The sign on Teton Pass marking the descent into Jackson Hole. Once upon a time spectucular scenery and wildlife-watching opportunities found in few other places in the world provided all the adrenaline a person needed.
Living in Jackson Hole now for 48 years, I felt a need to share some of my frustrations of how things in the “Hole” have changed–and continue to change. While detailing these concerns, I realized that by simply changing the specifics of my Jackson Hole musings, I was describing nearly every recreation-based resort community in the West.
From Montana’s Whitefish Mountain Resort to Snowbowl Resort in Flagstaff Arizona, and from Vail Colorado to Mammoth Mountain in California, we are witnessing a shift in how summer visitors experience their destinations.
Not all that long ago, summer visitors focused on exploring an area’s unique cultural history and landscape wonders, now they are attracted to outdoor experiences built upon engineered contraptions and landscapes reconstructed to provide adrenalin-filled adventures- many of which could be provided in Central Park, if New York authorities so permitted.
Let me begin my lament by stating that Jackson Hole is in the midst of this very transition- we are making a not-so-subtle shift away from our tradition of recreating simply, lightly and thoughtfully on the land to now embracing a host of newer, faster paced and artificially enhanced outdoor activities.
This shift, driven by locals and visitors alike, represents a significant departure from our “Old West” pallet of summer experiences highlighted by dude ranches, hiking, fishing and scenic floats on the Snake River.
In the not so distant past, the ultimate Jackson Hole experience had to include an extended horse pack trip deep into the picturesque wilds of our public lands. If today’s visitors even want a horse experience, it’s seldom for more then a few hours and rarely extends deep into the backcountry.
Regarding today’s backcountry experience, the goal seems to be how far and fast can we get into the wilds on mountain bikes before heading back to town in time for that cold brew.
For nearly a century, our spectacularly rugged mountains attracted truly world-class climbers. Now the Village—home of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—has a pay-to-climb, permanently installed “Via Ferratas,” or “Iron Path” of fixed cables and anchored ladders promising today’s wannabe mountaineers a “memorable experience as it takes you high above the valley floor, across suspended bridges and along granite walls.”
Today, it seems a resort isn’t a resort, if it doesn’t include a rope course, zip lines, bungee jumping, and railed coasters and tubed slides. Throw in a few built mountain bike courses along with mini golf, disc golf, tower jumping and “pop jets” and one has to ask: at what point does a resort become an amusement park?
We recently constructed a boulder park in the town of Jackson—the main hub of the valley—and now Snow King Mountain Resort which is etched partially into the steep slope of Forest Service land rising above town is proposing an indoor climbing wall and sports training facility. In addition, they are proposing “gravity fed” down hill mountain bike courses and a 3,700-foot zip line with speeds reaching 70 mph.
We have a long and distinguished history of whitewater and scenic rafting on our Wild and Scenic rivers and streams. Now there is a push by some kayakers to construct a standing wave white-water play park in the Snake at the South Park landing.
We used to find freedom from our busy lives by hiking the valley’s trails and relaxing in the quietude of wild nature. Now we have ear buds streaming whatever into our auditory cortex. Or worse, we encounter those who insist on sharing their booming mini-box music with everyone they encounter.
Sadly, we are witnessing nothing more then businesses and technology accommodating today’s collective demands. Unfortunately, we are also a community unwittingly giving up on our unique resources, history and brand, and edging toward “Any Resort USA.”
At what point does the once uniquely low key and wild Jackson Hole become one grand amusement park?