You’ll be forgiven if you aren’t familiar with Grand Targhee. It is in Alta, Wyoming, but getting there by road–regardless of where you start–requires passage through Teton Valley, Idaho, in Grand Teton National Park, easily one of the most scenic routes in the region, and one of the more treacherous if the weather turns foul. It sits on the backside of those iconic Teton peaks amid phenomenally scenic forest beneath yawning summits, but is typically overshadowed by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 40 miles away. Targhee’s base area is small (read: manageable) and just about everything, from the slope-side lodging to the cover charge for live music at the après ski bar, is priced to move.
Targhee is paradise for intermediate skiers and boarders, with 87 percent of the named trails rated at blue or black. Falls here are typically well cushioned because the resort is among the very few in the country that receive more than 500 inches of snow on average every year. If you can’t find fresh tracks off one of the mountain’s five lifts, you’re not looking hard enough. Or you can make it easy on yourself by booking time with the on-site cat-skiing operation, which delivers skiers and riders to the heart of the powder stash on Peaked Mountain and tops it off with hot chocolate and apple cider. And if the region got a big dump overnight, you should definitely sign up for the Early Tracks program, which gives you access to the resort from 8 to 9:30, well before the lifts open to the public. Overall, Grand Targhee offers 2,602 acres of terrain and a 2,270-foot vertical drop, stats that would make it a much more popular mountain if it were closer to a major interstate or airport.
High season lift tickets are $90, compared to Jackson Hole’s $149 at the window, and the resort regularly posts special seasonal deals, like the Kids Ski Free program, where anyone under the age of 12 skis gratis if you stay three or more nights. And a swath of age-specific lessons covers everything from groups of first-timers to one-on-one instruction.
But Targhee’s top asset may be its overall atmosphere: relaxed, friendly and free of the posturing and industrial bustle found at many large resorts.
Targhee doesn’t take itself too seriously: There’s an in-bounds hike-to area called Mary’s Nipple and the entire mountain is staffed by down-to-earth locals who seem unbound by the chains of bravado and one-upmanship that often seeps out from ski bums at higher-profile resorts. The Trap Bar & Grille, at the base of the main mountain, is wholly authentic, with frequent live music (styles ranging from bluegrass and country to reggae and alt-rock) and a respectable suite of microbrews. They also boast eight flat-screen TVs, if you happen to get a certain twitch during the NFL playoffs, Winter Olympics or Final Four.
Both beginners and expert skiers and riders can find joy here as well: the late Jamie Pierre launched a 255-foot cliff that he hiked to just outside the resort boundary (he skied away–after friends dug him out of the 12-foot-deep indent he created when he landed, flat on his back, in a virtual layer cake of powder). Chances are you won't try to best that record, but 30 percent of the resort is marked black or double black.
For those whose thrills come in more traditional winter pursuits, Targhee boasts more than nine mile of Nordic ski trails and offer snowshoe tours, fat biking, an outdoor heated pool, child care and more.
STAY: Targhee Lodge. Clean. Affordable. And on the slopes. Simplicity is the key to happiness, and just in case you yearn for more, the Targhee Lodge throws in on-site ski rentals, an outdoor hot tub and other amenities.
DINE: The mountain-base-level Branding Iron brings a sophistication beyond Targhee’s general aura, with highlights including lamb lentil soup and seared sea scallops with beet risotto. With an extensive wine list, this may be the place you (happily) spend some of that money you saved by coming to Targhee in the first place.