It’s odd how cities with so much in common can be so fundamentally different. So lets start with what they share.
So – winter time – skiers/riders rule. In the summer – Jackson makes out like a bandit because it is right at the southern access point to Yellowstone National Park. Can you say recreation abounds? In the winter, ski and snowboard rental – in the summer – white water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and trips to the signature spots in Yellowstone rule. If Jackson has a mud season – it’s short. Park City on the other hand tries hard to convince people that it has things to offer in the summer. But somehow the effort comes over as lame duck. Where Jackson has climbing walls, rope mazes, and walking trails, Park City has promises.
But it’s not just the activity levels – it’s the kinds of shops. In Jackson things are either unbelievable expensive (you needed a fur coat, rhinestone-studded blue jeans, and a cowboy hat with diamonds didn’t you?), or dirty cheap. The people cleaning the rooms, driving the buses, and washing the dishes need somewhere to live – and it’s not like there’s another city close by. Folks in Park City bellyache about the lack of affordable housing – in Jackson the folks have given up. Its rack ‘m and stack’m. We overheard young people complaining because they had 16 room mates! Incredible.
Sidewalks – another difference. In Park City the side walks are heated – heaven forbid people should risk a fall. In Jackson – the side walks are covered wooden walk-ways – very western in feel, very easy on the feet. The lack of snow in both cities is quite surprising. Unlike Montreal (say), the snow just doesn’t fall in the valley – but boy does it fall on the mountains. So walking in either city is a pleasure – winter or summer.
Restaurants – Park City is all about very fancy restaurants – there are at least 10 high-end restaurants (judging by price and food options). In Jackson, there is one very nice, but very tiny restaurant (The Blue Lion), and all the rest try hard, but don’t quite make it. Part of the reason for the frequent ‘oops’ – is the Jackson supply chain problem. Park City is just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City with its international airport and proper supply lines. Want a Wal-Mart or a Costco – no problems – there are several. Jackson on the other hand has major supply issues, particularly in the winter. North, South, East and West – you are going up and over a mountain pass to get to Jackson. So local meats rule – Venison, Elk, and even Bison are readily available on menus because they are readily available on the hoof near-by – Fish and Veggies – not so much!
Lodging – ah, there’s where the differences are most major. In Park City there are branded Hotels by the dozen – Marriott, St. Regis, Holiday Inn – you name it, you’ve got it. But in Jackson – it’s the 49’r, The Antler Inn, the Jackson Hole in the Wall, the painted Buffalo. Only near the ski hill do you start to see new construction – and again the brands aren’t well represented. Instead it’s up scale places run by individual owners.
One would expect that because of the rather ‘western’ emphasis on lodging, prices would be reasonable. But no – supply and demand rules – so prices are not cheap, even if the housing looks like it really shouldn’t be charging more than $50 a night.
Designer Decor – In Park City it is all about huge pieces of furniture, leather, wood, and stone – lots of stone. In Jackson – it’s Antlers! Headboards, lamps, even chest of drawers feature the ever-present, ever available, ever functional Elk Antler.
Public Transportation – or Buses. Neither town has light rail, although Park City Powers that Be are debating the issue. In Park City the buses are free. And they run on time. Amazing. There’s a sign at each bus stop, and if the driver arrives early – he waits before moving on. On Time – Frequent – and Free! Heaven.
Jackson’s bus system is a two-part system. The ‘Town Shuttle’ is free – and runs once every 30 minutes or so. It covers the major shopping areas, and provides residents and tourists alike with easy access to the further flung regions of the tiny city. But if you need to go further – say to ski – you’ll be paying $3 a ride. I love the senior price of $1.50 – but the point here is that access to ski hills is free in Park City – and you are driving or paying the bus driver in Jackson.
But it’s not really about designer decor, restaurants, or shopping – it’s about feel. Park City feels almost California – Jackson has a very clear Western Vibe. Which do I prefer? it’s a toss-up – and I’m super fortunate to be able to spend time in both!
Signing off to soak up some western vibe (and maybe buy a leather ‘western’ purse) – The Soup Lady.