COME to think of it, a relaxing stay at a gorgeous mountain retreat was the perfect way to begin a ski vacation in Wyoming.
I had originally thought a visit to Jackson Fork Ranch would be best after spending a couple of days surviving the challenging vertical descents that attract serious skiers to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. You know, give the legs a chance to recuperate so walking isn't a chore.
However, I found myself relaxed, refreshed and oh so eager to ski after chillin' at the ranch for a few days. Doing some cross-country skiing and snowmobiling along the snow-covered plains, taking in the solitude of America's least-populated state and getting up close and personal with a stable of Percheron horses and a sizable bison herd proved the perfect tonic.
Prior to visiting the ski resort in March 2102, I had the good fortune to spend three glorious evenings at the Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch. It's located near the town of Bondurant in southwest Wyoming, about a half-hour's drive south of JHMR. The Wyoming and Wind River ranges in the Bridger-Teton National Forest run along the eastern border of the ranch.
The lodge features four beautifully appointed suites. I stayed in the top-floor Sublette Suite, which has a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. This spacious spot features a stone fireplace and a bathroom with shower and large Jacuzzi tub. There's another stone fireplace in the great room on the main floor, which also offers spectacular views and the opportunity to mingle with other guests. A room on the lower level provides an opportunity to read and relax, play board games or watch television. It leads to the outdoor flagstone patio complete with a grill for barbecuing, a fire pit, sauna and oversized hot tub.
The property also includes a guest cabin, available for groups and families requiring additional accommodations. The rough-hewn log cabin has three en suite bedrooms, kitchen, dining area, living room and a large deck with unobstructed views of the Gros Ventre Mountains.
Dan Abrashoff, the ranch's marketing director, was kind enough to spend a couple of days showing me around the ranch and the area, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges. I got to do some snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and hiking. I got to meet the Alberta couple that manages the ranch's prize-winning herd of magnificent Percheron horses, and went for a wagon ride with them. I also met Antonio, who hails from Mexico. He allowed me to hop onto a wagon full of hay to help feed the ranch's herd of 300 bison, for which he's responsible. The ranch is a supplier to High Plains Bison, which is the world's largest online retail bison provider. The ranch, the bison herd and MLB's Chicago Cubs are all owned by the family of billionaire Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade. Ricketts has a magnificent home at the ranch, part of which I had the pleasure of viewing.
While the ranch primarily attracts fishers who come for the excellent fly-fishing for trout in spring, summer and fall, the winter season is also an excellent time to visit. In addition to the previously mentioned outdoor activities, there's excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. The Little Jackson Fork Valley is home to grizzlies and black bears, cougars, lynx, fox, grey wolves, large herds of elk and other wildlife.
I got to spend time with Erik Peterson, a middle-aged widower who hails from Maine. He lost his wife to early onset Alzheimer's in 2007, and came to the ranch in search of adventure and an outdoor job in 2008. He has no regrets. Peterson spends his days feeding the bison, mending fences, planting trees, maintaining hiking trails and visiting with guests. Much of his down time involves exploring Hoback Peak on foot, spotting wildlife and enjoying the sweeping views of the region.
Meals at the ranch were casual and comfortable, with nutritious, delicious dishes prepared by California native Becky Lacina. She sources local produce, dairy and cheeses, plus fresh game meats and trout to satisfy her guests' palates.
On the third evening of my stay, I had the lodge all to myself: After another satisfying dinner, Becky and Erik abandoned me.
Imagine having the exclusive use of a gorgeous abode tucked in the Wyoming wilderness? I felt like a millionaire while staring at the stars and relaxing with a cool beverage in the expansive outdoor hot tub overlooking the surrounding peaks. Afterwards, I stood on the huge deck and took in the sights and sounds of nature. The stars were amazing in the cloudless sky and the howls of coyotes could be heard in the distance.
It was comforting to know civilization wasn't far away, but distant enough to not disrupt this peace on Earth.
Rob Knodel is a Free Press copy editor.
IF YOU GO
-- The ranch accepts visitors year-round. The winter season runs mid-December to early April.
-- Packages are available throughout the year and can be tailored to suit guests' needs.
-- You can do the drive to get to Jackson Fork Ranch, but catching a flight to Denver with a connecting flight to Jackson Hole Airport (a 45-minute drive away) is a more likely choice.