SANTA ARRIVES IN a sleigh drawn by two ginormous Percherons—think the Budweiser draft horses, but more elegant. The sled pulls up to one of the elk antler arches on a corner of Jackson’s Town Square and Santa disembarks, crunching through the couple of inches of fresh snow collected on the wooden sidewalks as he covers, by foot, the final several feet to his home for the next month.
The line of kids waiting to tell him their holiday wishes surges forward, but it’s not time quite yet. The Town Square isn’t ready. But it’s close—for the prior two weeks, Town of Jackson staff has meticulously wrapped each tree in the square with LED lights. Someone just needs to throw the switch. When that happens suddenly the square is noon-bright. Applause and cheers from the hundreds of people gathered resonate through downtown as the Jackson Hole Community band launches into a rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer that is more than acceptable given musical instruments are not made to be in tune at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot chocolate and hot apple cider are passed out.
This isn’t some Normam Rockwell holiday fantasy, but the reality of Jackson Hole’s annual Town Square Lighting, always held the weekend after Thanksgiving. Johanna Love, the editor of the Jackson Hole News & Guide, and her husband Scott Edwards regularly take their 8-year-old daughter Desi to the lighting. “Desi usually find friends to play with as we listen to the music,” Love says. “We visit with friends we haven’t seen since the last big community gathering, the Rendezvous PTO pumpkin sale in October.” For visitors looking to experience this valley as a local, the long Thanksgiving weekend is the time to do it. (Earlier in the month isn’t bad either, but you won’t have the bonus of the holiday festivities.)
JACKSON HOLE USED to have a two-month off-season every autumn. For October and November, locals—both human and wildlife—had the valley to themselves. Not only could you go on a 5-mile hike or bike ride and not see another group, but, after a hectic summer and before the busy-ness of winter, the valley again came together as a small town. Everywhere you went—from the grocery store to the movies—you knew everyone else.
Thanksgiving Dinner Made Easy
Make Thanksgiving here as easy as possible by using one of the valley’s many freelance chefs. Chef Tim Cabridilla of 307 Catering “typically goes into a house and cooks,” he says. Alicia Brieger, the chef/founder of Unprocessed Kitchen and her staff do that as well, and they also do meal delivery. Both chefs make menus that are custom to each client. Tim, who had just returned from a successful antelope hunt when we chatted with him in early October, looks forward to cooking for Thanksgiving all year. “It’s my favorite holiday,” he says. “It was the one time where our family really sat down and ate together.” Tim says he started cooking Thanksgiving dinner when he was around 12. “I’ve had a lot of time to practice and try out different recipes,” he says. “You’re expected to have specific things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative within those things.” Tim’s turkey this year will be roasted, but without the backbone. “It’ll be flat instead of the traditional style with herbs rubbed on the outside and stuffing inside.” His bacon and chestnut stuffing is legendary.
This October/November celebration of local-ness ended about a decade ago. Today, visitors have figured out October can be one of the best months to visit Jackson Hole. With its in-between weather—too much snow for hiking, not enough for skiing—and quiet calendar of events, it’s not likely November will ever go the way of October. Locals love this, and so do visitors who are looking to experience the Jackson Hole community at its most authentic. “I have clients that come here specifically in November because they like the quiet,” says Tim Cabridilla, the private chef/founder of 307 Catering.
“[In November] you can get a true taste of what we all love about this place,” says John Frechette, who, with Christian Burch, own the store MADE and the Mountain Dandy showroom, both in downtown. “Town feels so homey in November.” Visiting in November also allows you to focus on town. Since the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort isn’t yet open for the season, “There is no pressure to get out on the mountain every day,” Frechette says. “Enjoy town—it’s got a lot to do.” One of Frechette’s favorite things? “Shopping here is exciting,” he says. “Certainly there is a lot of the thematic—Jackson Hole and Wyoming gifts—but we’ve also got lots of shops selling unique things. We don’t have big box stores or mass marketed stuff because we’re not a mass marketed community.”
Another November option is the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Not that this hidden gem is ever crowded, but in November, don’t be surprised to be standing in front of its exhibit of Andy Warhol’s series of Endangered Species and have the screenprints all to yourself.
Grand Teton National Park and the local streams and rivers are deserted (by people) in November, but wildlife and fish are still around. Hiking to Bradley or Taggart Lake in the park might require snowshoes—it’s different every year—but, whether on foot or snowshoe, it’s worth the effort to have these lakes at the mouth of Avalanche Canyon to yourself—maybe you’ll have to share with a moose or two. Whether or not there’s snow on the valley floor—likely there will be—expect cold and crisp weather. “That perfect picture of the holiday you grew up with in your head—that’s what Thanksgiving here is,” Frechette says.