Lush green pastures, scattered ranches and river-lined rock faces bring a welcoming switch after the stretch of desolate flatlands in eastern Wyoming. Driving along the winding current of a rushing river, even before hitting Jackson, I could feel the place was something special.
It was summer the first time I visited. I had been living in Breckinridge and took the 8-plus-hour road trip to Wyoming’s wilderness. The last time I had seen the state was as a pre-teen on a national park double Ford Econoline van tour (communicating between two four-kid families with CB radios).
What makes Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) a gem is not just its rugged slopes, backcountry access and Western vibe. The geology and proximity to wildlife are unique and surreal. Surrounded by Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, two eye-catching, intriguing places to visit, it’s nestled in the heart of an area calling to be explored.
The sustainability landscape
Hugged by land that’s mostly protected, locals have a connection with trying to preserve the place, and it shows through the environmental commitments coming from the ski resort.
It’s easy when you work in the natural environment to get people to see why it matters, said Jon Bishop, JHMR director of base area operations. “We want to do the right thing.”
The ski resort is a two-time recipient of the NSAA “Golden Eagle” award (2011 and 1995), the first ski resort to join 1% for the Planet with Piste Restaurant, and a member of the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities.
The operations team looks across all departments — from grooming to food and beverage — to assess where they can minimize the impact. The dynamic efforts have created an ingrained environmental awareness within the entire resort.
It’s the little things that add up.
- Recycling 1,000 gallons of used vegetable oil waste from restaurants
- Using Rocky Mountain-sourced foods, reducing environmental footprint while supporting local farmers
- Buying bus passes for employees and season pass holders
- Purchasing renewable energy credits since 2007, offsetting 100 percent of lift energy
- Offering free parking for carpoolers (vehicles with three or more) in Teton Village, dropping the total miles traveled per skier visit by 30 percent
JHMR has taken steps to preserve the natural habitat through collaboration with scientists, researchers and conservation organizations.
“We were seeing pine beetles that were killing swaths of whitebark pine,” said Bishop, “and we had some specimens out here that were resistant for some reason, or they were lucky.”
Acting as a nurse log for conifers and understory plants, the alpine tree also shields snow from the sun and regulates runoff and streamflow. However, a disease introduced from Asia called “blister rust,” combined with a bark beetle infestation, has taken a toll on the whitebark pine population in the area.
JHMR mapped trees exhibiting resistance to blister rust, then collected seeds from those trees to grow in a nursery. The saplings are now in the resort boundaries.
For the beetle infestation, a pesticide has been applied to trees accessible from mountain roads, and hormone patches were set, shown to aromatically deter beetles from inhabiting.
Since snow, energy use and climate change have an intimate relationship, reducing carbon footprints has been a key focus for many ski areas.
Last year, Jackson Hole announced it now runs on 100 percent renewable electricity, powered by Lower Valley Energy’s green power program. The power is blown in from the nearby Horse Butte Wind Farm in Idaho.
This partnership immediately reduced emissions across the resort by two-thirds, Bishop said. “We rely on winter, right, so we certainly don’t want to aid in the climate change situation.”
All that said, Bishop admits their efforts remain “just part of the puzzle.”
We may not make a dent alone, but the ski industry as a whole can. And working with stakeholders gives it the domino effect, he added.
If you go
Along with all the environmental efforts, the town of Jackson has a preserved culture as well. The boarded sidewalks, squared-off architecture and massive antler arches (not an endorsement) in the central plaza set the charisma of the community.
The calendar is filled with live music shows, film screenings and community lectures, discussing things like avalanche safety, backcountry skills and local farming.
Summertime in the area can be a bit chaotic, with the two national parks so close. Although the cold season can be busy on the slopes and in town at times, it’s a bit less concentrated. Winter offers a secluded opportunity to see wildlife in the park, including the famous Yellowstone wolves, which are otherwise elusive and hard to spot without the snow behind their light fur.