Deeper, wilder, steeper
Every week I get asked “what is the best trip you have ever been on?” and for many years my answers have been similar; Ski Safaris through Utah and British Columbia, finding those harder to reach places and skiing epic terrain. Since returning from my latest trip however, my answer is now most definitely “the Yellowstone Safari” - hands down the greatest snowboarding trip of our lives. From our first big line at Big Sky, the conditions, the terrain, and our own skill level just got better and better, culminating in whoops of delight in Grand Targhee and waist deep powder in Jackson Hole. “Best ever“ just got better.
Big Sky, Montana
“The Biggest Skiing in America”. Many resorts lay claim to similar titles but Big Sky backs it up and then some. We skied for three days and barely scratched the surface of this huge mountain. Not only are the runs super long, with a vertical rise of 4350ft, but the snow is equally impressive dishing out over 33ft per year. We were treated to some of the best steep skiing, dropping in off the summit of Lone Peak and, with great visibility and under 200 people on the mountain, we were able to race around the resort at full speed.
There are over 250 named runs on Big Sky & Moonlight Basin (part of the same resort) but our favourite terrain was to be found on the south side of Lone Peak. We were tempted by Big Couloir but Vicky chickened out as without an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel it is off limits. Hopefully next time! There is an abundance of wide open, extremely long, fast runs such as Elk Park, Ridge & Meadows where I possibly snowboarded the fastest I have ever been. Prepare to put your foot down - if you can ski fast you can certainly break the 100kph barrier. The steeps, bowls and chutes off the 11,166ft Lone Peak Summit are a rite of passage for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders. A lot of the extreme terrain requires a “hike” but well worth the extra effort, with the cheers and pole banging from lifties and fellow skiers on the Lone Peak Cable Car spurring you on.
The accommodation at Big Sky is dotted around the compact base area and whether you are a group, family or couple there is something to suit your requirements. The convenience of our slope side accommodation meant that despite being quite lazy and getting up at 7:30 we were still on first lift at 9am.
Après & Dining
Après is good in Big Sky, perhaps a little quiet during the week but fun and lively at weekends with a few quality options. Whiskey Jack’s is a fun bar but our personal favourite has to be Chet’s Bar & Grill where, at one point, we were asked by the band to bang wooden spoons and ladles on pots and pans during a song. This certainly startled the two chaps trying to have a business meeting nearby!
There are over 45 places to eat in Big Sky, including the cafes and delis, and you are never short of an option. One of the best value on-mountain food options is located in the base lodge at the foot of the mountain. For under $10 I had an enormous bowl of chilli, sweet potato fries and an XL coffee - enough to feed a horse and get me fired up for even more powder.
Yellowstone National Park
The west entrance to Yellowstone National Park is only an hour’s drive from Big Sky, and wow, what beautiful scenery. Unfortunately our itinerary did not allow us to spend a night in West Yellowstone or experience one of the superb snow coach/snowmobile rides into the Park to see sights such as the iconic bison or the Old Faithful Geyser. However, with more time, this is certainly a worthwhile add-on to your trip allowing you to enjoy North America’s oldest and wildest national park.
Grand Targhee, Wyoming
After another hour’s stunning drive past Yellowstone, you arrive in the little known but much loved resort of Grand Targhee. The Ghee, as the locals call it, receives more snow that most other resorts in North America. This is a pretty good start but want to know the best bit? The resort is very quiet so there is no one there to shred all that pow. Luckily for us, it was a knee deep pow day and only once during the whole day did we have people in front of us on the lifts - two people to be exact, who kindly stepped to one side so we could pass in our great rush for the freshies...
The best cruisers were to be found off the Dreamcatcher chair where Wild Willie and Crazy Horse provided an hour of super fast fun. If you're after something a little steeper try anything off the Sacajawea chair. The cliff drops increase the further up the ridge you head so if you value your spine, knees and hips then stay lower and rip though Toilet Bowl and Das Boat avoiding the small cliffs.
Targhee is a great pit stop for the night. The three accommodation options are located at the base of the mountain with great choices for families, groups and couples. There is nothing too fancy but this is more than made up for by being within a 20 second walk of the lifts!
Après & Dining
The base area has a superb restaurant offering incredibly tasty food - fine dining without the expense. In fact this were we had one of the best meals of the trip. Be sure to check out The Branding Iron Grill for some fresh local food in a casual atmosphere. The alternative is the Trap bar which is lively, loud and a lot of fun - grab a cold beer and enjoy some live music! What more could you ask for? For breakfast the best option is Snorkels which offers a slightly limited, but great value, menu and the coffee keeps flowing. Biscuits and gravy anyone!? Not many people know about Targhee but those that have been there all agree on the immense pow, huge cliffs, epic trees and a genuine mountain culture.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The words 'Jackson Hole' used to fill me with wonder. I knew of its legendary status amongst the big mountain resorts but I had to ski it to believe it. For a guy like me it is singularly the best mountain I have ever set foot on - the best terrain, the best snow, the best riding, the best on-mountain restaurants, the best bowls, trees and chutes. I’m still filled with wonder but at least now I can confirm it is justified and I cannot wait to go back.
