Skiing, hot springs and five-star accommodations beckon
I’m only a few miles from my destination: Jackson Hole, Wyo. It’s the middle of February, and the Teton Range lining the horizon is shaded violet and midnight blue. Down the valley to my left, there’s the National Elk Refuge, home to between 5,000 and 7,000 of the luckiest creatures ever to wear antlers. They wander the land as though it’s the Garden of Eden, unaware that not every member in their species has it so good, or that many people would rather see them on a plate.
I look back at the moose, and just when I wonder whether I should honk my horn, he saunters off the road, still chewing his vine. I drive on, and half an hour later, I pull into Jackson Hole’s Teton Village. Situated at the base of the slopes, it’s a series of palatial lodges trimmed with twinkling white lights. Valet attendants run to and fro, fetching keys and cars. Minutes ago, I was in the company of a moose. Now, I’m in the company of the moneyed.
The grand dame here is the Four Seasons Resort, a five-star, five-diamond accommodation. It’s a place where the staff members don’t just warm your ski boots overnight, they also put them on your feet in the morning, clicking every last stubborn buckle into place. After a day of skiing, you can soak in the hot-springs-style whirlpools, and when you’re ready to dry off, a staff “snow bunny” will fetch you a towel from the warming closet.
It’s a strange dichotomy, being in the heart of this remote, untamed region, yet having access to the extravagances of a metropolitan city. When the Four Seasons opened in Jackson Hole in 2003, it was the first luxury hotel in the area (and the company’s first mountain resort), and more than a few people scratched their heads. Back then, there were five people per square mile here, the slopes catered to extreme skiers and the nearby national parks didn’t necessarily draw a Four Seasons crowd. Not to mention, only a small airport connected Jackson Hole with the outside world. So who was going to make the trip? Turns out, plenty of people — and it transformed Jackson Hole.
The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, owned by a local family, began expanding its beginner and intermediate terrain. White-tablecloth restaurants began to open their doors. In 2006, the town’s annual Grand Teton Music Festival nabbed acclaimed maestro Donald Runnicles to serve as music director, upping the pedigree of its performers. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Jim Carrey turned up on the slopes.
And I want to ride that tram to Rendezvous Mountain. Not because I’m an adrenaline junkie, or even an above-average skier — just because I want to experience what makes Jackson Hole alluring to snow bums and stockbrokers alike. But I’m starting to question my sanity. The tram is packed with skiers and snowboarders wearing the right gear, holding the right equipment, bearing the right nonchalant expressions.
Me? I’ve got a twitchy smile. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
When the tram’s doors open, the sky is an eerie red and the wind whistles. I have to duck my head to see, focusing on my boots as I exit the platform and plod, step by deliberate step, toward the snow. By the time I click into my skis, everyone from my tram has already taken off. The visibility is about 6 feet; beyond that, it’s just a dizzying blur of white. I tip my skis over the edge of the bowl and begin to descend in wide, slow zigzags. My heart knocks against my chest, and I feel myself sweating in spite of the cold.