If you ski and hike all day in subzero temperatures and skin-shattering winds, and if you manage to make it back to a warm lodge and a cold beer, it’s hard to feel anything but delusional joy. This alchemy of endorphins and emotions is what makes apres-ski, and at Jackson Hole, they take this leisure time seriously.
Sesko had spent the afternoon with his old friend and Jackson Hole Ski School instructor, Clay Moorhead, who led him into even more hidden pockets of sugary snow leftover from the storm. By the time we each reached the tram base, with 4,000 vertical feet behind us, the skies were already growing dark. The day was done; the apres hour was upon us.
We started civilized, with pints of dark and belly-warming Cutthroat Porter and plates of elk poutine at The Spur. (For non-Canadian blog readers, poutine is a traditional French-Canadian pile of cholesterol and gravy.) Still in our boots and helmets, five of us cleared two orders of this gourmet mess in less than five minutes. From the cushy booths of The Spur we headed to the decidedly less luxe Village Cafe, or the “VC,” as the local tribe calls this no-frills bakery by day, subterranean pizza dungeon/bar by night. A trip to Jackson isn’t complete without at least one stop (and usually several) in this ragged and rough institution. Compared to any of the newer and more civilized apres options in Jackson Hole, the VC is dark, claustrophobic, and the perfect hideaway for the kind of skier who wears her boots until it’s time for bed.
As Sesko and I drove south out of Jackson the next morning, we pieced together what happened in the VC the night before. I found a crumpled note in my pocket that said, “mountain fresh beer made with Yakima hops, since 1878.” I remembered someone cranking the volume on Willie Nelson’s “Good Hearted Woman” as paper-plated pizza slices slid across the bar and the shot-ski came down from the rafters. Before the bartender filled the shots with cheap brown booze, he wiped down each glass with a napkin and assured us that “there are diseases on this ski that the CDC hasn’t even identified yet.”
The drive to Salt Lake from Jackson presented many options, but we chose the route that is both the most direct and the least traveled. Rather than heading west towards Interstate-15, we hugged the Wyoming-Idaho border on a series of two-lane state highways that became smaller, harder to find, and more snow-covered the further south we traveled. There was essentially no cell service, which also meant no ready access to digital maps. It was a good reminder how much Google Maps has become a crutch, and that there is no substitute for an old-fashioned road atlas.
It was less than 300 miles, but we made slow progress in the deteriorating conditions. The temperature never topped 10 degrees, and by the time the sun set over the distant hills and the alpenglow gave way to blackness, the thermometer on the Subaru’s hovered between −5 and −15. We kept it under 50 mph down snow-covered passes and across vast snow-drifted spaces. We were southeast of Bear Lake, in another empty Western place, and at least 30 miles to the nearest town. My mind jogged through memories of going off a road in eastern Idaho a few years back, and I made silent prayers to keep the Subaru on the frozen asphalt.
“There was no task in the universe superior to keeping our vehicle on the road,” the veteran skier and journeyman Dick Dorworth writes in his book, “Night Driving.” Dorworth is a veteran of countless drives like this one, and he explains the imperatives and lessons of such perilous journeys: “In a certain sense, there could be no better training for life than taking the beast and your friends’ lives in your own hands and guiding them through the slippery, snowy, tired night.”
Dorworth talks about the “structures” and “energies” that guide people on any long road trip, and about the all-powerful pull of getting a car across any space, as long as the destination is “home.” We weren’t headed home just yet, but to the next best thing: Paul’s house. My old college friend who grew up in Utah, resettled in the Salt Lake Valley not far from the Cottonwood Canyons, and is the best host I know. If the Subaru could just get us to Paul’s house, and Alta beyond, we would be alright.
Editor’s Note: Liftopia travel bloggers Michael Ames and Michael Sesko have just embarked on the road trip of a lifetime. In a mere two weeks, they’ll be hitting up all four Mountain Collective resorts: Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. They’ll be documenting their journey right here on the Liftopia blog in a series called The Mountain Collective Chronicles; from early mornings to late nights, from snowy slopes to ski towns, from meetings with Mother Nature to close encounters of the local kind, follow along each week as bits and pieces of Ames and Sesko’s story are revealed. Want to play a hand in shaping their adventure? Keep an eye on the Liftopia blog, Facebook page & Twitter handle— we’ll be asking YOU to suggest the gnarliest trails, the best places to grab chili cheese fries, and the coolest après bars near each of these four legendary ski areas. Now, without further ado… The Mountain Collective Chronicles! For the first chapter, click here.
About Michael Ames: Michael Ames is a reformed Idaho ski bum. But thanks to Liftopia and the Mountain Collective pass, he recently fell off that wagon. To see his non-ski-related work, visit www.michael-ames.com.
About Mike Sesko: Mike is a sustainable agriculture entrepreneur with a penchant for discount lift tickets. He grew up skiing the icy peaks of southern New England but often hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to get his Western fix. Sesko often dreamed of making these bigger and steeper mountains his home but could not leave his roots behind. After 32 years of New England clam chowder, he is ditching the double agent lifestyle and moving to the Bay Area in search of more fertile ski fields.