It was something I have longed to do for a while, to see Yellowstone National Park. We had come across a good documentary last year, made by the BBC (currently available on Netflix, called Yellowstone: Battle for Life) and were fascinated by the geography, geology, flora and animals which live in the park.
I also love skiing and am always trying looking for new resorts to explore each year. Being English, I have been fortunate enough to spend most of my life skiing in Europe, in resorts such as Zermatt, Val d’Isere, Verbier, Lech and Gstaad. So this year, I picked Jackson. A colleague who helps with our trips in the US suggested we travel through Yellowstone first. They did a fantastic job; it proved to be a really wonderful, winter experience and something I would highly recommend.
We flew into Bozeman, Montana hopped on a shuttle to the park to The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. The hotel was fine, bit tired with clunky old radiators, dark hallways, but is serves a purpose and it is being renovated next year. It has a good gift shop and the food in the main restaurant is not bad and the staff very friendly. Our first morning, was an early 7am start and we met our private guide from the Yellow Stone Association called Jessie who took us out for a morning’s private tour. Aside from valuable information, guides provide coffee, scopes, binoculars and tripods and it is worth taking a camera with a good zoom lens. We had Panasonic cameras with Leica lenses that well worked for us (but it is easy to get camera envy in the park). We managed to see bison, pronghorn, elk, and most exciting of all, wolves who play an important, well documented role in the ecology of the park. We heard them howling mournfully across the mountain sides to one another, before we finally spotted them. They say you are more likely to see wolves in winter than summer, when tend to hide more, protecting their pups. In the winter they pretty much rule the park, as the elk and bison weaken with less to eat, they become easy prey for the wolves, who thrive. They certainly looked big, beautiful and healthy and we felt very privileged to have seen them. Many guides favour the winter season, there are far less visitors, it is more peaceful and it is a great time to really see and spot wildlife.
On our return, we walked over to the General Store just across the way from the Mammoth Hotsprings Hotel where we had a delicious bite to eat, it was taco Tuesday and you sit on tables that are set amongst a large array of gifts, clothing and souvenirs. If you forget anything like clothing, gloves, hats, tissues, snacks, drinks etc. you can certainly stock up here.
That afternoon we left on the snow coach, taking the four hour journey to Old Faithful. During the winter, few roads are open to the public and the road from the North to the South entrance is closed to commercial vehicles, so unless you wish to drive all the way around, which takes about 11 hours then it is best to take the snow coach or one of the other approved modes of transport. The drive is breathtakingly beautiful along a quiet snowy road, where if you are lucky, you may see bald eagles sitting in trees along the riversides, cascading icy waterfalls or the odd bison wandering across the road. The coach goes at a steady 25mph with several few comfort stops and short breaks at places of interest along the way. It took about four hours for us to arrive at Old Faithful, where we stayed at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. The rooms were nice with reasonable bathrooms. The main bar and dining room were buzzing with people from all over the world. Make a note that we are not talking five star at any hotels in the park, and if you come to Yellowstone expecting that, you will be disappointed, however it is so completely worth it for everything you can experience. They say the majority (and it is something like 90% or more) of people who visit the park, never hike and only get out to see Old Faithful! Don’t be one of those people and miss out on all the lovely and interesting things to do.
We had arrived just as the light was fading, and on check in at reception, we had seen a board, that Old Faithful, probably the most legendary cone geyser in the world, would be active at 6.37pm. They say she has been a bit temperamental of late, so we headed a little earlier and were the only ones there. It is no longer lit in the evenings, considered to be inappropriate from an ecological perspective. In the twilight, it was very quiet and then at 6.30pm, we suddenly heard it rumbling under ground and hissing before erupting and spouting water and steam high into the air. It was really special to be there, just the two of us.
The following day we met our guide Rebecca, who took us on a gentle, three hour snow shoe walk through the forests. We walked past steaming pools of simmering thermal springs surrounded by mossy patches in between thick snow. It was quiet, with the odd squirrel making warning clicks to the next one, but so magical. We came across a small group of female bison who were a little too interested in us, so we backed up into the trees until they changed course. My heart was in my mouth for a moment. Bison can be very aggressive and have been known to attack people who get too close trying to take selfies!
We caught a snow coach down to Flagg, passing huge canyons, rivers and several lines of guided snow mobilers (you can make the journey by snow mobile to Old Faithful and back from Flagg). From Flagg we had a private transfer to take us to our hotel in Jackson. If you go to Yellowstone make a note that you will need warm clothing as temperatures can drop substantially, proper winter coats, good boots, hats and gloves. In the evenings in the park it was very casual.
