When it comes to ski vacations, one size does not fit all.
Some travelers care most about the mountain itself, the snow and terrain, and could care less where they sleep if the skiing and snowboarding is great. Others love a ski town experience and want it all, a breadth of shops and bars and restaurants and non-ski activities. Some people care about the hotel above all else, and for this kind of luxury traveler, that tends to be true of most vacations, whether they are going to a beach, a city or the mountains. If you are one of these, and really care about your hotel, my column today is for you.
But let’s be clear – the best luxury ski hotels are not the same thing as the best ski resorts, and there are some great resorts that simply do not have anything that qualifies as a standout luxury lodging (or have this option only in the form of rental villas or homes). Great examples of this include Alta, Crested Butte, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and many others that just don’t have the 4 or 5-Star luxury property some skiers want, but are still great places to ski. Snowbasin and Powder Mountain are huge Utah resorts, among the nation’s biggest, and this duo takes it a step further – neither has a single hotel of any kind. Many Lake Tahoe resorts enjoy prodigious snowfall but lack upscale lodging options. I have gone on record here at Forbes that Telluride is probably my favorite ski destination in the entire country for its stunning combination of terrain, ski town ambiance, natural beauty and vast dining options. Telluride comes close with a couple of standout boutique options (The Madeline, Element 52, Lumiere by Inspirato), but nothing that I feel equals the top tier luxury lodging at its peers. Ski resorts in the East have even less top shelf options, despite huge crowds. I think Maine’s Sunday River and Sugarloaf are exceptional New England ski resorts, but they don’t have fancy hotels.
The good news is that there are still lots of world-class ski resorts and great ski towns that also have exceptional luxury hotels, and some like Deer Valley and Vail, suffer from the opposite problem, with an embarrassment of riches to choose from. I have personally been to every major destination ski resort in this country with the sole exception of Taos, NM, and have stayed at most of the very best hotels at all of them, with a couple of recent exceptions that opened during the pandemic, and the following list is culled from my personal experience and decades of luxury hotel expertise around the world. That means it is my opinion, but it is a very informed opinion, driven not by brand name but by the quality of each individual property, and these are exactly the same suggestions I would give my closest friends and family. So, buckle up and get ready for a great luxury ski vacation.
St. Regis Deer Valley, Utah: For its size, Deer Valley has a crazy good slate of luxury lodging, and you would be very happy at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, the Montage or the Goldener Hirsch, now an Auberge Resort. But my favorite of all is the St. Regis, and if you start Googling “Best luxury ski hotels US” – which you probably did to get here – you’ll find it atop almost every expert’s list. That’s not an accident. It has a great true ski-in/ski-out location right along a trail, complete with the equivalent of a 5-Star ski concierge (no one rates these, unfortunately). It also has a private funicular connecting it with Snow Park Base Lodge at the ski resort. You won’t have to go down to get on the lifts, buy tickets, rent skis, or meet your instructor, all this can be taken care of at the hotel, but many ride down for the Lodge’s dining options, including the brand new Cast & Cut, a premium steak and seafood restaurant added this winter. But you never have to leave to eat, as the St. Regis has an exceptional dining slate, and it seems to just get better every year.
During the pandemic, the St. Regis did everything it could to accommodate guests, adding several outdoor private dining yurts, this concept has now morphed into the new Vintage Room, an on-slope greenhouse sort of weatherized tent right along the Deer Hollow ski run, serving full raw bar and fresh seafood, with chefs shucking oysters in front of you. It’s a ski-in/out indulgent lunch and après spot, and immediately the hottest ticket for both in all of Deer Valley, a must. Another all-new addition this winter is La Stellina, an Italian fine dining spot. Brasserie 7452 brings a refreshingly different taste of France to Utah, and Rime, the existing main fine dining restaurant, specializes in steaks and seafood and has a 10,000-bottle cellar with over 900 different labels that earned Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. When the magazine rounded up 11 Exceptional steakhouses nationwide with the best lists, Rime was the only mountain town or ski property on it, alongside such world-renowned powerhouses as Berns, Del Frisco’s and Pappas Brothers. The Bloody Mary was invented at the original St. Regis in New York, and has become a tradition worldwide, and the St. Regis Bar here does it justice. Mountain Terrace is an outdoor bar and light dining spot, with heaters in winter, home to another St. Regis global tradition, the famous nightly champagne sabering ritual and complimentary toast for guests.
That’s a lot of epicurean options in one ski hotel but that’s just the start. The rooms are great, complete with fireplaces, there is the even more decadent option of large residences, the famous St. Regis butlers, the Forbes 4-Star spa is fantastic, the fitness center state of the art, the outdoor pool complex inviting, and the property really has no shortcomings. There is a good reason I put this hotel first on this list – it’s where I chose to spend the last Valentine’s Day with my wife before the pandemic, and I have been waiting eagerly for a couple of years to return, and will go back this winter for sure. It’s awesome.
The rest of these are in no particular order.
Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Beaver Creek, CO: A huge departure from the sometimes cookie cutter nature of the brand (especially 20 years ago), this giant stone and timber structure evokes a true sense of Western place, and has an extremely user-friendly ski-in/ski-out location right at the base of one of the most important lifts in the large Beaver Creek resort. I have always had a soft spot for this property because it was one of the early pioneers of the trend towards ultra-dog friendly luxury hotels. It has a great outdoors, slope side après bar, a full deluxe spa facility with unique “grotto,” and multiple high-quality restaurants with very varied cuisines. It also has a club floor, still too unusual in this country even among luxury hotels. From heated sidewalks to warm cookie dispensing ambassadors, Beaver Creek vies only with Deer Valley for the title of the most lavish white glove ski resorts, but while Deer Valley has multiple competitive luxury lodging options, the Ritz-Carlton stands above all else here.
Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho: This is another example of not having to compromise between great skiing and great lodging – Sun Valley seems to win the title of Best Resort in the U.S. from Ski Magazine every year, and just did so again. It was literally America’s first destination ski resort, purpose built to evoke the early great Swiss ski towns like St. Moritz, and among many other innovations, gave the world the first chairlift, perhaps the biggest luxury leap in the history of the sport. Before Sun Valley opened, all skiing in the world meant being dragged by ropes. This kind of innovation, and the gorgeous setting that lives up to the name Sun Valley, has long made the family-owned resort a favorite of Hollywood stars and A-list celebrities, but it never got wrapped up in its own cache, and remains an intimate, down to earth mountain town. It is the rare case where the resort also owns the best lodging, and the Sun Valley Lodge oozes history, and has hosted everyone form Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe to Justin Timberlake and Bill Gates, while Ernest Hemingway famously finished For Whom the Bell Tolls in his long-term room here in 1939. But for the resort’s 80th birthday, the Lodge was completely reimagined after a 9-month closure, reopening with just 94 guest rooms, down from 148 (there are now 108). Cutting the number of rooms nearly in half allowed the new ones to be nearly double the size, with new vast bathrooms sporting walk-in showers and soaking tubs, and most have fireplaces. Attention to detail can be seen throughout, from granite floors to African hardwood cabinetry. Five opulent new “Celebrity Suites” were named after stars that frequented the resort, including Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, and fittingly, “The Hemingway Suite.” A centerpiece Lobby Lounge was designed as a vibrant focal point for après ski and a new 20,000 square foot spa with state-of-the-art fitness center, beauty salon, and yoga studio was also added. The heated outdoor saltwater pool was completely redesigned with a large patio deck that added a hot tub, fire pit, and new Poolside Café. There’s nothing else close.
Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Montana: Big Sky has been going at it for 50 years this winter, but in the last few has suddenly emerged as THE skiing and snowboarding hotspot in the United States. Big Sky combines amazing size and terrain (second only to Park City in acreage) with short lift lines and empty slopes in an increasingly crowded industry, all tied together with massive ownership re-investment that has given it new hotels, new restaurants and arguably the best lift network in the country – even before the amazing new tram debuting next winter. Read much more about why Big Sky is this year’s Number One ski destination here in my recent detailed feature. But Big Sky’s popularity and soaring real estate have outpaced its luxury hotel base, and while last season saw the debut of a new and high-profile Montage resort, neither its ambiance, dining or location wowed me, though it is certainly a solid luxury option. The first One & Only resort in the country debuts in a more desirable location at Big Sky in 2024, and is one of the most anticipated ski openings in the world, but that’s still two years off.
At least for now I’d choose to the much more unusual option of Lone Mountain Ranch, which combines all the unique flair of a high-end Western guest ranch – inclusive great food, large private cabins instead of mere guest rooms, and amazing on-site amenities, with easy access to the mountain. As far as I know it is the only luxury guest ranch at a major ski resort, right on the access road, and just ten minutes door to door, via chauffeured on-demand SUVs. Back at the ranch you’ve got such an extensive cross-country trail network that it was ranked the Number One Nordic Resort in the country by Cross Country Skier magazine, plus another 20 miles of dedicated snowshoe trails, dogsledding, winter fly fishing, and a locally sourced Montana-centric eatery so popular guest from all the other area hotels come here to eat. If you want the best of all worlds, great alpine skiing plus a one-of-a-kind winter vacation experience, Lone Mountain Ranch is a top option.
The Lodge at Blue Sky, Park City, Utah: Many travelers automatically associate luxury ski hotels with the words “ski-in/ski-out,” but that is not always the case, and this is perhaps the most dramatic example. Park City Mountain Resort is by most measures the largest ski resort in the nation, but has always suffered from a lack of top-tier luxury lodging. While smaller neighbor Deer Valley is full of slope side splendor, for years the top choice here was the pretty good but not remarkable Waldorf-Astoria. That all changed when Auberge Resorts came to town, or more precisely, outside of town. Blue Sky Utah is a 3,500-acre community and recreational paradise in the Wasatch Mountains, about 25 minutes from Park City. The new Lodge at Blue Sky from Auberge Resorts just opened in 2019 – and quickly earned a coveted Forbes 5-Star rating. It features 46 rustic-luxe rooms and suites inspired by the natural surroundings, with lavish bathrooms and outdoor living spaces. There’s a full spa, signature restaurant, and a very wide range of outdoor activities and adventures on site, from horseback riding, hiking, fly fishing, and winter sporting clays to heli-skiing, snowshoeing and even biathlon. The community is also home to the High West Distillery & Tasting Room, a larger spin off of the wildly popular Park City original craft distillery, and like that one, this location has a standout restaurant with locally sourced food, full retail store, tours and tastings. It’s not part of the Auberge resort but it is within walking distance (or they’ll drive you) and a great addition. But the real luxury here is the included transfers to and from the Blue Sky Ski Lounge, a large dedicated facility at the base of one of the least crowded gateways to the huge ski resort, the Silver Star chairlift. The luxury lounge is stocked with complimentary snacks, pastries and hot drinks, plus a full bar, and has locker facilities and everything else you need to painlessly transition between the vast acreage of skiing and the huge rooms at your escapist lodging at one of the nation’s best outdoorsy resorts.
Pitcher Inn, Sugarbush/Warren, Vermont: This is another example of why you should sometimes opt to stay off the slopes to enjoy better hospitality. New England suffers from a dearth of luxury ski resort lodging, but because I live in Vermont, I’ve learned about all the hidden gems, and perhaps the most notable of these is the Pitcher Inn, long the top choice for those skiing the Sugarbush Resort – but now even better (Sugarbush is home to Vermont’s only cat-skiing in addition to plenty of lift served terrain). Under new ownership, there have been several upgrades. The Pitcher Inn is part of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux organization, which puts an emphasis on member’s excellence in culinary arts, and at the Inn’s 275 Main eatery, Executive Chef Jacob Ennis runs a unique “Fire to Fork” program where he roasts and cooks everything from meats and vegetables to soups in the restaurant fireplace. The Inn also partnered with Vermont-based Bhakta Sprits (Raj Bhakta founded and then sold Whistle Pig, the world’s premier rye, before launching his current Armagnac-focused luxury brand) and is the only Inn in the nation with access to Bhakta’s award-winning Armagnac ($150 a glass). The new owner runs two notable galleries in Middlebury, VT and the Inn now features a revolving art exhibit throughout.
There are just nine deluxe rooms in its main building, all adults-only, plus two more causal family friendly suites in an adjacent barn. Each room is unique and themed, but not always historically accurate – the Calvin Coolidge suite has a jetted tub, an amenity the state’s only native-born U.S. President almost certainly did not grow up with (though he probably did have a woodstove, like the one here). Perhaps the most fitting is Ski, themed with vintage trail maps, lift tickets, signage and complete with steam shower for relaxing after a day on the slopes. The Inn is just three miles from Sugarbush, and 15 minutes from the locally beloved throwback mountain, Mad River Glen. Vermont is synonymous with its charming country inns, and this is the highest level of that quintessential experience.
Caldera House, Jackson Hole, WY (Runner Up- Four Seasons Jackson Hole): Caldera House is unique in the world of American skiing, a private member’s clubhouse at the base of Jackson’s world-famous tram and just steps from its main gondola, with valet parking, extensive locker facilities, ski concierge, fitness and dining amenities, that also happens to serve as micro-boutique hotel. There are four 4-bedroom suites (5,000-square feet) and four 2-bedroom suites (1,500 square feet) for nightly stays, each more like a residential apartment. The larger units have complete gourmet kitchens, wood burning fireplaces, laundry rooms and mudrooms, and large balconies with firepits, gas grills and heated floors to keep them snow free. Master bedrooms each have hot tubs. The smaller units have many of the same lavish features, including commercial-style kitchens, jetted tubs and snowmelt patios. Guests have access to the gym, yoga studio, sauna, plunge pools, and locker facilities, complete with heated boot and glove dryers, as well as Caldera’s members’ dining room and bar. Caldera House has the best location in Jackson, it houses the resort’s finest ski shop, the Mudroom, with world class tuning and demos, and a public-facing Italian restaurant with wood fired pizza, Corsa. It is also wildly expensive and makes my Jackson Hole “Best Hotel” runner-up, the Forbes 4-Star Four Seasons, with a great ski-in/out slope side location just above the gondola, seem like a bargain.
Little Nell, Aspen, Colorado (Runner-Up -Hotel Jerome): The Forbes 5-Star Little Nell is deservedly an icon in the skiing world, with an unparalleled ski-in/out location at the base of Aspen (Ajax) Mountain, immediately setting itself apart from all competitors. But it’s the consistently excellent service for years that has earned its longstanding 5-Star designation and keeps loyalists coming back. I remember the first time I stayed there, 20-plus years ago, I came down to the lobby to meet a friend, ready to ski, and asked the bellman if there was a place nearby to buy a quick cup of coffee. “Hold on,” he said, disappearing and coming back with a to go up on a silver tray. That’s the kind of place the Little Nell has always been, and it is also home to the most popular lunch spot in town (Ajax Tavern), the most popular après spot in town, an exceptional restaurant and exceptional spa that is being redone to be even better. Guests are served a complimentary flute of champagne on arrival, and the hotel has a partnership with Paris’ famed bakery Laduree, known worldwide for its decadent macarons (since 1862), which are boxed and placed in rooms as an arrival amenity. It is owned by the Aspen Skiing Company, same as the mountain, and guests get special access to everything from first tracks to the new AspenX Beach Club at the member-only Aspen Mountain Club to many seasonal experiences. The bottom line is that it is just one the best ski hotels in the world. In a big contrast of style, the Forbes 4-Star Jerome, an Auberge Hotel, sits a few blocks in from the lifts (chauffeured SUVs), with a great in-town location and occupies a historic spot with Wild West flair. It is in every way a topnotch luxury hotel, a very worthy runner-up, and another longtime favorite of mine.
Viceroy, Snowmass, CO: There are four ski resorts that comprise the Aspen Snowmass destination, and of these, Snowmass is by far the largest and has the best variety of skiing and snowboarding (Aspen Mountain has the enviable in-town location but is much smaller, and famously has not a single green or beginner run). But in terms of global profile and vacation desirability Aspen has always been the place to go, and Snowmass – just 8 miles away – has suffered as an overlooked sibling in terms of infrastructure. This has all been changing slowly and steadily, not just for years, but for decades, and since I first visited 25-plus years ago, Snowmass has basically rebuilt its entire base village, added amenities, dining, and several hotels, and there is still a lot more to come. But the Viceroy has been the best of the bunch ever since it opened on Thanksgiving Day back in 2009. Rooms are more spacious than most ski hotels in this category can afford to spare in terms of real estate, the poolside open air bar is very unique, more like an urban rooftop lounge, the spa is great, it is totally ski-in/ski-out with full ski concierge, it is extremely pet friendly, has an all-season pool complex with cabanas, a state-of-the-art fitness center, even complimentary airport transfers. There are an impressive three restaurants and two bars. anchored by Toro Kitchen, the work of famed, award-winning pan-Latin celebrity chef Richard Sandoval. It would be silly to call Snowmass a hidden gem, but for a resort with a 4,400+ foot vertical, 3,342 skiable acres, three terrain parks and 20 lifts, it still sort of flies under the radar, and if you pick up on it, the Viceroy is the place to stay.
Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, Northstar, California: Northstar California is sort of the Beaver Creek of Tahoe, high-end with white glove service with a cool pedestrian village and known for impeccable grooming, a luxe twist on the regional experience that more often features cliffs and architecture stuck in the Seventies. The Ritz-Carlton is the perfect hotel for Northstar, and sits in a wonderful mid-mountain location that is not just ski-in/out, but ski down as well. It’s got an exceptional setup for ski rentals and concierge, a really cool outdoor BBQ smokeshack eatery that is a fun stretch for the high-end brand, and also boasts a very well-appointed club floor, an amenity lacking in this country in general but especially at ski resorts. The Ritz-Carlton at Northstar has a standout 17,000-sqaure foot spa and large inventory of 2–4-bedroom luxury residences in addition to the very nice guest rooms (featuring gas fireplaces). The main fine dining restaurant, Manzanilla, is also very good. It is linked directly to the Village at Northstar with a skating rink and more shops and dining by a door-to-door gondola. This is an exceptional on-mountain hotel.
Spruce Peak, Stowe, VT; The only true luxury ski-in/out hotel in New England, the Stowe Mountain Lodge was the anchor of a massive redevelopment of Stowe’s Spruce peak base area. For some reason that makes no sense to me, they recently decided to change its name to the nebulous Spruce Peak, also the name of the mountain, which just confuses things, but if you own it, I guess you can do whatever you want. In any case, the hotel has spacious and well-appointed guest rooms and the best skiing location at the state’s premier resort. But the coolest thing is that it anchors a village concept development so there are multiple restaurants, shops, bars, a skating rink and even a serious performing arts center (I saw Little Feat here) that are all steps away and essentially part of the resort without feeling like part of the resort. These include a unique Whistle Pig rye cocktail and tasting pavilion, outdoor dining pergolas, and a very high level of Vemont-ness, with multiple locally sourced restaurants, and a huge emphasis on local craft cheeses, craft beers, artisanal meats and farm fresh produce. A big part of skiing in the East is the New England rural aesthetic and here they get it, but with high-end lodging and service.
Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe, Heavenly/South Lake Tahoe, California: Heavenly is one of Tahoe’s biggest and best ski resorts sprawling across the state line with base areas in both California and Nevada, but the lodging has always been a little dicey, with the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe filled with low and mid-level casino resorts, and the lots of dated motels. That’s why it was big news when the Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe, an existing resort community famous for its celebrity golf tournament, opened just a few years ago. I have not stayed here, but I did tour the Forbes 4-Star Lodge, and it was gorgeous, and I had dinner. It’s on the big lake itself, a charming spot in winter, and they drive you the few short blocks to the South Lake Tahoe gondola station for the ski resort. For this winter they are supposed to open a new higher-end option, the 2, 3 and 5-bedroom Villa Suites. There are five bars and eateries, including a casual bistro and the fine dining Edgewood, which was great, and again the area has very few competitive options in this dining class – and none for lodging.
4-Way TIE, Vail, CO – Arrabelle, Four Seasons, Sonnenalp, Hythe: I saved this one for last because it’s the toughest in terms of having so many strong choices, and in addition, Vail has been suffering from its popularity in recent years and lately a lot of people are trying to beat the crowds. There’s a good reason it is typically the most visited ski resort in the nation, with a lot of terrain, famous bowl skiing and an unrivalled slate of hotels, dining, shopping, spas and more across its interconnected base villages. It’s hard here to go wrong with high-end lodging but I love the Arrabelle at Vail Square, the best hotel owned by Vail Resorts at any of its many ski resorts, and one-time residence of world champion Lindsey Vonn. The Arrabelle has large residential rooms (just 62) and is the closest thing to ski-in/out at Vail, with a decent spa and great central location in Lionshead Village, but very limited dining with one sort of pub option. I also love the Forbes 4-Star Four Seasons, more of a traditional full-service luxury resort, a bit further from the slopes, but with a more luxurious Forbes 4-Star spa, multiple bars and restaurants including a high-end steakhouse, and special offers such as guided skiing with chef led picnics. It lacks charm and ski-town character but nothing else.
I also love the Sonnenalp which is definitely number one for character and charm, very European with an intimate feel, distinctive Sound of Music-esque architecture and décor, and large rooms, almost all of them suites (112 out of 127). The Sonnenalp has a great location in the original Vail Village, a nice spa with indoor and outdoor hot tubs, and the most unique culinary offerings with a full-blown Swiss-style stube for fondue and raclette, a cocktail bar with live entertainment, an oddly out of place Wild West saloon-style restaurant called Bully Ranch, a bar/café and a higher-end Austrian alpine eatery, plus a famously impressive European-style buffet breakfast. I have not stayed at Vail’s newest luxury entrant, The Hythe, opened last season as part of Marriott’s (formerly Starwood) Luxury Collection, but I know people who have whose opinion I trust, and the reviews have been amazing. It was formerly the Vail Marriott in pedestrianized Lionshead Village, but $40 million later it has been reborn as The Hythe, with 344 rooms, 22 suites and 16 residences, four restaurants and a high-tech spa with state of the art “recovery” room featuring all sorts of post-ski technology most travelers have never seen before. It also has complimentary house car service for moving around Vail easily.
Pray for snow!
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