Come spring, these first-rate hotels draw skiers in search of that perfect last run
Author CHRIS WRIGHT
WITH TRAVEL, as with art, limitations can lead to greatness. The more restricted your choices, the more the world can open up for you. In looking for late-season ski resorts, for instance, you might discover extravagant, quirky or unexpected places that you’d otherwise have missed, or see some old favorites in a new light.
The slopes of Vail, Colo., are known for grooming that would put a New York socialite to shame, and this tendency toward neatness is reflected in the Sebastian Hotel, an elegant resort in the heart of Vail Village. Where many ski lodges are infused with what might be termed “Essence of Boot,” the Sebastian has an air of the pristine about it. Beyond its Alpine-chic interior, the hotel operates a swish base camp complete with valet service, providing ready access to some of the most celebrated trails in the U.S. You may end up spending as much time in the hotel’s library as you do hurtling down the slopes, but hey, they let you drink wine in there, which is a key advantage.
Colorado’s penchant for swank ski lodges certainly isn’t restricted to Vail: In Aspen, for example, you’ll find the St. Regis, a place of burnished wood and glinting chandeliers. The hotel is at the tail end of a $40 million renovation, with its design influences including Ralph Lauren and Lenny Kravitz. The upscale yet intimate restaurant — whose menu showcases regional favorites prepared with international flair — ensures a feeling of warmth even as Aspen Mountain looms chillingly outside. The Buttermilk and Snowmass ski areas are within easy reach, as is Aspen Highlands, whose spring skiing is augmented with live music, horseback rides and other non-snowy attractions.
If some resorts aim for chic, the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof in Zermatt, Switzerland, has loftier ambitions. It opened in the 19th century and maintains an old-world majesty, with guests pulling up to an ornate portico in horse-drawn carriages, for instance, or supping in the stately dining room. If you can drag yourself away from the on-site grandeur, the nearby Matterhorn’s glacial slopes can be reached via the Klein Matterhorn cable car, which is, at 12,500 feet above sea level, the highest of its kind in the world.
Equally impressive, but in an understated Japanese manner, is Hotel Jogakura in Honshu’s Hakkoda mountain range. The Jogakura takes tranquility so seriously that it employs a team of specialists in aromatherapy, diet and yoga to help guests de-stress — which isn’t a bad idea, given the locale. The Hakkodas boast some of the most challenging terrain on the planet, including an array of backcountry slopes that promise variety, adventure and danger. Luckily, the Jogakura has guides to ensure everyone gets back to the hotel in frostbite-free condition.
There’s also wilderness aplenty at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Situated on the edge of a glacier-fed lake in the Canadian Rockies, this large and luxurious hotel stands amid a dramatically beautiful landscape. While the skiing isn’t as white-knuckle as in the Hakkodas, the environment is every bit as untamed (in some parts there be grizzlies, who might be rubbing the sleep out of their eyes just about now). Even within the confines of the hotel, with its algae rubs and evening canapés, you need only turn to the nearest window and the exquisite desolation beyond to be reminded that the best things in life aren’t always so hospitable.
For a truly away-from-it-all experience, try Riksgränsen. A ski resort located in the northernmost part of Sweden, 75 miles or so inside the Arctic Circle, it’s a place where even reindeer feel the chill. While the resort’s hotel is modest, the surrounding area is glorious. By May, there’s 24-hour sunlight, meaning you can hit the slopes for a midnight run. If that’s not adventurous enough for you, there are authentic Swedish dishes on offer, some featuring animals that previously sported antlers.
If you’ve been blessed with the opportunity to ski in a T-shirt, you should do it for as long as you can. For truly devoted holidaymakers, there’s the Snow Creek Resort in California’s Sierra Nevadas, a 450-acre resort still under development (there’s a five-star hotel in the works), with 850 properties available for rent or purchase. Looming over it all is aptly named Mammoth Mountain, whose 3,500 acres of trails range from stomach-churning gullies to putting-green straights. To get to Mammoth’s peak, you can take a nice, relaxing gondola ride. As for getting back down, that will be a far more whooshy proposition — which is what you’re here for, after all.