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There's a Hole lot to do in Wyoming

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 07/01/2019 James Litston

a herd of cattle standing on top of a snow covered mountain © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Christmas may be done and dusted for another year but this festive scenery must have missed the memo.

All around me, drifts of snow are sparkling in the midday sun as if they have been liberally sprinkled with glitter.

Frost and icicles decorate the pines, each one a natural Christmas tree, and framing the scene are jagged white-capped peaks. Even with thermals and a furry hat, it’s bone-numbingly cold — but I can’t remember feeling so invigorated.  

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I’m in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the snowdrifts are so deep that I’d be sinking up to my thighs in them if I weren’t using specialist equipment. But with snowshoes attached to my boots and hiking poles to keep my balance, I’m able to explore with relative ease. The powdery snow crunches satisfyingly underfoot as we discover this unspoilt corner of the American West. 

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As well as teaching the basic skills of manoeuvring through the landscape, the Snowshoe Sampler tour (£75, holehike.com) is a great introduction to Jackson Hole. Flanked by the Teton and Gros Ventre mountains, the “hole” (or valley) was left behind by the melting of a mile-thick ice cap. Each winter, the surrounding peaks receive more than 12 metres of fine, fluffy snow. Known locally as “cowboy powder”, it’s what puts Jackson Hole on the map.

Somewhere on the other side of this mighty, mountainous backdrop, snowboarders and skiers are hurtling down the slopes. The conditions they’re enjoying are some of the best in North America, but they’ll be going too fast to appreciate the scenery. In contrast, my snowshoeing crew and I are taking in every detail, from the sounds of a partially frozen stream to the animal tracks in the snow. Perhaps it’s the combination of natural beauty and dizzying altitude, but I’m elated by the experience.

Jackson Hole’s two ski areas, Snow King and Mountain Resort, may be its biggest draw but unlike many winter playgrounds there is plenty of off-piste appeal too. Take Jackson itself, the charming small town that acts as the ski resorts’ hub. Streets lined with Wild West architecture and a central square accessed through archways of antlers give Jackson a genuine cowboy town ambience, yet it’s also surprisingly chic.

a ship on the water: Ice baby: the pool at the Amangani resort © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Ice baby: the pool at the Amangani resort With barely a chain store in sight, the town’s character lies in its microbreweries, galleries and quality independent shopping and dining locations. Among the more eclectic outlets are Roadhouse for pub grub and own-brewed beer, and Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for boot-scootin’ music and bar stools fashioned from western saddles.

For more sophisticated tastes, the Lebanese restaurant at Hotel Jackson is a highlight. This family-run boutique hotel also happens to be where I’m staying, which is lucky for me as I’m loving its creature comforts and distinct sense of place. With interiors decked out in stone, wood and leather, cosy fires and animal art works, its mix of cowboy and contemporary is a handy analogy for the town, too.

But for outdoor enthusiasts heading off piste, it’s what lies north of Jackson that holds most appeal. Jackson Hole is in the southernmost part of Greater Yellowstone — one of the world’s largest functioning temperate ecosystems. Yellowstone National Park itself is a two-hour drive away, but closer to town is the National Elk Refuge, with Grand Teton National Park just beyond.

a store front at day: The famous © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The famous This patchwork of protected lands offers horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing and unbeatable wildlife encounters. Moose, elk, bison, bears and wolves are all here in healthy numbers, and (with the exception of bears, which hibernate) they’re easiest to see with a wintry backdrop. For the best results I joined a half-day tour with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris (jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com) and set out the next morning to seek these North American icons.

The rosy glow of dawn is spreading over the Tetons’ peaks as we drive through the valley, looking for signs of life. An overnight flurry has left the landscape looking sharp and pristine. We pull over to watch a herd of bison bulldozing their way through the snow, then spy a mother moose and her nearly-grown calf in a riverside thicket. But our closest brush with nature is the herd of aptly named bighorn sheep — the males with sweeping head adornments — that wander by to be photographed. 

For a further immersion in nature, I relocate for a final few days to Amangani (amangani.com), a super-exclusive resort on a hilltop 10 minutes outside town. Like Hotel Jackson, the aesthetic here is again set by natural materials, only this time they’re accompanied by a money-shot view over meadows and mountains. Comfortable suites, gas-flame fires and a full-service spa make a stay here incredibly relaxing. I take in the vista from the (thankfully heated) outdoor pool as the wind sighs heavily over the landscape and rising steam billows atmospherically around me.

Wildlife in Wyoming © Getty Wildlife in Wyoming Later, I hunker down among the library’s books and Native American artefacts. It’s peculiarly peaceful. Most of the other guests are out on the pistes or at Amangani’s ski lounge, but I’ve much preferred my slower-paced explorations. Besides, I’ve got a view to soak up and another hot chocolate to sip. Those skiers and boarders bombing down the slopes don’t know what they’re missing.

Details: Jackson Hole

Original Travel (020 3582 4990, originaltravel.co.uk) has a week in Jackson Hole from £3,300 per person (two sharing) including Heathrow flights, SUV rental, four nights at Hotel Jackson, three nights at Amangani, a snowshoeing excursion and Elk Refuge sleigh ride.

For more information about Jackson Hole, see jacksonholechamber.com.

Gallery: Calling all thrill seekers: the 15 best places to try the most extreme travel adventures (EasyVoyage)



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