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A grand time

Powder Day Photography | Special to the DailyGrand Targhee's snowcat operation offers 600 acres of skiing. The mountain has 2,500 acres of lift-served skiing.
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ALTA, Wyo. – No one had been sure whether it would snow. There had been some talk of a storm headed in, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day.

After a warm day, the snow on the mountain had become a bit heavy. The weather turned foggy – “Grand Fog-gee” is a nickname for the resort – that afternoon, obscuring the Grand Teton, which looms high above the backside of the resort.

But, that afternoon, it started snowing. And it kept snowing that night.

The next day, we woke up to a good foot outside our door. That happens at a resort that gets more than 500 inches of snow per year.

Vail connection

Grand Targhee is situated near the border of Wyoming and Idaho, 42 miles west of Jackson, Wyo. You actually enter the resort from Idaho. From Jackson, you drive over Teton Pass, to Idaho’s Teton Valley, before climbing again into the mountains, back to Wyoming, through the town of Alta and up a winding road to Grand Targhee.

The village itself is made up of some lodges, a restaurant, bar, a breakfast place, offices and a few other buildings. There are also a ski school, a Nordic center and an ice-climbing park.

On the mountain, there are two high speed quads, an old two-seater (think old Chair 10 at Vail) and a beginner lift, all serving 2,500 acres.

The terrain ranges from easy groomers to cliffs. The resort regularly hosts freeskiing competition – Ski and Snowboard Club Vail was there in late March for the Junior Freeskiing Open. There’s also lots of backcountry access from the resort.

The resort is actually two mountains, Fred’s Mountain, which is served by the main lift, Dreamcatcher; and Peaked Mountain. A third peak, Mary’s Nipple, can be hiked for skiing and snowboarding.

Vail-based Booth Creek Ski Holdings bought the resort in 1997, and in 2000, Booth Creek’s CEO, George Gillett, bought the resort with his family.

Gillett lives in Vail and owned Vail Associates from 1986 to 1992.

The Gilletts installed a high-speed quad in 1997, and a 2004 land swap laid the groundwork for an ambitious plan to rebuild and expand the base village – a plan that’s now on hold as the economy recovers.

Grand Targhee is now overseen by George’s son, Geordie, who lives in the Teton Valley full-time. He has become a leader in the Teton Valley, serving on boards of numerous community organizations and setting up the Teton Valley Foundation, which is similar to Eagle County’s Vail Valley Foundation.

Fresh tracks

And Geordie can ski. Telemark ski. Quite well. He was among the 10 or so people on our snowcat, which picked us up at the top of the Sacajawea lift and took us to the summit of Peaked Mountain, elevation 9,830, with views to the Teton Valley and the Big Hole Mountains in the distance.

The snowcat area is 600 acres of not-too-steep, not-too-flat terrain high on the mountain. The resort eventually plans to install a lift in the area, but it’s now only accessible via the snowcat tours.

Our guides, Richie and Walshy, led us to untracked powder run after untracked powder run. We skied cut trails, glades, trees, gullies. We had face shots all day, stopping for a couple of breaks, including a hearty lunch, at the yurt that’s set up at the bottom of the snowcat terrain.

By the end of the day, my legs had almost fallen off – but the smile had not left my face.

The snowcat tour costs $349 for a full day and $199 for a half day.

Getting there

The Teton Valley has some impressive restaurants, too.

One night, we drove down to Victor, Idaho, a burgeoning bedroom community for Jackson, to eat at Spoons, featuring the innovative dishes of Chef Travis Brittingham. It is housed in the town’s old train depot. I had the “Three Little Pigs” – confit pork belly, pulled pork, SofaKingGood BBQ Sauce and house coleslaw served open-faced on bacon bread.

Another night, we went to Driggs to Teton Thai, which also has locations at Jackson Hole resort and in the town of Jackson. The Pad Thai was great, and spicy. Note: Three stars is really spicy. Four is insanely spicy. I don’t know if most people would survive five stars.

The drive from Vail is a solid 8.5 hours, through Steamboat and barren Wyoming oil fields, past the Wind River Range, through some ranching towns and finally to the foot of the Tetons.

You can fly, too, into either the Jackson Hole or Idaho Falls airports.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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