During ski season in Jackson Hole, there are 10 guys for every girl. Liking those odds, Nancy Miller and her wingwoman, Debbie, set off on what turns out to be the ultimate ego trip. But is there such a thing as too many men?
When I've gone on vacations with my girlfriends in the past, our goal has been to unwind, not hook up. But as a newly single woman in my early 30s, I've had it with being cloistered in some desert spa where the only man for miles is a ponytailed craniosacral therapist. These days, I want action! Adventure! And men! And evidently, the men are in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
With its frontier history and extreme skiing, Jackson Hole is legendary for having major manly appeal. (And we're talking men with money.) Hard numbers are tough to come by, but the male-to-female ratio in Jackson Hole is informally touted as 7 to 1, and it spikes to 10 to 1 in peak ski season, between December and March.
But when my friend Debbie and I arrive in Jackson on a blustery, frosty Thursday evening in mid-January, the ratio feels more like 100 to 1. A flurry of men dash about baggage claim. There are hunky cowboys, stubble-chinned ski bums, moneyed mega moguls, and, if all goes well...my future husband. Hoisting zeppelin-size duffel bags over their shoulders, they high-five each other with thunderous claps and deftly handle six-foot-long skis with the agility of ninjas.
"I think our plane crashed," I say to Debbie as we stand, slack-jawed. "And we're in heaven."
On our bus, we are the only two women out of about 30 ridiculously attractive men. In the row ahead of us, a quartet of 20-something professionals is so over-the-top handsome, they look like they were genetically engineered for the J. Crew catalog. The guys explain that they're buddies who met in college and trek to a different ski resort each year. "It's a dude trip, essentially," says Dan Sutherland, 26, a real estate investment analyst who lives in San Francisco. "The focus is on skiing and having a good time...." He bats his giraffe-like eyelashes. "So, are you skiers? Or 'boarders?"
"Uh...skiers?" ventures Debbie, then looks at me, pleading for rescue.
There's a slight complication: We don't ski. At least, neither of us has skied since junior high school. In fact, during our flight from Los Angeles, we sheepishly admitted that we both secretly hate skiing. It's simply too much hassle--the stinky boots, the unwieldy skis, the creaky chairlift, the freezing weather--and for what, 30 terrifying seconds of flailing down a mountain? So we agreed not to let skiing ruin our fun. Naturally, we're not about to advertise this revelation, because as a rule, you don't come to Jackson Hole if you don't ski. Everyone knows you go to Aspen for that.
"Oh yeah, we're skiers," I fib.
"Then you're going to love it," Dan explains. "At the top of the mountain, there's a sign that warns you that the skiing here is so dangerous, so treacherous, you could die."
The bus lurches to a stop--as does, for a moment, my heart. Did he just say die? What have we gotten ourselves into?
I had rented us a one-bedroom condo, walking distance from Teton Village, through the aptly named Rendezvous Mountain Rentals. Over the phone, when I told the rental agent about our quest, she laughed and replied, "Well, you're definitely coming to the right place. There certainly are a lot of men here." It worked for her: The native New Yorker came to Jackson three years ago and met her husband. "I'll see if I can put you in next door to some cute guys," she added conspiratorially.
We arrive just after midnight at our groovy '70s-style one-bedroom, cluttered with moose-themed knickknacks. As we unpack, we count up our "conquests." On the hour-long drive from the airport, we chatted up over a dozen guys.
Debbie crunches the numbers. "That works out to be," she says, "one man every five minutes."
We put our coats right back on and head for a place the boys from the shuttle told us about. The Mangy Moose Saloon is a local hangout with live music and microbrews on tap (Snake River Pale Ale is a local favorite). It's a five-minute walk from our condo. A reggae band is playing to a packed house: ruddy-faced gents in ski hats swill beer and bob their heads to the beat. I strike up a conversation with Pascal, a swarthy 30-year-old from Denver wearing a faded University of Colorado at Boulder hoodie. We chat about Jackson Hole, where he's been "shredding" on his snowboard for nearly two weeks.
"Guess how many days I skied last year!" he commands.
"How many?" I ask.
"Seventy-five! And guess how many I surfed."
"Forty-five freakin' days, man!"
