The Wyoming resort now has a lot more to offer than a solid burger and rustic accommodations. A regular on the slopes checks out the great new restaurants and hotels.
Over the past 16 years, I've somehow always found a way to squeeze in an annual ski trip to Jackson Hole. The enduring appeal for me is the rugged Wyoming landscape and laid-back cowboy culture, as well as the sublime backcountry skiing. Until recently, though, there weren't many dining options. In the early 1990s, the choices were pretty much the Snake River Grill (delicious Mediterranean food, but fancier than what I crave after a long day on the slopes); a burger at Billy's Giant Hamburgers; or indifferent Mexican at a handful of fluorescent-lit cafeterias. Now I have my pick of prosciutto-topped wood-oven pizzas, margaritas made with fresh-squeezed juices and three kinds of tuna sushi.
Last winter, as powder piled up in the Rockies, I carved out a last-minute long weekend. Since I was traveling solo, I indulged myself and booked a room at the Four Seasons, which opened in 2003 just a few hundred feet from the ski resort's gondola. The standard rooms aren't huge, but the walk-in closets, marble bathrooms and amenities—spa, full-service ski shop, sushi served in the lobby at dusk—more than make up for it. Plus, there are two top-notch restaurants: The Peak, one of the most popular lunch spots at the mountain, and the elegant Westbank Grill, serving dishes using Western ingredients such as Colorado lamb and buffalo tenderloin.
The success of the Four Seasons has, in fact, helped spawn a building boom. The resort recently put up a glass-wrapped midmountain restaurant called Couloir, which serves hearty après-ski dishes like short ribs with blue cheese polenta. A golf course is under construction down below. And more high-end hotels are in the works, including the eco-friendly Hotel Terra, opening this month.
Just before nine on the morning after my arrival, I headed over to the gondola, a little jittery from the altitude and the nervousness that comes with the year's first day back on skis (could I still do this?). Once the ski patrol wrapped up its avalanche-control work—disconcerting booms as the crew ignited explosives to stabilize the snow pack—I pushed off for my first run on the freshly groomed Amphitheater. It's an extraordinary feeling to ski a mountain almost alone. All is quiet except for your beating heart and the sound the wind makes as it flutters your jacket. I took a few more laps, then eventually arrived at the top of the mountain, the view of the Grand Tetons my reward. But I was also ravenous and thinking about my next meal.
That night, I decided to check out the bistro Trio, which gets its name from the three owners. Two are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, and all are alums of Snake River Grill (arguably still the best food in town). I grabbed a seat at Trio's L-shaped bar and ordered a glass of Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc to go with the amuse bouche, lemon-scented crabmeat salad piled onto crostini. As I sipped, I watched my main course, a bacon-and-shrimp-topped pesto pizza, bubbling in the wood-burning oven behind the bar. I finished off the meal with a warm berry cobbler before turning in early.
The food in Jackson Hole has changed so much that not only can you get a great margarita—at the fantastic Mexican spot Pica's, which uses fresh-squeezed juices in its cocktails—but you can also take your pick from among a half dozen sushi places, about 900 miles from the ocean. Blu-Kitchen, for example, which opened in the fall, ships its fish in from all over the world. Owner and chef Jarrett Schwartz came from Mizu Sushi, a spare, modern restaurant a short drive from the resort.
The next evening, after another long, glorious day on the slopes, I drove over to Mizu Sushi. I'm not a huge fan of inventive sushi, but the new chef, Jooshin Kim, created delicious rolls, including one with wagyu beef and arugula and another with panko-crusted eel and balsamic vinegar. I rounded out the meal by trying every kind of nigiri tuna on the menu—chu-toro, akami and albacore, all impeccable—then once again called it an early night. Outside, it was snowing in earnest. The road back to the hotel was a ribbon of white, like a long ski trail leading into the darkness.