JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. -- Jackson Hole is undergoing a renaissance apparent in its dramatically shifting landscape. The completion of the 124-room Four Seasons hotel this winter -- with the mountain's first truly slopeside restaurant, views of the snow-clad Tetons, and high-end services such as a ski concierge -- caps a series of recent luxury lodge openings in the newly expanded base area of Teton Village that is bound to bring in a whole different breed of skier.
Celebrated for epic ski terrain, the wild glacial valley known as Jackson Hole for years has attracted daredevil sporting types and year-round ski bums. It was named, appropriately enough, for a 19th-century mountain man and fur trader -- and the ''mountain man" types stuck around. The frontier town of Jackson, about 12 miles from the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's Teton Village, has a population of just 8,647 and its roots grounded firmly in the Old West tradition. Land development is severely restricted (only 3 percent of land is available for private ownership or development), and environmental consciousness is high. Walk down the main street and you'll see old-fashioned wooden storefronts, boardwalks, and lively Jackson town square. This is a town that every May holds a public auction of elk antlers shed in the National Elk Refuge; proceeds benefit the refuge.
The valley area now gets about 6 million visitors a year, thanks in large part to its proximity to two popular national parks: Grand Teton (less than a mile away) and Yellowstone (45 miles to the north). Many warm-weather visitors stay in the town of Jackson, where thousands of hotel rooms accommodate them. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort itself, however, has had a longtime shortage of on-mountain rooms as well as anything that could be dubbed night life.
With the fresh appearance of several upscale hotels and condo developments in Teton Village (almost doubling capacity to 3,200 beds in the last six years), as well as a cornucopia of spas and restaurants right at the bottom of Jackson Hole's main lifts, the resort now caters to a wider spectrum of snow-based clientele, particularly affluent visitors who, while they like to ski, may not be throwing themselves with a war whoop off every steep cornice. More importantly, they bring their families and spend money on creature comforts.
Four Seasons ResortJackson Hole This year, there's certainly more to attract those skiers. At the slopeside Four Seasons, with ski-in, ski-out access to three main lifts (the Bridger Gondola, Teewenot, and Eagles' Rest) and a short stroll to the summit-bound Aerial Tram, you don't even have to schlep your own gear anymore: The ski concierge can take care of your equipment, including arranging for in-room boot fittings and overnight ski and snowboard tune-ups, and set up lift tickets, guides, lessons, and rentals. The pamper-me perks continue aprs-ski at three outdoor hot-spring whirlpools and a 25-yard heated pool with poolside bar service and attendants to greet you with heated robes, towels, and slippers.
The full-service alpine spa, all 11,685 square feet of it, is similarly abundant in its offerings, with 16 treatment rooms, two private fireplace suites, a steam room, and hot and cold plunge pools. Eighteen ''body work therapies," including hot-stone massages, high-altitude body soaks, and herbal wraps, use materials indigenous to the area. Fitness fanatics also can stay limber with yoga, pilates, and spinning classes. The hotel is the Four Seasons' first mountain resort, a modern take on the classic North American lodge, and the company has not skimped on the design details: soaring exposed-beam ceilings of native red alder, western-quarried stone floors, and private balconies, as well as artwork by Alberto Giacometti and Grant Wood. At the game-oriented Westbank Grill and the hotel's Peak Bar, menus reflect an appropriate regional flavor: Idaho rainbow trout, wild forest mushrooms, juniper-scented braised venison shank.
Teton Mountain Lodge At the Teton Mountain Lodge, which opened last winter, the lively fire crackling in the lobby fireplace is a welcome sight after a day on the slopes. In each of the 129 rooms, cushy modern conveniences include custom pillowtop mattresses, whirlpool tubs, stone gas fireplaces, and high-speed Internet. This is a condo-hotel in which the units can be combined and converted to make larger suites, including fully equipped kitchens.