I nudge Debbie. "He surfs and skis," I say, with a wiggle of my eyebrows. "Isn't that great?" Back home, of course, a 30-year-old guy who calls me "man," doesn't have a job, and lives in his van isn't too great a catch. But here--well, when in Rome, dude. Debbie and I order a second round of Jäger shots and strike up a conversation with one of the few other women in the bar: Kristin, a 23-year-old cocktail waitress from Kentucky. She has lived here a year and is, we're surprised to discover, single. "We have a sayin' about all the men up here," she says. "The odds are good, but the goods are odd."
We scoff at her and spend the rest of the evening snapping up cell-phone numbers like they're lottery tickets. By the end of the evening, as we strut back to our wood-paneled palace, Debbie and I are feeling so irresistible that we can barely fit our wool caps over our swollen heads.
"We...are...moving...here," I pant.
The cluster of mountains framing Jackson Hole has long seduced adventurers. In the early 1800s, a group of French-Canadian fur trappers gazed lustily upon the voluptuous peaks and named them Les Trois Tetons (politely translated, it means "the three breasts"). Two hundred years later, the area is known as the Grand Tetons, and in the center of it all is Teton Village--a dozen or so hotels, ski shops, bars, and restaurants.
When we finally make it to the Village Center, it's nearly noon--and the place is dead. "Where is everyone?" I ask. "There," says Debbie, pointing up at the mountain, where a red aerial tram carries sardine cans of begoggled people to the 10,450-foot summit. In the distance, we can see vague sprinkles of skiers carving their way down the mountain.
"If we're going to meet anyone, the skiing thing is inevitable," Debbie sighs. "But I bet they have hot instructors."
We sign up for a full day of "advanced beginner" lessons at the Mountain Sports School for Saturday at 9 a.m. Then we chase away the dread with mochas at the ground-floor café.
The town of Jackson is roughly a 20-minute ride from Teton Village, and a shuttle bus runs between the two. We head to Jackson--a quaint, quirky town--for dinner of miso-glazed cod and spicy salmon rolls at Nikai Sushi. The fish is surprisingly fresh, but the restaurant is like a Noah's ark of cute couples paired off in booths. After dinner, we trek several icy blocks to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a Jackson landmark. Inside, this gloriously kitschy dive appears to have been decorated by Liberace in a John Wayne moment. Wagon-wheel chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and real saddles line the bar instead of stools. In the back of the room is a modest dance floor, where couples two-step to a live band through a musty wall of smoke.
Unlike the one at upscale Teton Village, this crowd is more Deadwood than Dartmouth. It's a lively hodgepodge of older locals and 40-something tourists, clinking shot glasses, smoothing down handlebar mustaches, and tipping real ten-gallon hats at any and all ladies who pass their way. A particularly weathered cowpoke nearly drags Debbie over to the dance floor, but I somehow manage to save her. It's 10:45 p.m., and time to catch the last shuttle back up the mountain. After all, we have a ski lesson in the morning.
Our hot instructor is waiting for us at 9 a.m., poles in hand. Her name is Liz. She's hollering at our 10-person group (half of whom are women) to make a "cheese wedge" shape with our skis. As I wobble down the Pooh Bear slope, I consider bolting into the woods. Instead, I lose my grip on the rope tow and land on my back like a dead beetle, praying no one has seen me.
After two hours of basic introduction, we're chairlifted to an intermediate slice of mountain and told to follow Liz back down. At first, it's terrifying: What if I can't stop? But a few C-turns later, I start to get the rhythm of things. All around us, guys zip past as if they're being filmed for a Mountain Dew commercial. Some give us friendly nods as they whip by. Suddenly, skiing is infinitely more fun.
Back at our condo, our neighbor, whom we'll call Keanu, welcomes us with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. "We're having a party at our place?" says Keanu. "You girls should definitely stop by?"
We apply fresh lip gloss and chandelier earrings (hey, with so many layers involved, it's all about accessorizing) and knock on their door 20 minutes later. It swings open to reveal Keanu, his roommate, a big-screen TV, and a lamp-size bong.
"Didn't you say you're having a party?" I ask. "Oh, yeah, I kinda made that up, you know?"
We hightail it back to the Mangy Moose for buffalo wings and beer. Now that we're real skiers, we've earned the right to some après-ski fun. As we belly up to the bar, however, we discover that a football game is captivating the crowd: Clusters of men laugh, shout at the TV, and punch each other in the arm. It's like something you might see on the Discovery Channel: the Ski Bumus Erectus in his natural habitat.
