Sledding at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Tessa Franck, 6, hauls a sled up the Lower Teewinot run at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Monday afternoon. Her family was making the best of a ski vacation interrupted by closures related to coronavirus.

Emily Reycroft initially had a grand plan for making the best of life during a global pandemic causing disruptions that are compounding every day.

The New Yorker, a mother of two young children, arrived in Jackson Hole on Saturday, set to be here for two weeks for a ski vacation based out of her family’s timeshare condo at the Teton Club. When Jackson Hole Mountain Resort shut down Sunday — before their skis touched the snow — Reycroft initially wasn’t deterred and wanted to stick around. Her vision was to link a few relaxing weeks in the valley with a road trip to the East Coast, stopping at places like Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore along the way.

“We would have stayed here as long as we could,” Reycroft said Monday afternoon. “And we had this romantic vision of driving home, but we grew worried that as we crossed the country hotels and restaurants wouldn’t be open and then we’d put the family in a situation that they shouldn’t probably be in.”

Minutes before, her husband had been on the phone with their airline, trying to move their flights up. Their kids screeched on a nearby snowy knoll, playing in the mostly empty Teton Village ski area. The desire to stick out their time in Jackson Hole also faded as realities set in.

“If the kids can go sledding all day and then sit in the hot tub,” Reycroft said, “they don’t even care that they’re not skiing.”

Then activities suitable to children started to dry up. The Teton Club’s hot tub shut down. Reycroft’s young daughter, who was within earshot, needed validation that the hot tub was indeed closed: “Why?” asked 4-year-old Eva Fleury. “Why the closed?”

“Because of the virus,” Reycroft explained to her toddler. “They’re afraid that people will spread it if they sit in the hot tub together.”

Jackson Hole’s tourism economy undoubtedly faces a world of hurt due to the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus, but at least in the early going some folks were targeting the valley as a place of refuge during these tumultuous times.

Jackson Hole Airport Director Jim Elwood said last weekend that March flight bookings were down slightly even before the pandemic hit. Moreover, he said some vacationers were redirecting their travel to Jackson Hole after trips to more hard-hit areas became less feasible.

“We’re actually hearing of a few folks who flew to Jackson when their original plans were to fly to Europe for their ski trip,” Elwood said Saturday evening. “Exactly how this all sorts itself out is not clear to us yet.”

Indeed, the visitation equations have vastly changed since Elwood made those remarks, starting with the indefinite closures of the Jackson Hole, Grand Targhee and Snow King ski areas. (See story on resort closures on page 16.)

Neil Book, a Chicagoan, happened to be in Teton Village with his young family when the resort closed Sunday.The ski area closed initially due to a big, wet snowstorm, but then made the closure permanent that same day because of coronavirus and health experts’ advice to avoid social crowding. Even as the shutdowns started to stack up, Book elected to stick around.

“We’re here to let the kids have fun for a couple more days before they’re confined to our apartment in the city of Chicago,” Book said. “This is a great place to be right now, and we’re trying to make it an adventure for our children before the reality sets in.”

Nearby, his kids sledded down the Lower Teewinot run, hooting and clearly having fun.

Six-year-old Tessa Franck, from Kansas City, Kansas, was among the ranks of young sledders, and late Monday she picked up a little too much speed and the fun turned into a tumble. She wept in the arms of her mother, Amanda, who sat with her husband, Nate, outside along the patio of the Four Seasons’ Ascent Lounge (closing Wednesday due to coronavirus health advisories).

“We’ve made the best of it, ” Nate Franck said.

Without downhill skiing in the cards, the Francks made the trek to Buffalo Valley on Saturday, sights set on the Heart Six Ranch’s dogsled operation. The kids “loved it.”

“There was like a blizzard,” Franck said. “A surreal experience.”

The Francks were scheduled to take off Wednesday from Jackson Hole Airport, though they were also considering extending the trip to avoid being holed up in the Midwest.

“There’s nobody around here,” Franck said, “and if we go back to Kansas City then there’s lots of people around.”

Reycroft, meanwhile, has local workers who are out of a job in mind, and she’s trying to spend money while she’s still here to help out.

“We wish you guys the best,” she said, “and we’ll be back.”

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Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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