Winter camping. Yurts. For any sane person, the latter is the only way to really do the former. But yurts aren’t always—or even usually—located in places sane people deem convenient. Colorado has a wonderful yurt system and there are several yurts on the western slope of the Tetons. These are in the backcountry and require several hours of exertion using snowshoes or climbing skins to get to though. And you’ll need to know how to safely travel in avalanche terrain and have specialized equipment.
Then there’s the yurt tucked into the lodgepole forest between the Hobacks and Rock Springs canyon at [R191R, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort]. If you really want to, you can skin to it (it’ll take about an hour and the climb is 1,500 vertical feet). I let the resort’s tram carry me to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain and then I skied down to it via the South Hoback. The Hobacks weren’t in the best shape, being rather hard and bumpy, but it still beat skinning.
The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Yurt is easily accessed via the resort's legendary tram. Photo by Jed Sims.
The yurt’s easy accessibility isn’t even its best attribute. That honor goes to its yurtmeister. And not just because I think “yurtmeister” might be the coolest title ever to be able to put on your resume.
The JHMR yurtmeister does all of the cooking and cleaning. So not only do you not have to work to get to this yurt, but you don’t have to do any work once you’re at the yurt either. A night at the yurt includes appetizers upon arrival, dinner, breakfast and coffee.
I was a fan of Yurtmeister Mike Ross well before my friends and I met him at the rear, staff-only entrance to the tram at 3 p.m. one February afternoon. He had been texting me about menus for a couple of days. Loading onto the tram, his pack is ginormous and stuffed with tortellini, smoked salmon, cheese, salami, bagels, tomatoes and coffee. Our packs are small, albeit not particularly light. The yurt is BYOB. I have a toothbrush, clothes to sleep in and three flasks, one of 12-year old Macallan, another with Bailey’s Irish Crème, and the third of Drambuie.
On a ridge a snowball’s throw outside the resort’s boundary, the yurt’s supporting structures include a wrap-around deck, a dual outhouse with toilet seats you can fit with WAG bags and two backyard igloos. Coming at it from above and perhaps slightly out of control due to the choppy conditions, I almost launch off an igloo. Almost. Thanks to previous guests, there’s also a kicker in the front yard. I see that well in advance though and avoid it with a sharp turn right onto the wood deck. I’m three feet from the front door.
Enjoying Yurtmeister Mike Ross' sampling of cheese, fruit and meats at the JHMR Yurt. Photo by Jed Sims.
If ski-in/ski-out gets any better, I’ve yet to experience it.
As we’re popping out of bindings and standing skis against the deck’s railing, two additional yurtmeisters ski up. Not because Mike needs any backup—just because yurt people are friendly. They want to say “hi,” and grab a beer.
It was reiterated to us multiple times during the reservation process that the yurt was BYOB. As the multitude of flasks in my pack demonstrate, we took the warning seriously. Still, as Mike hands his compatriots a beer, he offers each of us one—from his own stash—as well.
The yurt itself is of average yurt size—perhaps 20-feet in diameter—but feels palatially cozy with only Mike and our group of four. The last yurt I was at—deep in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains—hosted 14 people. Not that it was meant to.
Prayer flags hang above the wood-burning stove, where Mike has already placed pails full of snow to melt into water. Below, he’s working on getting a fire going. We’re getting comfy on bunks and at the kitchen table. Ski pants come off and jeans and sneakers are put on. Scotch comes out.
It takes Mike 30 minutes to slice up more apples, cheese and salami than I think is possible for five people to eat. (A hardworking yurtmeister, Mike must eat too, of course.) It takes 20 minutes for the entire appetizer spread to disappear.
I guess it’s the yurt itself rather than the effort required (or not required) to get there that inspires the appetite?
When the sun goes down many JHMR yurt visitors break out headlamps and their favorite book. Photo by Jed Sims.
On every other yurt trip I have ever done, the time between post-skiing snacks and dinner is spent doing chores. Mike had already done everything though. At a loss for something productive to do and the fire in the wood-burning stove finally raging, the group settles in and enjoys its food coma. One of us might wander outside looking for the women’s pee tree—this is a classy yurt, there’s a pee tree for each sex—and get waylaid by partially falling into a snowdrift. Because of her prone position (and the scotch she has been drinking), this yurter might then become enraptured by Wyoming’s nighttime sky. On a clear night, if you stare at Wyoming’s sky long enough, you’re certain to spot a satellite moving among the stars.
Amazingly, this person eventually extricates herself from her daze and the snowdrift.
More amazingly, three hours later when Mike serves dinner—tortellini with a smoked salmon creamy tomato sauce—we devour that even faster than we had the appetizers.
And then we sit back and watch Mike do the dishes.
The yurt stays toasty—almost too toasty—all night long. It comes with minus-20-degree down sleeping bags.
I wake up to a much milder headache than expected and the smell of coffee and bagels toasting on top of the wood-burning stove. Enjoying Mike’s strong French press coffee, we take our time packing and are back at the base by 9 a.m., no cleanup or schlepping of sleds or heavy packs necessary.
The yurt has enough bunks for eight people to each have their own. Some bunks can accommodate couples. The two igloos behind the yurt can accommodate several more people. And then there’s the floor and table. The biggest group ever was 27 people. Families with kids are welcome. Kids have skied down to the yurt—it’s an ungroomed black diamond run that gets you there. Very young kids have been carried up by devoted parents in backpacks. The yurt is also available in the summer, when it is reached by a moderately strenuous hour-long hike through pine forest and meadows of wildflowers. The yurt is $425 per night for eight people. This includes appetizers, dinner, breakfast and coffee. Additional people are $10 and are responsible for their own sleeping bags.
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