Image: skier on the slopes at Grand Targhee Resort
Gabe Rogel  /  AP
Grand Targhee has a little of everything: groomer runs for the beginners, terrain parks for the rail-and-box snowboard crews, SnowCat rides for backcountry skiing and over 9 miles of cross-country through wooded glades and open meadows.
updated 1/8/2008 12:55:59 PM ET 2008-01-08T17:55:59

Bill Royall chose the University of Denver so he could take the winter quarters off from school and hit the slopes.

His powder-searching ways continued after college, landing him in Vail for a few years before it eventually became too crowded, too trendy. A move to Aspen ended with the same claustrophobic result.

And so it went, Royall's quest for a quiet skiing sanctuary going on for years, taking him to places like Steamboat Springs, Taos, Sun Valley. And it always ended the same: moving out when the crowds moved in.

The nomadic journey seemed to come to an end about 20 years ago when he arrived in Jackson, Wyo., a place still oozing with that dusty-floor saloon charm of the Old West.

But, like all the other ski towns that had lured Royall with its charms, Jackson changed, attracting fuzzy-jacket-wearing out-of-towners to the slopes and trendy shops with pricey paintings and sparkly T-shirts lining the streets.

Then Royall found Grand Targhee.

Just a few miles from the Idaho state line on the western side of the Grand Tetons, this small resort at the end of long, winding road has the pristine powder hardcore skiers need, the coziness that families love and the charm that purists like Royall crave.

A down-home alternative to upscale Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee is a throwback to the days of the small-town ski resorts, the kind of place where lift operators know the regulars' names and the glistening snow is the only sparkle anyone will ever need.

"When you go to a lot of big-time resorts, it's a lot of hustle and bustle, glitter and glamour and we don't want that," says Royall, a stone carver from Southport, Maine, who spends three or four months every winter in Grand Targhee with his wife, Emery. "Grand Targhee is a non-threatening ski environment."

Grand Targhee's appeal starts with the Tetons, the 13,000-foot peaks that jut dramatically from the high plains like jagged teeth. Reach the top of the main lift and you get a clear view of these craggily mammoths, seemingly a short double-diamond run away.

But Grand Targhee is more than just a hill with a view.

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Thanks to a unique weather pattern that shoves incoming storms to the western slope of the Tetons, Grand Targhee has an annual snowfall of nearly 500 inches, with up to 650 inches in the whitest of winters. And the storms don't seem to hit the other side of the Tetons quite as hard; a storm that drops 10 to 12 inches in Jackson may dump up to two feet in Grand Targhee.

Get over 40 feet of snow a year, and you'll be skiing powder nearly every time out.

"The first thing people usually hear about is, which is a good thing, is the snow issue," says Susie Barnett-Bushong, Grand Targhee's marketing director. "People all over the world recognize that Grand Targhee consistently has some of the best snow annually."

Grand Targhee has a little of everything: groomer runs for the beginners, terrain parks for the rail-and-box snowboard crews, SnowCat rides for backcountry skiing and over 9 miles of cross-country through wooded glades and open meadows.

Summertime has just as many options, from horseback and mountain bike riding to zip lines and climbing walls.

The base area is small, particularly by today's sprawl-across-the-mountain standards, but Grand Targhee has everything you might need: a bar, a couple of restaurants, a ski shop and a small market, and more stores just down the road in Driggs, Idaho.

If upscale restaurants, art galleries or mango mojitos are your thing, Jackson is just 45 minutes away.

Cozy and convenient, that's Grand Targhee.

"It's just a wonderful place," said Kathy Campbell of Norristown, Pa. "You can just let the kids go, ski for a while and everybody meets each other at the bottom for lunch. It's a great family atmosphere."

But what makes Targhee feel like home is the staff.

There's little turnover from one season to the next, meaning the lift operator you met five years ago is still there to say hello the first day of the season, the bartender who poured you that smooth vermouth still tending, bottle in hand, when you finish that last run.

And they do it with a smile on their faces, that genuine glad-to-see-you-again grin that makes you feel welcome.

Royall remembers a time he decided to hitchhike his way up the mountain from the family's cabin and was picked up by a member of the resort staff who was driving alone in her Audi. Not long after that, the same woman picked up Royall again.

"A single lady picks up this old ski bum," he said. "We sort of knew each other, but I'm sure she didn't recognize me the first time she picked me up. She must have figured well, I'm a skier, I'm only going to the resort, so what's the harm?"

But even the coziest of places need room to breathe. That's why Grand Targhee is working on a plan to expand lodging from 96 to 525 units and add another lift, along with more restaurants and activities. The resort and the Teton County Board of Commissioners are hashing out the details.

"We truly are maxed out, so to make it a better experience on the same footprint, a great little nook at the end of the road, we need to have some of the services that our customers are really asking for," Barnett-Bushong said.

Of course, sometimes progress comes at price.

While it would be nice to have more lodging and eating options, to put a new shine on the place, the expansion will likely bring in more people. That could lead to crowds — just what purists like Royall don't want.

"The expansion will be great and I hope it goes through," he said, followed by a short pause. "On second thought, our little secret might get out, so maybe I don't want expansion. This place is perfect the way it is."

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