In Jackson Hole, the celebrated Wyoming outpost where Hollywood meets the Wild West, the choice of base is crucial. Should it be the ski-in, ski-out Teton Village, or Jackson town, 12 miles down the valley? The village has vibrant après ski, but dies after dinner, whereas the town offers cheerful and increasingly sophisticated nightlife. As of this winter, the pleasures of staying in town will be greatly increased by the Hotel Jackson, the first high-end newcomer in the past two decades.
Its Lebanese-born creator, Jim Darwiche, was a stranger when he drove his venerable VW camper into Jackson in 1978. The Circle A Motel, where a week's lodging cost him £25, provided a convenient base to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. When a friendly mechanic fixed his car free of charge, the Los Angeles-based aeronautical engineer fell in love. A year later, he returned to set up the tiny Crazy Horse native jewellery shop on the main square, the first of several retail outlets in his current portfolio. In 1984 he relocated here permanently with his wife and family.
His hotel project, in partnership with sons Sadek and Dorian, kicked off in 2005, when he acquired a perfect if compact site, the Circle A and the adjoining Woods Motel. They worked with Vermont interior designer Kim Deetjen to strike a balance between chic and the frontier spirit that underpins the location.
The Figs bar-restaurant provides a warm Lebanese welcome and offers a grazing menu headed by a comprehensively delicious meze plate. The handsome atrium, its walls lined with silvery reclaimed barn wood, has bespoke seating commissioned from Vermont craftsmen. A striking ceiling composed of overlapping leaves reflects ranks of guttering beeswax candles and fluttering aspens newly planted outside the picture windows. Jim Darwiche has indulged his Anglophile bent by importing wool carpets from Axminster, in patterns inspired by Native American art, and displaying a vintage Land Rover Defender and a 1962 E-Type Jaguar in British racing green outside the hotel.
Hotel Jackson is a minute's walk from the colourful main square, with its boardwalks and floodlit elkhorn arches (natural shedding only). It's overlooked by the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, with saddles for bar stools, pool tables and a rampant grizzly lording it over all he surveys. As the night gets into its stride, locals dance the western swing to live country music. The Silver Dollar, named for over 2,000 early 20th-century coins embedded in the surface of the bar, offers similar old-style charm, but Jackson's contemporary face includes Bin 22, a wine bar where enthusiasts can browse 1,000 racked vintages, and Nikai, known for its excellent sushi.
The champagne is on ice as the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, founded by Los Angeles advertising executive Paul McCollister, prepares to celebrate its 50th birthday in December. Due to problems installing innovative technology in the wilderness, the scarlet aerial tram, only the second in the US, opened six months later, but it and its 2008 replacement have been generating lines of hardcore skiers ready to take on the magnificent bowls and chutes (couloirs) on Rendezvous Mountain ever since. As Jackson Hole has always had ideal terrain for experts and beginners, its current focus is to widen its appeal with more intermediate cruising. The expansion programme that started with the Bridger Gondola in the mid 1990s is currently on fast forward: the Teton Quad Chair opens this December, the Sweetwater Gondola a year later.
The 58 rooms and six suites are immaculately contemporary, in a colour palette of soothing browns and beige, with crisp, white bed linen. The bathrooms have showers, Kohler tubs and fluffy towels. There are silky towelling-lined robes for the short walk to a roof top hot tub with panoramic views of the Teton mountains, named for the French word for breasts. Several rooms have wrap-around terraces, but only one has its own outdoor fireplace: ask for 301.
The library, with its deep leather sofas, Western art and books on regional history, offers a tranquil spot to relax after a day on the slopes. On selected evenings, park rangers entertain the guests with talks on wildlife and local lore over complimentary wine and cheese.
The writer was a guest of Ski Safari (01273 224 060; skisafari.com) which offers seven nights' room-only at Hotel Jackson from £1,534 including flights and resort transfers or car hire.
Hotel Jackson, 120 Glenwood Street, Jackson, Wyoming, USA (001 307 733 2200; hoteljackson.com).
Doubles from $339 (£226), room only.
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