Exploring the Tetons: Skiing, Snowshoeing and Ringing in the New Year Idaho Style

Snowshoeing Moose Creek on New Year's Day. 
Both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks have been at the top of my bucket list for quite some time, as both have completely different but iconic and diverse landscapes. This winter, I got to visit both as part of a trip with friends HeatherJon, Will, and a handful of others, and man was it a special week.

I flew from Philadelphia into the Jackson Hole airport hours before the rest of the group arrived and caught my first glimpse of the Teton Range out the plane window. Predictably, I felt the itch to get into the mountains as soon as possible.

Folks at the airport, which is small even by my upstate New York standards, recommended the Alltrans shuttle into the town of Jackson. The shuttle driver gave us a run-down of the National Elk Refuge and other notable spots on the way into town; it felt like more of a tour than a bus ride.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon and beginning of the evening wandering around Jackson, including a few hours at Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters. I was grateful for the chance to leave my luggage there while I explored, taking obligatory tourist photos. On a recommendation from a friend, I spent a few hours at the Snake River Brewery sampling their beers and award-winning chili until the rest of the crew arrived.

The Tetons in winter. There are no words. I have to pick my jaw up off the floor every time I look at this photo.

We opted to stay in Victor, Idaho over Teton Pass from Jackson because it tends to be cheaper, and our home for the next few days, which we’d referred to as a cabin in our pre-trip email exchanges, was more like a mansion. Evidently, VRBO is the place to go if you’re looking for good vacation housing.

Snowshoeing Signal Mountain, Grand Teton National Park

The first full day of the trip, we woke to bluebird skies and opted for a straightforward, easy-to-follow trail up Signal Mountain.  We parked outside Signal Mountain Lodge, which is closed for the winter. As a first-time visitor to Grand Teton National Park, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face and couldn't wait to go play in the snow.

All smiles with Mt. Moran (12,605') in the distance.
I’d brought LL Bean’s Women’s Trailblazer snowshoes to test out and after we suited up, we headed up Signal Mountain Road. It was my second time wearing snowshoes, ever, so though we stayed on a wide (but surprisingly deserted) unplowed road with established tracks, I was glad to have a chance to get my feet under me. (Note: We followed a multi-use, broken trail, but it’s bad etiquette as a snowshoer to tread on an established cross country ski trail.)

After using the road for most of the route up, we picked up the Signal Mountain summit trail and made our way a bit past a small frozen lake before reaching our turnaround time. We got a late start and the goal was to catch the fast approaching sunset over the Tetons from the Snake River Overlook.

We made it about three miles, and instead of following the road down, we cut through the woods and shortened the descent significantly. Enough so that Heather and I needed to burn off some excess energy at the end of the hike.

We made it back to the cars with plenty of time to see the sunset from where Ansel Adams took his iconic shot of the Teton Range and the Snake River back in 1942. I've seen the photo so many times and it felt incredibly special to stand where he stood, despite the fact that all I had to capture the landscape was my iPhone and a point-and-shoot camera.

Alpine Skiing at Grand Targhee Resort and Ringing in the New Year

Will during one of the better visibility moments!
The second day of the trip, we left our snowshoes behind and drove to Grand Targhee Resort. I’d scored a discounted lift ticket from Liftopia and was excited to spend the day skiing. It snowed the entire day, and for someone used to skiing in the northeast, playing around in fresh, fluffy snow felt amazing.

We moved between the Dreamcatcher, Blackfoot and Shoshone lifts throughout the day, but as the hours passed, we ran into one small, but crucial problem – it was nearly impossible to see! Evidently, low visibility is common at the resort.

By mid-afternoon, we were only skiing lift lines, spotting the route from one pole to the next, because that’s as far as we could see and it seemed like the safest way to make sure we didn’t ski off a cliff or into a tree. Regardless, it was a blast.

One of the coolest things about traveling is finding unique local establishments like the one we found to spend New Year’s Eve in. The Royal Wolf, a popular local bar in Driggs, Idaho, was hopping as we counted down to 2014 with a few games of pool and cocktails.

Snowshoeing Moose Creek and Dropping in at Targhee CrossFit

Though the previous two days in the Tetons had been amazing, the first day of 2014 might’ve been my favorite of that portion of the trip. I woke up early for breakfast with Amy Hatch, the brains behind Jackson Hole Packraft and Packraft Rentals Anywhere, whom I’d never met in person. She took me to The Station Grill, an adorable little restaurant, where we spent nearly two hours catching up, trading stories about living in Alaska, watching her beautiful daughter, and talking about snowshoeing options for the afternoon. Though I’d talked at length with Amy in 2012 for an interview, she’s even more amazing in person. 

Jon pausing to watch the sun do something pretty amazing on the way down from our Moose Creek snowshoe.
I made it back to the “cabin” with a hand drawn map and coerced half of the group into driving ten minutes up the road to Moose Creek in the Targhee National Forest. The first portion of our snowshoe was on an established trail, but that quickly ran out and we found ourselves heading straight uphill in thigh-deep snow in search of better views. The only people in sight were far across the highway on what looked like an amazing sledding hill. I lamented about leaving my gaiters at home, but had an absolute blast playing around in the powder.

Heather blazing our trail near Moose Creek.
We turned around after a few hours and made it back to the car in time for me to head to Targhee CrossFit for a workout. I’m in the process of training for the 2014 CrossFit Games Open and normally don’t go more than a day without one of my programmed workouts. I was grateful for the chance to make up some of what I missed while being gone.

As is the case with other gyms I've visited while traveling and as is characteristic of the CrossFit community, I felt welcomed at Targhee CrossFit. The class I attended was completely empty, so one of the coaches offered to do my workout with me. Between breakfast with a friend, snowshoeing, and CrossFit, it was an amazing day.

After three and a half days in and around the Tetons, we headed to Yellowstone National Park, which is live on the Sierra Trading Post blog!

Have you even been to the Tetons in winter, or in summer? Do any of these places look or sound familiar? If we didn’t hit some of your favorite spots or activities, what do you recommend for a trip back?


Julie said…
I'll be able to tell you in 3 weeks!! I can't wait to go and loved reading about your journey! :-) Yay! Did you see Jackson Hole Ski Resort as well?
Katie said…
Awesome!! Nope, we didn't ski at Jackson Hole. Grand Targhee was cheaper, and when a storm rolled in, we didn't want to drive over Teton Pass to get back to Jackson from Victor where we were staying. It was definitely a multi-sport trip and skiing wasn't out first priority. But if you do go to Jackson Hole to ski, I can't wait to hear about it! I really can't wait to hear about the whole trip!