His Royal Highness: The Saudi Prince in Jackson Hole

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(This story originally was published in the Jan. 28, 2004 edition of the Jackson Hole News&Guide.)

• Saudi Prince Alwaleed makes a splash while visiting Four Seasons.

By Jim Stanford

Harrison Ford grabs a burger and barely raises eyebrows. Dick Cheney browses the bookstore as patrons flip pages. And most of the stars in the annual Celebrity Extravaganza walk around town unnoticed.

But it’s been hard not to miss Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal as he has vacationed in Jackson Hole for the better part of the last two weeks.

The fleet of white Ford Excursions. The odd hours. The hefty security. And a 35-member entourage that has occupied most of the new Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole.

The Saudi investor dropped to No. 17 on the world's richest list in 2010.

In a community that pays scant attention to the rich and famous who pass beneath the mountains, the high-profile visit by Prince Alwaleed has sparked an unusual degree of curiosity and conversation. The more the Saudi billionaire – a Four Seasons investor who is ranked No. 6 on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s richest people – tries to lay low, it seems, the more he stands out.

“Isn’t it great?” says Jackson Mayor Mark Barron. “Anybody and everybody is welcome to come here and play. We welcome them all in Jackson Hole.”

Prince Alwaleed, 46, is the grandson of King Abdul Aziz, who founded the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is not part of the government. His full name is Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud.

Alwaleed owns 24 percent of the Four Seasons chain. His other investments include Citigroup, News Corp., AOL Time Warner, Apple and Compaq. Forbes pegged his net worth at $17.7 billion.

Since sweeping into Jackson Hole more than a week ago, the prince has left a trail of rumors in his wake as long as the Arabian desert. No, he did not rent 37 Hummers, draining the supply of a three-state radius. And no, he did not try to rent Apres Vous Mountain at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

He did request that the resort keep its lifts running later to accommodate his party. And he brought with him his own ski instructors from Aspen, Colo.

Anna Olson, communications director for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, said the prince’s group approached the resort with a lot of requests.

“I think the resort, and particularly the ski school, tried to accommodate them as best we can,” she said. “They ended up having a good time and working with us on most of the stuff.”

A spokesman for the prince did not respond to an interview request.

The slopeside Four Seasons Resort at Teton Village, Wyo.

Four Seasons has a strict confidentiality policy that restricts staff from talking about guests. One employee was suspended for discussing the prince on the bus, according to a worker who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Four Seasons staff has been instructed on how to handle the prince, including addressing him as “his royal highness,” another employee said.

The shroud of secrecy and a level of security reserved for the likes of Cheney, a Jackson Hole homeowner, are two reasons why Alwaleed has been a lightning rod for intrigue. Another is the exotic air of his party; although he was educated at Syracuse University, the prince adheres to Saudi customs, which folks in Wyoming might find strange. In addition, two members of his group are dwarves.

Jackson Hole has played host to celebrities and titans of capitalism for years. The actor Ford is a longtime resident, and members of the Walton family, which occupies four of the top 10 spots in the Forbes rankings, own property in the valley and come and go without notice.

Several presidents and other foreign dignitaries, such as the late King Hussein of Jordan and his family, have vacationed here with less fanfare. It is the manner in which Alwaleed’s entourage has moved about that has attracted attention.

High in the Rockies, half a world from home, the prince is still keeping Saudi time, according to a Four Seasons employee. He rises late, begins skiing around noon and doesn’t eat dinner until 11 p.m. or so. Several shops in Teton Village have stayed open late to accommodate this schedule.

The prince also dines out en masse with his entourage. On the evening of Jan. 18, his group of about 35 ate lunch in the upstairs portion of the Mangy Moose Restaurant. Alwaleed had one main request. “He wanted to look out the windows and look at the mountains,” General Manager Ari Borshell said.

The prince’s staff worked with the Moose on arranging a buffet of soups, salads, six entrees and desserts. Chef Dean Ecklin whipped up a special tomato soup with no cream or butter to meet the prince’s dietary needs. There was one request the Moose simply couldn’t handle, however: a diet apple pie.

“Four Seasons baked one and ran it over here,” Borshell said.

The Mangy Moose Saloon was abuzz with patrons watching the NFL playoffs, but the prince didn’t mind the bustle. “They didn’t want to be off in a corner,” Borshell said.

All in all, the experience “ended up being pretty cool,” Borshell said. “I didn’t feel we had to kiss anybody’s ass.”

Borshell and Ecklin said a celebrity from the TV show “The Bachelor” who visited last summer was “more of a pain in the ass.”

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