Named for Davey Jackson, a beaver trapper who claimed this "hole," or valley, his territory in the 1800s, Jackson Hole is hemmed in by mountains. The flat, mile-high valley reaches south from Yellowstone National Park for 50 miles, holding some of the West's most spectacular country, terminating here in the town of Jackson.

Snow is powdery from Thanksgiving to Easter, and terrain to ski and explore remains virtually unlimited. Wide trails follow the course of the Snake River, a fertile habitat for wildlife. Flocks of ducks and teams of trumpeter swans honk their greetings as the fish-filled river winds its way along the valley

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floor from headwaters deep in Yellowstone. In this primitive environment you're more likely to meet a moose than another skier.

Ski beneath the Tetons and experience nature's symphony. Wind whistles in steep glacier-carved canyons where streams chime with melting snow. A chain of lakes shimmer; chickadees carol in meadows at the foot of misty gabled peaks. The refulgent landscape is a balm and benediction.

Thanks to some farsighted folks, the region remains a living paradigm of primordial Western America.

John D. Rockefeller donated much of the land now included in Grand Teton National Park. Local writer Margaret Murie, 87, energetically carries on the conservation cause.

Only 3% of Teton County is privately owned, and the rest is protected within the national park, Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge.

Preservation efforts do not keep out modern recreation. The pleasures of high mountain helicopter and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoe hiking and dude ranching are plentiful. You can take a moonlit sleigh ride, go by dog sled to dinner or drive a snowmobile to Granite Hot Springs for a soak in nature's own Jacuzzi.

Wide-Open Spaces

Downhill skiers have a profusion of wide-open spaces. Three major ski areas include more than 5,000 acres of slopes and trails and an aerial tram. Snow King Mountain, imposing backdrop for the colorful town of Jackson, is Wyoming's oldest ski area.

At family-oriented Grand Targhee Resort on the west side of the Tetons, snow is so light and deep that few slopes even need grooming. Targhee averages more than 500 inches of annual snowfall and claims the best powder skiing in the northern Rockies.

Jackson Hole Ski Resort at Teton Village boasts the longest vertical drop in the nation. Towering 10,000 feet over the village, the resort's Rendezvous Mountain offers a kaleidoscope of trails--through powder bowls, gladed meadows and fragrant forests.

All three resorts stage annual torchlight parades down mountain slopes as part of their Christmas and New Year's Eve festivities.

In contrast to the area's stark, pastoral elegance, Jackson has a lively Wild West character. Covered wooden walkways, Western storefronts and a cluster of cowboy saloons create a rustic atmosphere. Huge arches of elk antlers mark the Jackson town square and serve as the Jackson logo.

Restaurants such as the Silver Sage (on the south side of the square) and the Sojourner Stockman, at the Sojourner Inn at Teton Village, specialize in steaks and barbecue. Others pride themselves on their au courant atmosphere .

Mangy Moose Saloon

Off-Broadway (30 S. King St., one block from the square) creates trendy fresh seafood and pasta dishes. The Cadillac Grille (on the west side of the square) fiddles with nouvelle cuisine in Art Deco interiors. You can sip a cappuccino at cozy Cafe Varnet (82 S. King St.) or nurse a beer at the popular Mangy Moose saloon at Teton Village.

For country music, check out the bands at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar on the square or the Silver Dollar Bar in the historic Wort Hotel. The bars are embedded with silver dollars and the dance floors are swinging night spots.

The largest herd of elk in North America winters on the northern edge of Jackson, protected by the National Elk Refuge. Schedule a picturesque sleigh ride into their midst at the refuge visitor center for close views. You'll see thousands of the animals in their own habitat, stags cracking horns, then locked in battle.

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