Sky-high: my expectations of Jackson Hole. My dad – a travel journalist with a passion for skiing – told me it was pretty much his favourite mountain resort in the world. Its landscape year-round is so nature-calendar-in-the-making spectacular that a hotel would need to be very special not to spoil the magic.
Enter Amangani, the luxury hotel just a 15-minute drive from the mountain’s base station. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at the hotel’s sister property, the Amanjena in Marrakech, where I was treated like a queen and never wanted to leave. To top it off, a friend told me Angelina and Brad recently flew to Amangani – by private jet, of course – for a luxurious 24-hour getaway. Needless to say, I have mountain-high expectations.
So it is, that after an easy, early flight from LA, my Mr Smith and I are picked up at the town’s tiny little airport by a member of the hotel’s staff in the BMW SUV. As we pad our faces with steaming-hot eucalyptus-scented towels, we’re whisked through a thick blizzard – snowflakes the size of chicken nuggets – up the winding roads, to what looks to be a spectacular chalet perched atop a cliff.
The winning combination of Oklahoma sandstone, Pacific redwood and lofty architectural aspirations has resulted in a museum-worthy piece of modern American construction – the perfect counterbalance to the rugged sweep of the Teton Mountains opposite. The view, which we soak up once the storm subsides, spans an incredible 200 degrees across a snow-covered valley, out to stunning peaks far off in the distance.
Sure I’m a stickler for chic decor in hotels, but being slap-bang in Wyoming’s cowboy country can leave a person craving warm and rustic. Amangani nails it with a welcoming balance between luxurious and cosy; ski chalet and five-star hotel. The spicy smell of redwood – which lines many of the walls and the elevator – hits as soon as we walk through the doors, forcing us to take a deep inhale.
Fireplaces crackle, faux-fur covers armchairs, and Native American art peppers the nooks and crannies of the lounge. A darker, old-fashioned library is located just behind, and downstairs the spa, gym and yoga room face the mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows. And then we peer through those windows to a long, steaming open-air pool outside. Swimming in the snow? We’re in.
And don’t even think that you might freeze your tootsies off during the mad-dash from the hotel to the water: I learned the easy way that the stone underfoot is heated. Naturally.
Grill, the hotel’s restaurant, treats us to outrageously delicious dinner that night. I mean really, really outrageous. Mr Smith has pheasant, followed by Wagyu steak, which slices and tastes like butter. I opt for scallops, followed by lobster pasta. Fresh, cooked perfectly and served with interesting, taste-bud-tingling garnishes and sauces (the scallops are dressed in a tangy pomegranate jus), I heartily declare this as one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had. And honour is bestowed before we've decided on the hot peanut-butter-chocolate torte and Jack Daniels ice-cream – just to make sure we have plenty to work off on the slopes.
We rise early, realising a bit late that the altitude makes one drink feel like three. Luckily there are no major hangovers, so we nab the first hotel shuttle to the slopes at 8am and rent our skis at JH Sports. Super quick and organised, they offer equipment in great condition, which banishes memories of crashing about in European equivalents. Gear in hand, we pop into local’s favourite, Village Café, for their famous Tramline burrito. The breakfast of champions, it bursts with sausage, egg, cheese and a just-so slathering of hot sauce.
Snow as it did all night, freshly groomed runs await us in sparkling sunlight. Skiing at its very best conditions for our one and only day on the mountain: hallelujah! Mr Smith and I make our way to the summit via the aerial tram. Whether you ski the black-diamond runs down from there or not, try a Nutella-topped hot waffle from mountaintop hideaway Corbet’s Cabin. It melts in the mouth and is extra fortification against nippy days.
Pampering guests after action-packed days is Aman’s MO – and because the hotel is a short drive away – Amangani came up with the genius idea of opening a ski lounge at the base of the mountain, where Mr Smith procures two luscious, thick hot chocolates, and we relax while waiting for the shuttle. In true Aman Resorts style, staff are incredibly friendly, and universally ski and snowboard obsessives, eager to advise about the slopes and snow conditions. They even help us get our boots on and off, and shower us with hand-warmers and granola bars as we go.
Heading for the idyllic lodge on the cliff, I realise that Amangani has not just met, but wildly exceeded every expectation. Where to go from here? We start planning a return visit to this Jackson Hole hotel in summer for hiking, biking, ballooning, climbing and wildlife safaris in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Indeed, I demand an eyeful of elk, moose, grizzlies and countless species of birds on our return, please. Amangani, I know you won’t let me down.