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February 03, 2012, United States

Don't fight Fed's idea of a retreat

Jackson, Wyoming, offers great skiing and pristine wilderness. And it’s also where top bankers congregate once a year, reports KENNETH LIM

Kenneth Lim

WHERE’S the one place in the world to spot wild bison, bears and the occasional central banker?

That would be Jackson, Wyoming: The gateway to two of the most majestic and inspirational national parks in the United States. It also happens to be a great place to ski and the place where the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas sponsors the annual retreat for the US Fed.

Imagine that. Walking and skiing in the footsteps of Ben Bernanke, Fed chairman – and occasional tourist.

Getting there

Of course, you know you’re not in Kansas the moment you step off the plane at Jackson Hole Airport. With the breathtaking mountains of the Teton range towering over visitors, this is one airport where travellers will gladly suffer delays.

Those who do not mind the cold will find the area a skiing paradise during the winter months. Visitors who prefer sunnier weather will find late May to early June the best time to avoid the peak summer crowds and freezing temperatures. The area is warmest around July and August, but that is also when the hotels are the fullest.

Give yourself at least a week, especially if you are visiting one of the national parks. There’s no need to rush when you’re in a place of beauty.

Expect to rent a car once you get to Jackson, because distances are huge and public transportation is non-existent.

“Ah, fresh air,” Bernanke thinks to himself as he stands in line for a rental car. “This is the life. No second- guessing congressmen, no CNBC airheads with no clue about macroeconomics. Ooh, they’re out of compacts? Benny, you’re getting a free upgrade!”

What to do and where to go

Winter sports

The Jackson Hole valley has a number of top notch ski places. Jackson Hole Mountain, Grand Targhee and Snow King resorts lead the list, with Jackson Hole being the most popular and Snow King the oldest. Travellers can ski, snowboard, snowmobile, ride dogsleds and go on winter safaris. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was named by Forbes Magazine as the best ski resort in the United States in December 2011 because of its “soul”.

“This is still a place where the best skiers in the world, before skiing off of 50-foot cliffs, gulp down waffles and Budweisers inside a mountaintop shanty called Corbet’s Cabin,” Forbes writer Christopher Steiner opined. “Jackson is still the place with the best backcountry skiing in the world. It still gets more snow than anywhere not called Alta. It still has The Tram, the greatest ski lift on earth.”

Yes, The Tram. Called Big Red, the cable car carries about 100 people to the top of the slopes in under 10 minutes.

“Fresh powder on a black diamond run,” Bernanke says to himself. “This is awesome! No, I am awesome! I am the king of th-- woah, moguls. This warrants keeping my centre of gravity at exceptionally low levels for an extended period.”

Yellowstone National Park

Sitting atop an active caldera, the oldest national park in the world has a little something for everybody. Geothermal features like the famous Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone Lake, a small-scale grand canyon, mountains, fish-stocked rivers, waterfalls, forests, plains – you name it, Yellowstone probably has that geological feature.

And the animals! Visitors to the park, especially in the summer months, can expect to see many large mammals, such as the iconic bison, elk, moose and bears. Smaller critters like ground squirrels, trout and birds are also commonplace.

Given the almost 9,000 sq km of park space and the variety of sights and activities, one could easily spend a week at the park. Park lodging, be it comfortable cabins or more rugged campsites, can be arranged online through official park concessionaire Xanterra. Bookings are fully refundable up to two weeks before arrival, so it pays to book early.

“Dammit! Why are there bears everywhere I look?”

Grand Teton National Park

While Yellowstone amazes and inspires visitors with its unusual sights and pristine wilderness, Grand Teton simply takes their breaths away. Because the mountains were formed from a continental plate rising sharply over a fault line, the Teton range climbs abruptly over the relatively flat floor of the Jackson Hole valley, giving the park a magical mix of intimacy and majesty. Fly fishing in the summer months is a popular activity, as are boat trips on the 24km long Jackson Lake. The park also lies between Yellowstone and Jackson, making the drive to and from Yellowstone one of the most scenic rides in the country.

The Fed also holds its annual retreat at Jackson Lake Lodge in the park.

Heather Falk, tourism manager for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, said the bankers are usually in meetings most of the time.

“My best advice to your readers would be to book their vacation to Jackson Hole during the same timeframe and hope they see their desired banker by chance at the airport,” she said.

Bernanke sits by Jackson Lake, enjoying a picnic lunch. “How relaxing. I was feeling deflated, but now I can feel my burdens easing by a measurable amount. It’s almost like they’re easing...quantitatively.”

Jackson

The main town in the Jackson Hole valley, Jackson is a typical resort town, with plenty of shops and restaurants for all budgets and tastes. It’s a great place to unwind after roughing it out on the slopes or in the parks, and to get the cowboy hat and boots you’ve always wanted. The National Museum of Wildlife Art is an indoor way to appreciate the world outside the museum doors, while the widely acclaimed Grand Teton Music Festival offers performances in the summer as well as the winter. The well-reviewed Snake River Grill in the heart of town serves mostly organic food and game in a fine dining atmosphere. Lodging runs the gamut from more opulent hotels to budget-friendly motel chains.

“Howdy, Lone Ranger,” Bernanke mutters as he tries on a cowboy hat. “It’s just you, Benny, you against the world. It’s lonely at the top.”

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