You Don’t Have to be a Rev Head to Enjoy a Scenic Safaris Snowmobile Tour Around Jackson Hole Ski Resort
Originally published in the Melbourne Herald Sun
Jennifer Ennion, Escape
WITH seemingly endless powder, narrow chutes and accessible back-country, it’s no surprise Jackson Hole rates as one of the world’s best ski resorts. But you don’t have to buy a lift ticket to have a Rocky Mountains adventure. Leave the crowds to the slopes and explore the isolation and beauty of a winter wilderness on the back of a snowmobile.
The clouds are heavy and the air cold. SUVs laden with skis and snowboards travel along an icy highway, with Wyoming’s famed Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in their sights. Yesterday, I joined the convoy, taking advantage of a recent snowstorm. But today I’m opting for a North American adventure of another kind – snowmobiling.
I head away from the gondolas, through the cowboy town of Jackson, toward Gros Ventre Wilderness, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. About five minutes later, I’m at Scenic Safaris being decked out in a head-to-toe outerwear onesie, waterproof winter boots and gloves, and a full-face helmet – there’ll be no frostbitten fingertips or toes here. And then we’re off – a coach-load of excited young men and women followed by a long trailer laden with four-stroke snowmobiles, aka sleds.
About 45 minutes later, we reach the trail head, deep within a valley of fresh snow. Grey clouds continue to loom over distant mountains, adding to our anticipation. We don balaclavas and the helmets, and leap on to the sleds we’ve been allocated.
As the only female riding solo, I’m designated second place in the line-up, behind our guide. This means I help set the pace and can be easily helped out of any sticky spots should I get into trouble. I’m used to this preferential treatment, having learnt on previous snowmobiling tours how male-dominated the activity is.
We take off down a groomed trail like a line of ducklings. To our right, the track drops away to a field of powder. To our left, banks of snow lead to gentle hillsides painted white. It’s a beautiful part of the world and, aside from a trio of other snowmobiles, it’s just us and the environment.
WILD AT HEART
You don’t have to be a rev head to enjoy a day snowmobiling. One of the best things about this winter activity is that it’s suitable for first-timers. If you’re not comfortable with driving a sled, you can go tandem.
But I highly recommend giving it a whirl. Your guide will keep an eye out for obstacles and ensure you feel comfortable with the speed and terrain.
Scenic Safaris has wildlife front of mind, too. Its modern fleet of sleds has low emissions and little noise, so pollution is reduced and there’s minimal disturbance to the animals that call the valley home. Gros Ventre Wilderness is an important winter habitat for wildlife and is a migratory corridor for large herds of elk, antelope and moose.
When we see animals, we stop the sleds well clear of them. Off-trail riding is also prohibited, meaning we’re discouraged from straying from the line-up to thrash through snow and vegetation.
However, at the end of our adventure, we are given permission to race around a frozen lake piled high with untouched powder. There are no animals in sight, so we take off, thrilled to feel the difference between travelling along hard-packed snow and sliding across light, loose powder.
But for most of the tour, our attention is on the landscape and fauna around us. We occasionally stop to observe bighorn sheep calmly perched hillside. Bald eagles soar through the crisp air above, while deer are spotted in the distance. Unfortunately, the majestic moose eludes us, as does the formidable coyote.
WAY OUT WEST
As we return to our meeting point, we pass the roughly hewn log fence of a ranching property. It’s the only homestead we see on our tour and the undisturbed snow blanketing the driveway is proof of its isolation.
The town of Jackson and the surrounding valley has a strong cattle ranching history.
This is where Australians come to get a true taste of America’s Wild West culture. If you’re not staying in Jackson, be sure to spend at least one night there dining on buffalo wings and playing pool at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – a local icon and major tourist drawcard.
Although the town appears staged, farmers, ranchers and fur trappers have been lured to this inhospitable part of America since the early 1800s. When farming became too difficult, homesteaders embraced wealthy visitors from the east by opening their properties to dude, or guest, ranching.
Locals are proud of their rugged beginnings, and make the most of the environment.
In summer, snowmobilers become hikers, rockclimbers and campers. When winter returns, it’s back on the sleds, skis and boards, with blizzards and bone-chilling temperatures failing to keep people indoors.
The writer was a guest of The Real America and United Airlines.
Jackson is in the US state of Wyoming, about 11km south of Jackson Hole Airport. United Airlines flies to Jackson Hole Airport from Los Angeles and San Francisco. See united.com/au.
There are shuttles between the airport and Jackson, and a free bus runs throughout the town. However, the best way to get around the Rockies is to hire a car, and Avis, Hertz and Enterprise have agencies at the airport. See jacksonholeairport.com.
Spring Creek Ranch is a great option for families and groups seeking a private, luxury resort surrounded by nature. It’s set on a 40ha wilderness sanctuary (keep an eye out for elk and moose), just outside of downtown Jackson and a short drive to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Accommodation includes hotel rooms, townhouses and villas with full kitchens, dining rooms and living areas. Rooms are priced from $US199 to $US295 a night (Dec. 24-March 29), including breakfast. 1800 Spirit Dance Rd, Jackson; springcreekranch.com.
Scenic Safaris runs snowmobile tours in the Rockies, including a full day