London-based Sarah Mason specializes in travel at the most luxurious level, regularly creating bespoke experiences for her clients all over the world. Part of being a true expert in travel means going there yourself. Here she shares her adventures in one of America’s greatest gems, Montana and Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, plus spectacular spots in Jackson, Wyoming, and Grand Teton National Park.
It was something I 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 became fascinated by the geography, geology, flora and animals which live in the park. Also, I love skiing and finding new mountains to explore. Since I am from England, I have naturally spent most of my life skiing in Europe, in resorts such as Zermatt, Val d’Isère, Verbier, Lech and Gstaad. However, I had always wanted to ski in Jackson, Wyoming. It proved to be a really wonderful, winter experience and something I would highly recommend.
We began by flying into Bozeman, Montana and hopped on a shuttle to Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, in Yellowstone. (The hotel is a bit tired, but it’s being renovated next year.) The next morning, our private guide from the Yellowstone Association, Jessie, took us out for a morning tour. The guides are a great resource, providing everything from valuable information and coffee to scopes, binoculars, and tripods. Many guides favor the winter season: there are far less visitors, it is more peaceful and a great time to see the wildlife.
We soon saw bison, pronghorn, elk, and most exciting of all, wolves, who play an important role in Yellowstone’s ecology. In the winter the wolves pretty much rule the park, as the elk and bison, with less to eat, weaken and become easy prey. They certainly looked big, beautiful, and healthy. We felt very privileged to have seen them.
That afternoon we left on the snow coach, taking the scenic journey to Old Faithful. The drive is very beautiful on a quiet snowy road, where you may see bald eagles sitting in trees along the riversides, cascading icy waterfalls, or a bison wandering across the road. It took about four hours to arrive at Old Faithful, where we stayed at Old Faithful Snow Lodge. 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.
The following day we met our guide Rebecca, who took us on a gentle, three-hour snowshoe walk through the forests. We passed steaming pools of simmering thermal springs surrounded by mossy patches in 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!
Our next stop: Jackson, WY, a beautiful ski town at the edge of the Grand Tetons.
Skiing in Jackson is not for the faint-hearted. With an annual snowfall of over 400 inches, more than 2,500 acres of inbound terrain and a 4,139 foot vertical drop, the resort has 133 named trails: 50% expert, 40% intermediate, and 10% beginner. It is widely considered one of the most difficult mountains in the US.
Our first stay was at The Rusty Parrot Lodge in the town of Jackson, a 10-minute walk to the main square and a 20-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 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 Day 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 homemade, 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 a smart dinner at the Snake River Lodge, steak at Local Restaurant & Bar, dinner at Trio, listen to a band at the Silver Dollar Bar, or grab a pastry and coffee at Persephone Bakery. One thing you must do is have a drink at The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar with its cowboy murals and saddle stools.
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 suites have floor-to-ceiling windows, gorgeous public areas, and a magnificent heated outdoor pool and hot tub. The Resort Spa has lovely treatment rooms where you can have amongst other holistic treatments, a Himalayan Salt Scrub, and they can organise private Pilates sessions. The Grill restaurant specialises in seasonal farm-to-table produce. Wines are superb, and 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 the hotel’s BMW 4x4s.
Jackson offers many great outdoor activities in the winter other than skiing, which you can do alone if you have a car. Although, 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 Country Wild Adventures, who was fantastic, and a day snowmobiling with Zane from Togwotee Snowmobile Adventures to Granite Hot Springs. We saw people dog sledding on our tour, which looked wonderful. In fact, there is so much to do, that we are planning to go back! The trip lived up to all of our expectations!
For more of Sarah’s adventures, find her at her site here.