The lodge is decorated with breathtaking photographs of local mountaineers and explorers in action. The concept brings together what developer Rob DesLauriers, an extreme skier and star of more than 25 ski films, envisioned at the start: a full-service hotel with all the top amenities that also offers guests the necessities of home and the privacy of their own slopeside condominiums.
A newly expanded aprs-ski bar at the hotel's Cascade Grill House & Spirits is as much a hot spot for town residents as it is for guests. The decor is warm, with overstuffed sofas and many posts and beams salvaged from a 140-year-old sawmill close by (300-year-old reclaimed spruce timbers were used in building the rest of the lodge). The restaurant serves creative Western dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (try the molasses-seared elk rubbed with roasted shallot-huckleberry demi glace) and also offers room service (the house gets busy at night, so you might want to call down your order early).
Snake River Lodge Rugged cowboy chic sets the tone at the Snake River Lodge, part of the Rock Resort hotel group, which got a recent facelift with exposed-beam ceilings, oxidized wrought-iron chandeliers, and deep leather lounges to sink your snow-beaten body into (by the lobby's wood-burning fireplace, of course).
At the refurbished five-level, 17,000-square-foot Avanyu Spa, Teton Village's first and biggest, try the house specialty: an exfoliating Vichy salt glow with invigorating black spruce aromatherapy. An indoor-outdoor pool complex is part of the health club and spa, complete with waterfalls, heated walkways, and hot tubs built into caves to catch the steam. All bathrooms are stocked with Avanyu's signature line of citrus-scented spa products.
Along with the above renovations, the lodge now offers wireless Internet access in the lobby, along with a computer terminal for public use. Handmade burnished leather furniture by local artisans, California queen-size beds, and goose-down comforters complete Snake River's shift away from ''rustic cabin" and toward the ''luxury hotel" category.
Crystal Springs Lodge Part of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's development is Crystal Springs Lodge, which opened for its first winter season at the base of the mountain with 16 exclusive ski-in, ski-out, one- to three-bedroom condominiums. Each apartment has a full marble-topped kitchen, whirlpool tub, flat-screen TV, and a 24-hour front desk concierge. Like the Teton Mountain Lodge, Crystal Springs is geared toward those who want privacy as well as the perks of a hotel (there's also private underground parking, a big plus in the village, and access to the Teton Sports Club). Ideal for families and large groups, some condos even have lofts and sleeper sofas, and each has its own design personality: One is whimsically decorated with colorful vintage ski posters of Chamonix from the 1920s. The units also have excellent views of the mountain, the Aerial Tram, and the picturesque Crystal Springs Pond, which doubles as the village's skating rink in winter.
The arrival of these places does raise one question: Are there still rooms for ski bums?
Bonnie Tsui is a freelance writer based in California.
How to get there
At press time, the lowest round-trip airfare between Boston's Logan Airport and Jackson Hole Airport started at about $450 on American Airlines, connecting through Chicago. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is about 30 minutes by car or shuttle bus ($35 round trip); adult lift tickets are $64 a day.
Where to stay
Four Seasons Jackson Hole
7680 Granite Loop Road
Teton Village, Wyo.
800-295-5281 or 307-732-5000
Doubles from $475.
Teton Mountain Lodge
3385 West Village Drive
800-801-6615 or 307-734-7111
Doubles from $109.
Snake River Lodge & Spa
7710 Granite Loop Road
Doubles from $139.
Crystal Springs Lodge
3285 West Village Drive
One-bedroom units from $495 in winter.
3315 McCollister Drive
For skiers who want to experience Jackson's epic snow on a budget, this affordable, no-frills ski lodge is a37-year-old family-owned favorite. Doubles from $52.
Where to eat
The Four Seasons Jackson Hole
Dinner for two $100.
Cascade Grill House & Spirits
Teton Mountain Lodge
Dinner for two $90.
Snake River Lodge
Dinner for two $80.
Chef Kevin Humphries' menu specialties include Wyoming Angus steaks and locally caught fish.
A down-home local hangout established in 1967, this restaurant and saloon's friendly crowd, live entertainment, and daily meal specials usually packs 'em in when the lifts close.