Monday, February 15, 2010

Snowmobiling to Granite Hot Springs: A Jackson Hole winter classic

Granite Hot Springs is the perfect place to stay warm in winter conditions. Even in a swimsuit.
CAPTION: Though diving is strictly forbidden at Granite Hot Springs, they say nothing about tossing someone into the pool. Here, Jeff Wilcox gets Alexis Wilcox airborne before she splashes back into the water.

Excursion: Soaking in Granite Hot Springs
How long: Half day
Cost: $6 per person
Distance: About 10 miles one way on a snowmobile or cross-country skis

Rolling around in the snow in nothing but a swimsuit is somewhat of an acquired taste. No, let’s get real: it’s enough to make a grown man scream like a howler monkey.

Not that I ever would.

But this is one of the long-standing traditions at Granite Hot Springs. You may do it on a dare, as a test of manhood, or on a personal whim, but it is always the effect of getting back in the soothing 112-degree water that motivates you to do it.

As you slide back into the ginormous hot tub, your skin prickles like you’re being massaged by a thousand miniscule iron maidens. Though mildly uncomfortable, the sensation is worth experiencing.

At least once a year.

Luckily, it’s still easy to find snow to roll around in at Granite at this time of year. The massive boulders surrounding the picturesque pool are piled with about four feet of snow throughout the winter, leaving swimmers to wonder when the towers of snow will topple into the pool to cool it a couple of degrees.

Many swimmers try to do just that by firing snowballs at each other in the pool. Thus far, the pool attendant has never accused me of doing anything wrong when I pelt someone with a hefty snowball in the pool.

Just don’t get caught with food in the pool area. That’s what really ticks off the attendant. Granite Hot Springs provides picnic tables for dining convenience just outside the boundaries of the pool. The other thing they won’t stand for (if they see you) is running on the pool deck. With the snow showers that often blanket the boardwalk in snow, it is almost a sure thing it will be slick in spots. I have personally witnessed children, adults and drunkards alike take a tumble on the planks outside the pool. In sue-happy America, Granite Hot Springs can’t afford law suits charging six bucks a head. So please refrain from blaming personal injury on Granite after personal stupidity.

Because of the nature (literally) of the pool, it does have a tendency to be, well, natural. Don’t be afraid if a little bit of nature slimes you on its way to Granite Creek. On our last trip to Granite, my 18-month-old son was scooting across the shallows of the pool pointing out the floaties and proclaiming “Eeeeyyyuuooo” as he sauntered past them.

Translation: “Don’t drink the water.” That said, they do keep it remarkably clean for a natural hot spring, emptying and refilling the pool on a daily basis.

Just down the hill from the pool, Granite Creek tumbles down a wide precipice, forming Granite Creek Falls. This is actually where I proposed to my wife by placing her wedding ring’s box in the heart of snow angels we made by the falls. Don’t worry, I waterproofed the box first.

The 10-mile snowmobile ride into the hot spring can be an outing in itself. The fast-moving creek stays open in most places throughout the winter, creating a stunning interaction between water and ice. Cream Puff Peak and others rise around the trail, lending even more beauty to the creek flowing at your feet.

In many places along the way, playgrounds for snowmobilers open up. There isn’t a hill to be found without a high mark on it. The terrain is varied and entertaining. Fields lead up to hills which lead up to the mountains. Riders can choose to stay in the open or disappear into the forest. In some places, there are hills custom-made to launch a “sledneck” a hundred feet through the crisp air.

If you go off trail, make sure someone knows where you are at all times, and check your speed often, as unforeseen gullies and ridges can easily trap or wreck even the most experienced snowmobiler.

Last but not least: watch for non-motorized users of the road to Granite. Many unbelievably fit Jacksonites opt to cross-country ski in. One company runs tourists into the springs on dogsleds. Though the staff pulling the sleds will hear you coming a mile away, pass them slowly anyway. They’ll thank you for it, which is much better than the glares and even indignant yells you’ll get for flying past them.

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