"Hey! Where are you girls from?" This is the top opening line in Jackson Hole. We make our way over to a table of late-20s/early-30s dot-com guys from Seattle who are totally our speed: sweet, cute, sporty, yet not steroidal. There are 12 of them and two of us. "We need more girls," begs Gil Zalmanovitch, a 32-year-old program manager at Microsoft. "We don't care if they can't ski. If they're cute and can do a C-turn, tell them to come!" Gil and his friends invite us to their ski-in, ski-out chateau, which has a pool table and hot tub.
"Maybe tomorrow," I say, barely able to keep my eyes open. Alas, the downside to a physically rigorous vacation: I actually pass up partying with dot-com millionaires for a good night's sleep.
It's not too much of a loss, however. Debbie and I are meeting so many men--while waiting for coffee, standing in line for lift tickets, trying on ski boots--that we're beginning to feel like Lucy and Ethel in that I Love Lucy episode at the chocolate factory. We are rushing conversations just to keep up with the never-ending assembly line of guys.
By Sunday, our last full day in Jackson Hole, Debbie actually chooses to spend her time skiing while I sit at an outdoor fire pit at the Four Seasons Resort, drinking champagne, eating elk-meat hot dogs, and seeing what happens if I just remain still. I'm a third of the way through my Veuve Clicquot when a trio of snowboarders takes a nearby table. "Where are you from?" asks Jim Stehli, a handsome, 40-year-old Manhattan banker. Over nachos and more champagne with him and his two (unavailable) friends, we talked. He said he didn't understand why more women don't come to Jackson, instead of going to spas. "Yeah, and then we all come back complaining we can't find any men," I answer with a laugh.
Still, I wouldn't mind a little Canyon Ranch action. My neck muscles whine in agony. They're sore from skiing, of course, but also, I suspect, from a touch of whiplash after repeated check-him-out double takes. I'm numb with man-meeting fatigue.
As we head to the airport Monday morning, our pockets overflowing with scribbled-on cocktail napkins, we are elated--and exhausted. The men of Jackson are a pleasure to look at and a whole lot of fun, but I never did meet that future husband. And it makes sense: Back in the real world, I'm a stiletto-sporting Angeleno who won't even bother to hike two blocks to my favorite café. What would I have in common, long-term, with one of these mountain climbers, who are far more interested in L.L. Bean? My brief stint as nature babe was fun while it lasted.
"Hey ladies!" At security, doe-eyed Dan Sutherland, our first friend, smiles and waves. I can almost see his arm muscles rippling beneath his Patagonia parka. "We're going to Switzerland next year. Are you guys coming?"
Debbie and I look at each other. Probably not. Then again, let's wait and see how the summer pans out before we decide once and for all.
Three More Spots With Great Odds
Witch's Rock Surf Camp, Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Surfers are just as sexy as skiers--without all the extra clothes. This camp was created by surfers and caters to all levels and both sexes. Weeklong beginner packages start at $768, for groups of four. 888/318-7873, witchsrocksurfcamp.com
The Arctic Open golf tournament, Akureyri, Iceland
Every June, the world's northernmost 18-hole golf course, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Reykjavík, is the site of a weekend of hard-core golf and late-night partying under the glow of the midnight sun. arcticopen.is
Middlemarch Singles Dance, Middlemarch, New Zealand
A small town on the South Island hosts a dance every spring for lonely farmers in the area. Women from all over the world come to meet them. The transportation of choice is the "Love Train"--a.k.a. the Taieri Gorge Railway--which starts in Dunedin and stops an hour later at the veritable make-out Mardi Gras. middlemarch.co.nz/singles_dance
- Jackson Shuttle 307/733-4521, startbus.com, $3
- Cowboy Cab 307/413-1000, Teton Village to Jackson $30
- Rendezvous Mountain Rentals 3610 N. Moose Wilson Rd., Wilson, 888/739-2565, rmrentals.com, one-bedroom condos from $110
- Nikai Sushi 225 N. Cache St., Jackson, 307/734-6490
- Four Seasons Resort 7680 Granite Loop Rd., Teton Village, 307/732-5000, elk hot dog $7
- Mountain Sports School 3395 West Village Dr., Teton Village, 800/450-0477, ski packages available
- Mangy Moose Saloon 3285 Teton Village Rd., Teton Village, 307/733-4913, pint of Snake River Pale Ale $4
- Million Dollar Cowboy Bar 25 N. Cache St., Jackson, 307/733-2207, bottle of Teton Ale $4.50