From the top of the Headwall, my favorite run at Grand Targhee Resort, I can’t quite see the grove of aspens that I know exists just beyond the giant slide of white.
I dive in, make a couple of turns, lose my balance, regain it, glance up, see someone zoom past me, hit a slippery patch, nearly wipe out, then finally recover, and bound all the way down to those trees.
Admittedly, the timing of my visit to this ski area known for its powder isn’t great. I’ve landed here between snowfalls, and a warm spell has zapped the best stashes from the slopes and created some unseen slick spots. But in my book, any day on a mountain beats one in front of my computer, and on this late season day I’m still having a blast.
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Grand Targhee is not for posers
Technically, Grand Targhee lies in western Wyoming, just across the mountains from glitzy Jackson Hole, but Idaho claims part ownership. That’s because you have to drive through Driggs, Idaho to reach it. Locals dub the area Wydaho because it straddles both states.
I knew it was my kind of place the moment I spotted a rusty International Harvester Scout parked at the front of the lot, a half-eaten cup of chili hastily discarded on its back seat alongside a pile of dirty clothes. I might be wrong, but I think I detected a slight whiff of marijuana, too.
Whoever had parked it in the main parking lot at the base of Grand Targhee was in a hurry to get to the slopes, and I could relate to his or her impatience. Taking the cue, I changed into my ski boots while sitting in our van, and glanced around. I spotted not a single person in a mink stole, nary a soul shopping for whimsies, and not one fancy hotel staffed with butlers and bellhops.
My breathing slowed considerably. Grand Targhee obviously cares more about skiing than it does about less important distractions.
Plus, there’s almost always a great view of Grand Teton, which at 13,775 feet is the highest peak in the Teton range. You just have to stop and gawk.
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Grand Targhee caters to intermediates
The ski resort itself is known for mostly intermediate terrain. It gets an average of 500 inches of snowfall a year, but it doesn’t attract crowds.
I loved Headwall, which delivered some manageable moguls and a nice pitch, but I found some nice runs through the aspens, too. Something about slicing through those slender tree trunks, smooth and gray, made me feel like I was inside a black and white photograph.
If you go, don’t miss The Trap bar at the base. It’s good – and it’s cheap. A giant plate of nachos (skip the ones on waffle fries and order the ones on corn chips) feeds least four people and costs less than $20. That’s cheap compared to most on-mountain restaurants.
Strike up a conversation with the regulars while you’re there. They call skiers over 80 here Targheezers, and they ski with pride.
And if you want to know how much snow fell the night before, behold the Stick of Truth, an 18-inch measuring stick surrounded by a rotating cast of small figurines. Resort operators train a camera on it, and you can tune into the livestream from your home (or office) to see how much powder has accumulated overnight.
Stay in Idaho, ski in Wyoming
I stayed at Teton Valley Resort, located just outside of Victor, Idaho. You can park an RV there, but it also rents lovely little cabins, each with its own fireplace and a full kitchen.
No, they’re not tucked in the woods, and yes, they’re lined up side by side like baby ducks, but they’re new, well maintained and pretty luxurious. Plus, the Wanderlust Bistro located on the premises serves everything from breakfast tacos and chilaquiles in the morning to tortas, street tacos and empanadas for lunch and dinner.
While you’re in Wydaho
On the way back to Idaho Falls, we made a stop at Heise Hot Springs to soak in the natural hot springs. I consider myself something of a hot springs connoisseur, and this one lacked the ambiance of more natural pools I’ve sought out in the woods. Still, the steamy waters helped ease the pain of a hard fall that I took (right below the lift line, on a beginner slope, no less). Entry fee is $10 for adults and $8 for children 11 and under.
Afterward, it’s practically required that you stop at the nearby Heise Pizza Parlor. They’ve got a sandwich named the Kelly Canyon, but pizza’s the main attraction, and they make a good pie. (A personal pizza is not enough for a hungry skier; go big.)
Stop by Kelly Canyon Resort
The big resorts get all the press, but sometimes it’s fun to explore the locals’ mountain for a day.
Before heading back to Idaho Falls to catch my flight back to Austin, I skied half a day at quaint Kelly Canyon Resort, a 640-acre playground in Ririe, Idaho.
It’s no frills and basic, with a small rental shop, a ski school, a restaurant, and a place to eat your own food, complete with a sign that says, “No coolers, no crockpots, no camping.” You’ll park in a dirt lot, and you won’t find fancy amenities. The place opened in 1957.
What you do get is a nice, old-school vibe. Runs are rolling and gentle, and they wind through groves of pines. We took laps, trying to sniff out the best snow. According to operations manager Dean Lords, the longest line last season was six minutes –– and that was between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
At the end of last season, the resort installed its first triple chair lift, plus a new snow making machine. (Welcome to the future!)
The mountain offers night skiing several evenings a week, and the small restaurant at the base serves tiny fried doughnut bits called “Goat Bites,” best eaten with huckleberry butter.
If You Go
United and American Airlines both offer flights into Idaho Falls but flying from Austin you’ll have to make a connection. (I went through Salt Lake City.) From there it takes about an hour and 15 minutes to drive to Victor.
I stayed at the Teton Valley Resort, which rents cabins (and tipis, in the summer). It’s got a hot tub, fantastic on-site restaurant, and it’s a 30-minute drive to Grand Targhee ski resort.
Ski, bike, hike, snow shoe, watch wildlife or curl up in front of a fire and relax.
Head to the Knotty Pine Supper Club, which has been operating since the 1960s. If you’re with friends, consider the Pignic – a pile of pork ribs, pulled pork and brisket so high it feeds four to six people. It comes with mac and cheese, cole slaw and beans, too. Wash it all down with a Knotty Toddy, a warming blend of whiskey, honey, lemon, and hot water.
Stop by Sego Ski Company in Victor and check out the assortment of hand-made big mountain, twin tip, powder and all-mountain skis.