What is important when planning your ski trip to Jackson, is where deciding where to stay and if you come for more than a few days, I would recommend dividing your time between a resort in town, and either at a ski in/ski out resort like the Four Seasons in the Grand Teton Village OR outside both. I am naturally always quite hotel led. I don’t mind travelling a bit to get to the place I will sleep, but Jackon needs some consideration, especially if you are travelling with children.
Skiing in Jackson is not for the faint hearted. What the Europeans consider to be blue runs are red runs in Jackson. With an annual snowfall of over 400 inches, more than 2500 acres of inbound terrain and a 4,139 foot vertical drop, the resort has 133 named trails, 50% expert, 40% intermediate and 10% beginner.
They are creating easier runs for the future however.
Our first stop was The Rusty Parrot Lodge which is in the town of Jackson, a ten minute walk to the main square and a twenty minute shuttle drive (complimentary from the hotel) to the slopes. The hotel is family run by the Harrisons with an excellent, friendly staff and I would highly recommend you stay here if you want to be in town. It has warmly decorated, cosy rooms with the most comfortable beds. Our room had a fireplace, balcony and big bath tub. The hotel is home to the Body Sage Spa offering excellent massages and facials and the well known Wild Sage Restaurant.The food is second to none, the breakfasts are delicious, (everything is home made, including the jams ) and they have an extensive wine list which is reasonably priced. There is a small lounge area upstairs, where you can grab a cup of coffee and relax by the fire. The outside deck with its fire pit, comfy seating and Jacuzzi is heaven at the end of the day. I loved being in town, you can easily step out for smart dinner at the Snake River Lodge, steak at Local, burger at Liberty Burger, and have a drink at The Million Dollar Cowboy bar with its saddle stools, listen to a band at the Silver Dollar Bar or grab a pastry and coffee at Persphone Bakery. There are many art galleries and stores in Jackson (The Wildlife Museum opposite the Elk Refuge is lovely). You can buy anything from a shearling coat at Overland to some Native American jewellery in one of the many stores selling beautiful pieces.
After three nights in town, we moved to stay at the Amangani. Fifteen minutes from the town and a 20 minute shuttle ride to the slopes, the Amangani stands on the edge of a butte overlooking the snowcapped peaks of the Grand Tetons. The hotel is truly stunning, its 40 typical Aman style suites, have floor to ceiling windows, gorgeous public areas and a magnificent heated outdoor pool and hot tub.
The Resort Spa and Fitness Centre has a small gym, lovely treatment rooms where you can have amongst other holistic treaments, a Himalayan Salt Scrub and they can organise private pilates sessions. The Grill restaurant specialises seasonal farm-to-table produce. Wines are superb, the service is exceptional. To cap it all, they have their own private ski lounge just below the main lift to the slopes where your skis are bought to you and your boots are warmed! We felt so spoiled. The lovely General Manager, Stuart Lang, came down to meet us one evening and drove us back in one of their BMW 4x4s.
Jackson Hole offers many really great outdoor activities in the winter other than skiing, which you can do alone if you have a car or it is best with one of the well qualified, private guides who will pick you up at your front door. We spent a fun morning in the Grand Teton Park with a private guide, Jonathan from Grizzly Wild Adventures, who was fantastic, and a day snowmobiling with Zane from Togwatee Snow mobile adventures to Granite Hot Springs. You can visit on of the museums or galleries, or spend time in the Elk Refuge where you can get up, close and personal with a bull elk from the sleight you go out on. We saw people dog sledding on our snow mobile tour which looked wonderful. In fact, there is so much to do, that we are planning to go back…
We would be delighted to help you plan your tour to any national parks in the USA. These can be combined with visiting places like Jackson, LA, San Francisco or a trip up the West Coast to Seattle or Vancouver in Canada. North America is a fantastic place to go in winter or summer.Places are limited though so make sure you book well in advance and we can help form start to finish doing all your flights and transfers as well as hotels, excursions and tours. Why not spend some time on one of the fantastic ranches like Bush Creek, Paws Up, Ranch at Rock Creek or Zappata as well. If you are interested in Canada and Alaska we can help too. We only use the best suppliers and work with top guides and the best hotels and lodges available. Whether you go as a couple or a family with children, these are fantastic family holidays filled with interesting adventures.
With thanks to the Amangani, Amanresorts for the two exterior shots of the hotel.