Best of both worlds: Wyoming's Jackson Hole offers challenging ski terrain and swish hotels

Although other ski areas, notably Crested Butte in Colorado, might lay claim to the title, it is Jackson Hole in Wyoming that, by popular repute, has the most challenging ski terrain in the American West. Skiers and boarders come from around the world to tackle the steep east-facing slopes of the Teton mountains that run straight down to the high plateau of the Snake River Valley (the Tetons don't do foothills), and – if they dare – to drop into Corbet's Couloir, a well-known benchmark of winter-sports prowess.

Ski writers visit the place regularly, too: it always makes good copy. In November, a frequent contributor to American Ski magazine, Edie Thys, wrote about "The new face of Jackson Hole". She began with its enduring qualities, referring to the "sense of dread" provoked by "the toughest ski area in North America". Those who visit often, she wrote, "anticipate, endure and even enjoy some discomfort in the form of weather, sore muscles, bruised egos or life-affirming doses of fear. The place makes little pretence of coddling visitors." In conclusion, Thys, a former US ski team downhill racer, wrote: "I guess Jackson will always be about being beyond your comfort level."

There's nothing to argue with in that, except perhaps for the infelicitous phrase "be about being". Yet it is also true to say that Jackson Hole reaches comfort levels unmatched elsewhere in North American skiing. Other resorts have a landmark hotel of five-star quality: Beaver Creek in Colorado with its awesome Ritz-Carlton, for example, and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia with its Four Seasons. But Jackson Hole alone can boast two such properties, and will have a third when the planned Little Nell (a sister hotel to the one in Aspen) is built.

It is the only ski resort in the world with a hotel created expressly for the nonpareil Amanresorts group; and it has a Four Seasons. "Comfort" is hardly the word: this is the most glamorous and luxurious accommodation available to skiers anywhere.

What have the skiers done to deserve this? Nothing.

Jackson Hole is a stunning place, a largely undeveloped plain surrounded by mountains soaring to 10,000ft (hence the "hole") in which lies Jackson, a community of about 8,500 people. With the Grand Teton National Park running down to the town from Yellowstone, just 60 miles to the north, it is a haven for wildlife – even in winter, when as many as 10,000 elk, the world's largest winter concentration of the species, come to take refuge from the bitter weather on the plains. Often, the elk, wintering within what is now the US National Elk Refuge, are joined by a 1,500-strong herd of buffalo.

Summer is the peak time for wildlife watching, and for Jackson Hole tourism in general. More than three million visitors come to the area, compared with 80,000 during the winter-sports season. True, winter guests do stay about three times as long, on average; nevertheless, the Amangani's summer occupancy level is about twice that in the winter season. For the luxury hotels, the year-round "family and friends" crowd is important, too. Apart from the celebrity home-owners (who have ranged from Sandra Bernhard to Harrison Ford to Dick Cheney), there is a much larger community of people who are merely very wealthy. Their guests, if not accommodated at home, are likely to end up in the Amangani or the Four Seasons, not only to sleep but also, on special occasions, to dine.

Come the winter months, when the crowds have departed, room rates drop (except at peak periods) and the hotels take in skiers such as myself, generally unaccustomed to such luxury and service. The USP of the Four Seasons is service. It is, says the Canadian hotel group, "our distinguishing edge: service evolved over three decades of exclusive focus on luxury hospitality". The welcome at the reception desk is practised and seamless, the key elements of guest information so swiftly and efficiently imparted that I forgot them immediately, item by item.

But why bother to take in the stuff when it is readily available from any one of the numerous helpful staff? It's regrettable to be so easily institutionalised, but at least the Four Seasons is a fine institution. The 181-room Jackson Hole property, small by Four Seasons standards but big by Wyoming's (it is said to be the biggest building in the state), displays the distinguishing edge everywhere, and notably in the spa. But it is at its sharpest in the turn-down service. A leather-clad tray placed on the bed offers all sorts of services, from the breakfast menu to the complimentary shoeshine to the earplugs. Only when absent-mindedly raising an earplug towards my mouth did I realise that, although there was plenty of chocolate in the room, including a miniature ski boot made of the stuff, there wasn't any on my pillow. That's confidence: to draw attention to a service by omitting its most familiar element.

The hotel's finishes are irreproachable, too. Get down on hands and knees or up on a stool in the huge shower, and you won't find anything resembling a flaw in the tilework (I tried and failed). But the design is rather traditional and clublike, even with the addition, in the public areas, of Native American elements and art works from the collection of the building's owner, including Miró lithographs in the Gents. The real luxury is space: in my room, a "King Guest" (which is how I now think of myself), you could pace up and down in the walk-in cupboard, and park two bikes in the hallway, if you so wished.

The Four Seasons is the only genuine ski-in, ski-out hotel in Jackson Hole, which is a great asset. By comparison, the Amangani is a 20-minute shuttle-ride away, set on the 7,000ft East Gros Ventre Butte in the middle of the plateau. Otherwise, the Amangani is incomparable, for there is nothing else like it in a US ski resort. Looking up from below, the low-slung building – now 10 years old – seems rather forbidding: it would serve quite well as the lair of the villain in a James Bond film. But inside it feels more like an ancient temple uncovered by archaeologists. The calm lobby (this isn't a hotel that tries to create a buzz) flows down the hillside to an airy, high-ceilinged lounge, a descent that makes it seem even more like an excavated site; and the rough Oklahoma sandstone cladding the lounge pillars looks as old as the Dolomites, especially in the evening when uplit from the floor. The decorative elements are limited: what isn't sandstone is usually either black slate or terrazzo, or wood – mostly rich clear-heart redwood, far too soft to the touch to be really practical in a hotel. (The Amangani must be unique in having to be smoothed and oiled twice a year.) In the guest suites, almost all the surfaces – floors, doors, walls, cupboards, bed canopy – are wooden, apart from the neutral walls and slate surrounds in the bathroom, whose sunken tub lies against a wall of windows overlooking the Tetons. The overall effect is like a Californian interpretation of Japanese style, with Native American influences: calm, natural and slightly spiritual.

The Amangani's restaurant is excellent but unshowy; the spa, where I was myself smoothed and oiled, is equally unpretentious: the staff seem genuinely warm and friendly. As you will gather, I was so blissed-out that I could find no fault with the place at all. Beyond my comfort level? Way, way beyond it.

Getting there

Inghams (020-8780 4447; inghams.co.uk) offers a seven-night holiday in Jackson Hole from £973 per person, including BA flights from Heathrow to Dallas, and onwards with American Airlines to Jackson, transfers and room-only accommodation at the four-star Snake River Lodge.

To reduce the impact on the environment, you can buy an "offset" through Abta's Reduce My Footprint initiative (020-7637 2444; www.reducemyfootprint.travel).

Staying there

Amangani, 1535 North East Butte Road, Jackson, Wyoming (001 307 734 7333; amanresorts.com). Suites start at $659 (£471). Four Seasons Jackson Hole, 7680 Granite Loop Road, Teton Village, Wyoming (001 307 732 5000; fourseasons.com/jacksonhole). Doubles from $450 (£322), room only.

More information

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort: jacksonhole.com

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Chastain during an interview in Los Angeles.
filmsOscar hopeful Jessica Chastain reveals the secret to her breakthrough success
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
news
Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
Life and Style
tech

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker