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Three Perfect Days: Jackson Hole, WY

IF YOU’RE A SKIER, YOU’VE undoubtedly heard of Jackson Hole. The area’s ski superlatives—most challenging, most vertical, most expert-rated ski runs—are the stuff of legend. It’s no surprise, then, that people who move to this northwestern Wyoming valley do so mainly for the skiing. The surprise is that, for many of those who stay, winter is no longer their favorite season. “I came for winter and stayed for summer,” is the locals’ mantra from the bagel shop to the bank. When the snow melts, a completely different Jackson Hole emerges. (To clarify, Jackson Hole is the entire valley, and Jackson is the largest of the valley’s six towns.) Ski runs morph into trails surrounded by wildflowers that are perfect for hiking, biking, and running. Rivers rise to white-water level. Animals come out of hiding, and the ranches that give the area its Wild West attitude come back to life. The roads through nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks reopen. And faster than you can say, “My muscles can’t take any more,” you can find a symphony or country-music concert, a festival, a rodeo, an art show, a winetasting, great shops and restaurants, or a spa where you can rest your body. Three days is the perfect amount of time to sample Jackson Hole’s cowboy-cosmopolitan style and enthusiasm for outdoor adventure.

Author Dina Mishev Photography Kenneth Redding

DAY ONE / Only a century ago, the first settlers to the valley had to make do with one-room, dirt-floored log cabins, but you’ve got the 31-room Rusty Parrot Lodge and Spa in Jackson, recently ranked among the best hotels in North America. The lodge’s overstuffed beds, down comforters, and Italian-made Anichini linens will tempt you to sleep in, but resist, and after your first Rusty Parrot breakfast, drive north to the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Over the past two decades, Jackson Hole has become one of the largest art centers in the West, and the National Museum of Wildife Art—with a 4,000-piece permanent collection that includes works by artists such as John J. Audubon and Pablo Picasso—is the art scene’s centerpiece. Though wildlife- and Western-themed work rules at the museum and in Jackson as a whole, don’t expect the expected. Exhibits at the museum this summer include Silent Spring: Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species and Vanishing Animals. For lunch, grab an Oriental chicken wrap on site at the Rising Sage Café while enjoying views of the National Elk Refuge, which may be empty now but, come winter, will be home to 10,000 elk.

Post-lunch, head back downtown for more art. On the northwest corner of the Town Square, Trailside Galleries opened as Jackson’s first art gallery in 1963 and now represents many of the country’s best Western and wildlife artists as well as classically trained painters in other genres. August shows include new works by Mian Situ, George Hallmark, and Jim Norton.

Next, peruse the Center Street Galleries. At the Meyer-Milagros Gallery, owner Mariam Alaskari features Western and wildlife artists, including sculptor Dave McGary, whose bronzes are on permanent display in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

A few doors down is the Oswald Gallery, the first in Jackson not to include any “cowboy” in its “cosmopolitan.” You can buy—or just drool over—items such as a vintage, $35,000 Ansel Adams gelatin silver print or Beatles photos by Harry Benson and Annie Liebovitz.

Amble over to Broadway Avenue and Images of Nature for a look at the work of Jackson Hole’s home-town photographer, Tom Mangelsen. His Teton and Yellowstone shots make great souvenirs, but Mangelsen also has images from farther afield.

Since you’re no doubt a bit fatigued from all the shopping, start back to the Rusty Parrot via Cioccolato, a pastry and chocolate shop run by World Culinary Olympics team member Oscar Ortega. Order a lemon tart or chipotle truffle to go. Take them back to the hotel, where you can sit down and enjoy the treats as part of afternoon tea, served every day starting at 2:30.

Rest your feet before making the short walk back to the Town Square for the live Jackson Hole Shootout. The JH Shootout Gang has been pitting good against bad at 6:15 every evening except Sunday for 50 years, making it the longest-running gunfight in the country. The script changes a little every year, but you can bet there’s going to be a damsel in distress, an escaped outlaw, eye-catching stunts, and a lot of shooting (blanks, of course).

Head back to your hotel for dinner. Although game meats sound more hunter-gatherer than gourmet, you’ll find that the Rusty Parrot’s elk crusted with star anise and coriander melts in your mouth. Pair it with the pan-seared diver sea scallops as an appetizer for one of the best dinners of your life.

If your first day here is a Wednesday or Saturday, end it with a night of pure cowboy—bull riding, barrel racing, bronc busting, and calf roping—at the Jackson Hole Rodeo. If not, enjoy one of the indigenous massage treatments at the Rusty Parrot’s luxurious Body Sage Spa. You’re going to want your muscles loose for tomorrow.

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