Jackson Hole’s Alpenhof Lodge
Text and photos by John Fry
Lacking a native high-mountain culture of our own, American skiers began to import a ready-made one from Europe in the 1930’s. The Austro-Bavarian alpine lifestyle crossed the Atlantic with huge success. As a lifestyle expression, it had everything –distinctive architecture, clothing, music, and a special vocabulary of ski technique.
German words like schuss and wedeln needed no translation…skiers directly absorbed them into the English language. You were a genuine skier if you learned how to sing “Edelweiss,” and especially if you could produce a proper yodel as you pushed off down the slope. To establish après-ski credentials, it was helpful to wear heavy wool loden jackets with olive green collars and dazzling dirndls with sexy bodices. A rite of passage for an American wanting to qualify as an expert was a ski vacation in the Alps. Those who didn’t go abroad assimilated the culture from the charming Austrian ski instructors who came to the U.S. to teach the sport.
As for lodging at a winter resort, indigenous New England farmhouses and western ranch homes couldn’t match the skiing authenticity of the stucco and dark-chocolate buildings of the Alps, with their pitched roofs, massively overhanging eaves, ornately balustrated porches, and walls decorated with Luftmalerei–frescoes traditionally painted on the walls of alpine houses. The gasthof-style hostelries multiplied at the base of North America’s fast-proliferating ski areas during the 1950s and 1960s. Then, beginning in the late 1970s, architectural taste changed. At its best, it shifted to palatial, muscular log imitations of Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge. At worst, it degenerated into hotels resembling Holiday Inns next to airports.
Meanwhile, a few American ski resort lodges struggle to preserve the Bavarian-heritage style –notable the Trapp Family Lodge at Stowe and the Sonnenalp and Gramshammer at Vail. None may be as fervent in their dedication to detail, however, as the Alpenhof in Teton Village at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Alpenhof literally means mountain residence…in the case of Jackson Hole, a four-story magnification. Dominating the Alpenhof’s exterior ae pitched roofs and balconies embellished with ornate balusters commonly seen on the classic hotels of Kitzbühel and Garmisch. Inside, the rooms are festooned with carved headboards, the bed tops puffed up with down comforters.
Alpenhof’s history goes back to the very beginning of Teton Village, which in 1965 first established Jackson Hole as a big-mountain destination ski resort, with an aerial tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. Developer Paul McCollister envisaged a European-style village like Switzerland Verbier at the base of the mountain, with a half-dozen owner-occupied-and-operated lodges.
Alpenhof is all that remains of McCollister’s original vision. The inn was built by the widely traveled New Jersey ski enthusiasts Dietrich and Anneliese Oberreit, who dreamed of running a lodge sensitive to their Swiss and Bavarian roots. To make up for their total lack of experience in the business, the Oberreits took correspondence courses in hotel management, and with the help of an architect supervised the building of Alpenhof. In the late spring of 1965, they packed their three children in the family station wagon, and moved stock and barrel to Jackson Hole.
Alpenhof opened in time for Christmas 1965 with 30 rooms –the first lodge in Teton Village. Over the next 20 years, the Oberreits added 10 more rooms and a ski shop. Peter Stiegler, brother of Teton ski school director Pepi Stiegler, served for a time as maitre d’hotel.
Among the Alpenhof’s most enthusiastic annual skiing guests were Ed and Susan Cunningham. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Ed had skied all over Europe as well as America, and he instantly fell in love with the gemuetlichkeit created by the Oberreits at Teton Village.
Alpenhof also happened to fit his plan to acquire and operate inns having a special cachet –a collection of romantic places, as the Cunninghams call them. They started with a couple of inns –the Pelican and Mountain Home in California, followed by one in Scotland. As skiers, they wanted desperately to add Alpenhof to their mini-chain of exotic hostelries, but Oberreit for a long time was reluctant to sell. Finally, in 1988, he agreed to sell Alpenhof to the Cunninghams, who’ve since invested several million dollars in making the place, as Dietrich Oberreit says, “more Bavarian than we ever had it.”
As you enter the lobby and deposit your skis in the ski room immediately on one side, you cross to the reception desk, which is backed by antique European ski posters and surmounted by a quaint cuckoo clock. Room numbers on ceramic plaques, with floral decorations, adorn the doors. Here and there you spot a painted pine chest and a painted or carved antique Bauernschrank–a cupboard or closet about two meters high.
In the Bistro, a popular Teton Village après-ski hangout, cowbells and ceramic beer steins with pewter lids hang over the bar. The pride of the hotel is the Alpenrose dining room, with its tiled fireplace and bold flower-decorated corbels supporting the dark ceiling beams. The sound of polkas and Austrian folk and Schuhplattler music fills the room.
The hotel’s managers, Mark and Ann Johnson, host a weekly welcoming party for guests during ski season, with a dirndl-dressed employee serving glühwein and cheese fondue. Among the specialities served in the Alpenrose are Wiener and Jäeger Schnitzel, Wiener Rostbraten, Bauern Platte (assorted bratwurst and knochurst with sauerkraut), and Jäeger fondue (bison and elk).
The Alpenhof offers at least two welcome modern touches –a lobby computer and high speed wifi in guestrooms, and a superb outdoor Jacuzzi and heated swimming pool that looks up to the Jackson Hole clock tower and the 100-passenger aerial tramway building.
During a stay of five nights at the Alpenhof last winter, my wife and I one evening walked next door to the deluxe Four Seasons resort to have a drink. The place is stunning…a massive sophisticated hotel, chock-a-block with millions of dollars of contemporary art. It would easily fit in Manhattan or Paris. But at the bottom of a ski mountain? We happily retreated to the gemütliche surroundings of Alpenhof, comforted to know there are still such places for those of us who like our skiing the old-fashioned way.
Staying at the Alpenhof
The Alpenhof offers a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from upstairs gable rooms to a Jungfrau room with fireplace and balcony. No guest room is exactly alike. During the winter high-season period, room rates range from $199 to $449 per night. Larger rooms carry a surcharge if occupied by more than two persons. The larger Edelweiss and Arlberg suites rent for up to $579 a night. A generous buffet breakfast is included with guest accommodations.