A Touch of Class - Executive ski resorts
Following in the footsteps of the glitterati and the celebrity set becomes surprisingly easy over the winter months and, as long as you can afford to wave a hand or just say, “Put it on the card…”, in the most nonchalant manner, for the ultimate winter break, a ski holiday carries much merit.
Whether choosing Chamonix, an Haute-Savoie commune, at the thriving centre of the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, Whistler, in the west coast mountains of British Columbia, Canada, or Cortina, Italy’s ‘Pearl of the Dolomites’, you can rest assured that you are following other well-heeled and hardy winter sports and mountain enthusiasts to a money-no-object location. Naturally, snow, especially powder, is a pre-cursor but so is the après-ski, which might even take precedence.
The objective is simple. Have money, will travel, followed by a desire to be served hand and foot for the holiday’s duration. Of course, you could truly indulge in the Antipodes, as the sites at Perisher and Thredbo, in New South Wales, Australia, boast the most expensive adult, peak season lift tickets in the world, at Aus$112 (£72) per day. The flights are costly and you are paying for the fact that snowmaking is a resort speciality. However, be aware that skiing in Australia takes place during our northern hemisphere summer.
Therefore, for this season, we need to remain mostly above the equator. Deer Valley, Utah, USA, provides a North American riposte to Australia, with daily passes costing as much as $86 (£69) per person. The odds of bumping into Dustin Hoffman, or Jane
Fonda, are pretty good. Of course, you might be entertained by the world’s most exclusive ski resort and its ‘Private Powder’, where the chalets are called ‘Sugar Shacks’ and the members-owned slopes are so private that they are reputed to need no extra security guards, a fact to which a number of former US Presidents will attest. However, unless you are invited to join, I am afraid that the Yellowstone Club, Montana, is going to be off-limits.
The European idyll
Possessing close proximity to both the Swiss and Italian borders, around an equidistant 15 kilometres away, Chamonix resides in a valley dominated by France’s tallest mountain, Mont Blanc, to the south, with the rusty peaks of the Aiguilles Rouge at its northern end.
For the sporting ‘grand tourists’ of the most popular and exclusive period in the late-1910s to the mid-1930s, derring-do was the primary intention and, if they could achieve it in three European countries, Italy (Courmayeur), Swizerland and France, in the same vacation, they would become ‘gods’ among their Oxbridge peers. The area was also the location of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924.
If you are looking for a prestigious hotel, you need travel no further than the Hameau Albert 1er. Apart from 21 luxurious rooms, there is a farmhouse and a couple of richly equipped chalets for group or family accommodation, the latter costing €1400 (£1,110) per night.
Yet, if high prices and history do not do it for you, then taking the well-trodden Royal route to Klosters, Switzerland, for its calm chic, might pass muster. Our own Chancellor, George Osborne, is not averse to the £11,000 ten-day cost factor and it is not the costliest. Discretion is the key in some of the resort’s most exclusive night spots and the eleven-room Walserhof Hotel (Prince Charles’ personal favourite) presents its famous six-course ‘Prättigau’ menu as a spectacular culinary diversion.
Remaining in Switzerland, St Moritz has a fabulous reputation to live up to. While partaking of a horsedrawn sledge-ride around the resort, you cannot fail to be impressed by the unabashed retail luxury and exclusivity at every turn of the road. For places to stay, the Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains receives many plaudits but I have a personal preference for the more traditional and uncompromising appeal of Hotel Badrutt’s Palace, in the centre of town, with its unrivalled view across the lake to the Alps and the sheer elegance of its balconied suites.
Of course, Austria has figured in the world’s finest ski resorts for many years and Zürs is a rather special place. A suite in the wonderful Hotel Zürserhof might set you back around €3200 (£2,550) per night but it does boast an open fire, your own private sauna/steam cabin and an attendant butler. Princess Caroline of Monaco is a regular seasonal visitor, as are some of Hollywood’s best known stars.
