Long before Jackson Hole came on the map as the country’s premier ski destination, even before it was known as the gateway to two of the nation’s most esteemed National Parks, the area existed as a quiet cattle town. The impressive mountains long attracted climbers, hikers and early skiers. Which one 19th century fur trapper called “the most remarkable heights in the great backbone of America.” But, until the mid-1900s, the valley’s permanent residents were chiefly ranchers and hunting guides. Attracted by affordable homestead plots and an abundance of wildlife that produced a steady stream of wealthy East Coast patrons.
It was to this rough-and-tumble community, a middle aged Paul McCollister arrived to in 1957. A “classless society full of class,” said Nathaniel Burt, one of the valley’s first dude ranches. Retired at age 41 from radio advertising in San Francisco’s Bay Area, McCollister relocated with his family to Jackson Hole. Where he had spent a summer in his youth working as a “gentleman rancher” on one of the valley’s cattle operations, some 25 years earlier.
McCollister’s ambitions at the time were more introverted than grandiose. Asked by a colleague what he planned to do in Wyoming, McCollister replied: “I’m not going to do anything. I’m just going to play.” And so he did. McCollister purchased a nearly 400-acre ranch north of the Town of Jackson. Which at that time consisted of little more than a few shops, a grocery store, two bars, and a mechanic’s garage. An avid outdoorsman, he soon became president of the Jackson Hole Ski Club. A ragtag organization that trained alpine and Nordic racers after the town’s first ski hill, Snow King, was opened in 1939.
Plan in the Making
It wasn’t long before McCollister began to develop bigger plans. Partnering with Alex Morley, a general contractor from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Who after spending several summers in Jackson Hole during the 1950s relocated to the valley with his family in 1960. McCollister began to survey sites to build a new ski resort. The two considered several locations, including Cache Creek to the east of town and Static Peak in Grand Teton National Park. Which, at the time wasn’t an unlikely proposal. Both Rainer and Rocky Mountain National Parks contained small ski resorts.
Eventually, the men decided on a modest plot of land at the base of Rendezvous Peak on the southern end of the Grand Tetons. A rocky outcrop dotted with a few marshes that didn’t grow much besides mosquitos. The land was not particularly attractive but, it did offer proximity to the Town of Jackson and Wilson. Then, still not more than a small ranching community at the base of the Teton Pass, and an impressive 4,000-plus feet of vertical from summit to base. And, because the Teton Range caught passing weather formations, the area was known to receive some of the valley’s heaviest snowfall.
Read more about the early days of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and their vision for the future in our latest version of Experience Jackson Hole
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