I love skiing and have a particular fondness for Park City’s stellar resorts: Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley and Canyons. But until this weekend, I couldn’t remember the last time I spent a full day on the slopes. As a mom and freelance writer, my ski time comes in two- to three-hour intervals. And when I see visitors doing things that people on vacation do—enjoying a leisurely, slope side lunch, skiing from first chair to last or having beers at the end of the day—I’m admittedly a little jealous. Well, last weekend was my turn. My family and I made what will likely be the first of many trips to Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming.
Grand Targhee’s entry approach is a pretty apt indication of what to expect at this very welcoming, no frills ski resort.
Grand Targhee is located on the backside of the Tetons, about 280 miles from Park City. Mom and Pop, old-school and low-key all describe the vibe at this cozy mountain resort. Don’t be swayed by the fact that only five lifts operate here. Our longest lift line was less than five minutes and with just over 2,600 acres of terrain (Deer Valley is 2,026 acres.) fewer lifts means that rather than getting tracked out by 11 a.m., you can ski powder days after a storm. Speaking of snow, Grand Targhee gets more than its fair share. According to some of the ski patrollers I chatted with, if Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (located 30 miles away via Teton Pass) is reporting seven inches, you can count on more than twice that falling on Grand Targhee.
We’re greeted by one of Grand Targhee’s search and rescue dogs, Burdock, and his handler Kevin Vallade at the top of the Sacajawea chairlift.
Ill-fated free skier Jamie Pierre made Grand Targhee infamous in 1999 when he successfully hucked himself off a 255-foot cliff just outside the resort boundary. (Pierre died in a Utah avalanche in 2011.) The vast majority of Grand Targhee’s inbounds terrain, however, is far from extreme. Wide-open intermediate runs peppered with old growth evergreens is the rule here. Large groomed swaths run down the center of most slopes allowing everyone in our group to ski what they wanted and then ride the lift together. Other activities include snowshoe tours with a naturalist, Nordic skiing, tubing, sleigh ride dinners and snowcat skiing off the south side of Grand Targhee’s Peaked Mountain.
Skiers can glimpse over the rope at the cliff free skier Jamie Pierre jumped off of in 1999. Grand Targhee’s inbounds terrain is mostly intermediate, however.
I can see where spending more than a few days at Grand Targhee might make you go a little stir crazy. The same reasons that make the place feel so safe—all runs funnel down into the base area which is about as big as Deer Valley’s Ski Beach—could feel confining after more than a long weekend. Nightlife is limited to three or so bars on site and just a couple more down in nearby Driggs. Unfortunately, I can’t comment to any great extent on dining options except to say that lunch in the Wild Bill’s Grill cafeteria was satisfying but not particularly memorable unless you consider the prices, which were easily half of what we spend for lunch at the Park City resorts. (Our evenings consisted of a dip in the hot tub followed by dinner and movies in our comfortable and well-equipped Teton Creek condo.)
Highlights of our trip included watching both our 7- and 10-year-old land their first cliff jump, sitting for as long as I wanted over lunch and instead of skiing from first chair to last as I had intended, settling into a lawn chair at about 3 p.m. with a cold beer in my hand, watching my kids play in the snow. If you’re looking for a family ski vacation focused on skiing and being outside, Grand Targhee is definitely worth the trip.
Melissa Fields is a Utah-based freelance writer. Her blog is utahvagabond.com.