Jackson Hole Resort is made up of two areas. The town of Jackson Hole, a 20 minute drive from the ski area, is fun and lively with plenty of history and great hotels. There is also a selection of resort accommodation dotted around the base area. Both offer something different with fantastic amenities and accommodation options to suit all needs.
On paper, the mountain is not one of the biggest (2500 acres of inbound terrain), but skis bigger than any other mountain I know. The vertical drop is huge at 4139ft and the runs feel twice as long thanks to the steepness of the mountain.. The area is known for its big steep lines blanketed by light powdery snow and it certainly did not fail to deliver for our visit.
Our first foray involved taking the gondola up which allowed up to scope out more than a few awesome runs. Our guide and Jackson legend, Spencer Long, took us on a magical tour of the best powder stashes. Every single run offered powder - into the trees, on the pistes, it was pow all the way. Our recommendation for a great run is to start on Ranger directly under the gondola. It’s a glory run so be sure to be on your game. In Jackson you can spend an entire day on one lift and not ski the same line. You get so much more mileage for your dollar here with some monster lines down the mountain with fast chair lifts, gondolas and trams back up to the top.
There were many great culinary moments during our Safari through Montana and Wyoming but one of the greatest was the Rueben Sandwich at the Couloir Restaurant located at the top of the gondola. If you like your food then the Couloir is not to be missed. Book ahead and then order the duck wings to start followed by the epic Rueben; a gourmet sandwich the size of a brick consisting of corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese.
I will never forget our second day at Jackson Hole. We awoke to over a foot of fresh powder and arrived at the resort early enough to be amongst the first in line for the Après Vous chair as Spencer recommended we avoid the tram and Gondola first thing. This meant we had the entire Saratoga Bowl to ourselves. Untracked waist deep snow was laid before us on the Secret Slope, with fast pow turns on Big Horn and face shots on Crowheart.
Three amazing hours later we stopped for a well-earned lunch at the slopeside Four Seasons Hotel before heading up the Tram. The iconic Jackson Hole tram holds up to 100 skiers and snowboarders and takes 9 minutes. The terrain from the summit is best suited to advanced skiers and snowboarders but for those wanting a spectacular lunch you can head up to simply enjoy the food and awesome views.
Each year you pray for days like this one but rarely do all the stars align during your few days on holiday. Well the stars aligned for us that day and I have never been so happy on a mountain. After a short traverse from the summit we stood atop Rendezvous Bowl with nearly 1000ft of fresh powder bowl turns. From Rendezvous to Wallyworld and onto Cheyenne Gully (sorry Jackson, we didn't see the closed sign) with chest deep snow at times, we then headed onto the famous Hobacks before finding the Union pass traverse and our way back to the resort base. There were hugs and high fives all around - for us it doesn't get any better than that.
The resort accommodation is dotted around the base area. Here you will find the Four Seasons, Hotel Terra, Snake River Lodge and Teton Mountain Lodge plus a few others, either ski in ski out or within walking distance of the Tram, gondola and chairlift. The après scene is pretty good too with the Mangy Moose offering a raucous atmosphere. There are several other bars and restaurants to keep you occupied if you are staying "on mountain" but the town of Jackson is only a 20 minute drive or bus ride away where you have a huge variety of options for accommodation, dining and drinking.
We stayed in the town’s most historic hotel, The Wort. The Wort is one of the best hotels in town with beautifully appointed rooms and suites depicting the town’s colourful history. Take a step back in time at the hotel's famous Silver Dollar Bar, known for the 2,032 uncirculated 1921 Morgan Silver Dollars inlayed into the bar itself and its welcoming cowboy atmosphere.
Après & Dining
Equal in history to the Silver Dollar Bar, but perhaps a little crazier, is the famous Cowboy bar where you perch on saddles instead of bar stools. Here the music is louder and the beer runs freely. Walking along the wooden boardwalks in downtown Jackson you get a real sense of the history, something I find hard to come by in many other US resorts. They have stuck to their guns, kept to their roots and are proud to show them off. The town has several incredible restaurants offering some of the best food I have had the luxury of eating. Be sure to try the roast rack of lamb at The Blue Lion, only five minutes walk from downtown Jackson. Delicious.
Jackson Hole mountain resort is a formidable mountain and the legs do get tired. If you fancy a day or an afternoon off then I highly recommend a visit to the elk refuge, just 10 minutes from town. For around $20 per person you can spend a good three hours enjoying a sleigh ride through the middle of the heard. Some 8000+ head of elk reside in Jackson through the winter where they are free to come and go, attracted by the food that the town provides during the harsh Wyoming winter.
Be sure to keep an eye out for a moose or two. We encountered many on the drive from Jackson Town to the resort and they are big, beautiful animals.
From the moment we arrived in Big Sky, Montana each day brought with it so many great moments, fantastic people, culinary delights and awesome sights. If you want a trip that delivers just about everything you could want from a ski holiday, then the Yellowstone Safari promises to exceed your expectations.
A 14 night Ski Safari starts from £1650pp including accommodation, flights and hire of an SUV. Based on 2 adults travelling.
Request a quotation tailored to your particular requirements, or please call us on 01273 224 060.
Snowboarding since age 16, instructor for 4 years in Canada and New Zealand, four seasons in Whistler, one season in Banff and one season in New Zealand.