Having earlier mentioned Cortina, in northern Italy, if you fancy a few choice words with top Italian sports personalities or even Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s former Premier, this is the place to do it. Take a ride into the mountains and you will understand what all the fuss is about. The scenery is phenomenal and tangible. The shops are all high-end in the ‘Golden Quadrangle’ and the slopes are impeccably managed. The Cristallo Hotel provides ample proof that the style-conscious Italians do not have to be ostentatious to retain a high sense of class.
USA knows service
While the “Have a nice day!” greeting might have been left in New York or downtown LA, when travelling to North America’s best winter resorts, key aspects of personal service are among the finest in the world. If you happen to be residing at Deer Valley, Utah, in the Stein Eriksen Lodge, you will experience Presidentialstyle accommodation that possesses a strong Norwegian character.
John F Kennedy used to bring his family here most winters and its £700 per night Forbes-rated suites and gourmet restaurants are the epitome of high-class living.
However, if Utah is not exclusive enough for you, then one of the haunts of Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey, both of whom have homes in the resort, is Telluride, Colorado. While it is possible to join in with the ‘be seen’ set at Aspen, Telluride is significantly more private and a lot of celebrities prefer its more subtle attitude. With its stone and pine façade and just eleven hotel rooms and up to 18 residences within the confines of its grounds, the exclusive Lumiere Telluride is the finest hotel in the mountains. A penthouse suite here will cost you around $1,150 (£710) per night and a chef will prepare your dinner, as you relax in a private hot-tub.
However, if US tradition is more to your liking, then booking a stay at Idaho’s Sun Valley Lodge might prove most satisfactory. For $1,700 (£1,050) per night, in Dollar Cottage at the resort, you will be joining a long list of mega-famous guests, including several Kennedys, Clint Eastwood, Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper and even Bruce Willis, who actually owns an entire mountain nearby. In fact, there are seven similar cottages, all less than five minutes’ walk from the main Lodge, that promise unrivalled privacy, fabulous views and ski-in/out accessibility.
Colorado is also home to Beaver Creek, where you will find a strong European influence, from the buildings to the staff and facilities. Although it is not too far away from the resort at Aspen, it is more exclusive, with a good choice of high-end shops and boutiques, some highly-rated dining establishments and the possibility of bumping into Kelsey Grammer, from TV’s ‘Frazier’ comedy series, actor Tom Hanks, or even pop-singer Justin Timberlake.
The mountain-top getaway of Trappers Cabin will provide the solitude that you might seek and with a daily maid and chef service, which might seem incongruous in such a beautiful Great Outdoors location, at a per night rate of around $600 (£370) per person, in a well-serviced four bedroom cabin, you will truly want for nothing.
ski vacation facts
If you fancy Chamonix, Iglu Ski can offer you hotel deals from £399pp for seven nights at the Hotel Richemond. If the Hotel Hameau Albert 1er (up to £1,110 per night, is not
plush enough for you, with apartments ranging from £9,040 per week (up to 8 guests) and chalets from £11,740 per week (up to 10 guests), Elegant Resorts can provide accommodation beyond mere luxury.
For the exclusive Chalet Zermatt Peak, please bear in mind that helicopter, chauffeured car, maid service and so on cost extra. St Moritz’s excellent hotels can be booked direct: Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains , or Badrutt's Palace Hotel, as can similar high-end establishments in Austria, such as Hotel Zürserhof, or Northern Italy, Hotel Cristallo (see story for details).
If skiing Stateside, Utah’s Stein Eriksen Lodge might be available with its Presidential style from a cost of £3,286 through www.lastminute.com for two people per week. On the other hand, the Lumiere Telluride can offer a penthouse from £710 per night. Up the budget slightly to £1,050 per night and you can join the movie stars at Dollar Cottage, Idaho. Share a well-serviced mountain-top location at Trappers Cabin Beaver Creek, Colorado and its £370 per head, per night fee seems like good value.