Departures is published by Meredith Corp. and owned by American Express. While American Express Card Member benefits are highlighted in this publication, including through the links indicated below, the content of this article was independently written by the editorial staff at Meredith. Other Departures content paid for by American Express is explicitly marked as such.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced ski destinations to change operating protocols, that doesn’t mean the season is canceled. The powder is still fresh, the après-ski is still brimming with luxury offerings, and mountain towns are still filled with life and (socially distant) activities. Here, we’ve gathered the top ski town experiences in the U.S., from heli-skiing to private yoga to luxury après-ski offerings. Ranging from tastes of old luxury, to heart-racing, once-in-a-lifetime action, these experiences will invigorate elevation junkies and charm the alpine culture aficionados. As ski season in 2021 continues to evolve, it’s important to reach out before confirming plans to ensure that your preferred activity still has the green light. Then, it’s time to get your skis waxed and start packing for these exceptional experiences.
The Ultimate Socially Distanced Skiing
Whether heli-skiing or glacier climbing at a remote outpost, there are plenty of ways to have an exceptional time while staying at least six feet (or even six miles) apart. It probably comes as no surprise that there is no shortage of top-tier guides building itineraries that explore Alaska’s wild frontiers. Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is one of the more established names, while Sheldon Chalet is the starting point for exploring Denali National Park. To explore Alaskan terrain from on high, Valdez Heli Ski Guides will—for a cool $110,000—take you and seven of your closest friends for an all-inclusive, seven-day romp through a mind-boggling array of untouched mountain powder in the Alaskan Chugach Mountains.
The Private Guided Experience
The next step up from heli-skiing is heli-skiing with a professional ski champion. World, U.S., and South American Extreme Skiing Champion Kim Reichhelm has made a career of taking advanced and expert skiers on backcountry trips through some of America’s most storied resorts. This year’s lineup starts January 12 in Aspen, and in June, she offers an eight-day heli-skiing and fishing journey in tandem with Majestic Heli Ski in Alaska. Resort-based experiences with Reichhelm start at $3,000 for four days, while heli-skiing experiences start at $7,566.
Restaurants and resorts are getting creative in keeping the après spirit alive in a safe and practical manner. Below are two of our favorites:
Park City: In the spirit of the season (and the pandemic), Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley is adding four Alpenglobes to their dining deck, essentially meaning you can dine within your own life-sized snowglobe. Reservations begin at $200 for a 90-minute dining experience.
Aspen: The exclusive Snow Lodge (of Montauk Surf Lodge fame) is back for another season with acclaimed Greenwich/West Village hot spot, Dante, taking over the space. Expect a ‘see and be seen’ outdoor deck with gorgeous servers delivering Dante’s signature bottled cocktails, fire pits, DJ sets, and delectable bites, all a stone’s throw from the Silver Queen Gondola.
The Rare Brew
Carbondale, Colorado’s Marble Distillery (30 minutes down valley from Aspen) is a go-to for tipples and treats for those shuttling between runs in the Roaring Fork Valley. While the distillery cut its teeth with three core products (including one legendary Espresso Vodka), they evolved by producing some limited whiskeys as well. Now visitors and locals alike can stake a claim to their very own barrel. By joining their exclusive Barrel Club, patrons receive their very own 11-liter American Oak barrel with a custom-designed char, and flavor profile. The hardest part? Letting it age.
The Home Away From Home
Remote work isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so why not make your second home your primary residence and set up shop steps from the slopes? Slated for a February 2021 opening, The Residences at The St. Regis Deer Valley I Snow Park features nine units in all, ranging in size from 2,525 to 4,417 square feet, and includes a host of amenities. Perhaps best of all is that the $3.6 to $7.2 million price of admission includes membership to the resort’s Deer Crest Club, which offers everything from private ski lockers to guaranteed restaurant reservations across the hotel’s lineup.
For an alternatively modern take just down the road (literally) from the St. Regis, the Stein Eriksen Residences feature 15 homes and 39 condos within a more traditional community feel. Offerings range from 2,100 to more than 5,000 square feet and include all of the high-end ski amenities you’ll need to have endless memorable mountain days.
The ‘Elevated’ Wine Bar
In Aspen, for the last 30 years The Little Nell, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, has served as many things to many people. It is the official living room for the town of Aspen, whether for breakfast, lunch, après-ski, dinner, or a staycation. Now, a new designation joins these vaunted ranks, and it is simply, The Wine Bar. Taking over the former après-ski lounge, Chair 9, the Wine Bar operates from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., and comfortably caters parties of up to 8 (with social distancing). Inspired by wine bars of the old world (Willi’s in Paris) and new (Corkbuzz and Wally’s in NYC and LA respectively), The Nell’s version ‘elevates’ to the required 7,908 feet above sea level (Aspen’s altitude). The art deco design and vinyl-only DJ booth (with more than 4,000 records) pepper in the right amount of Aspen international-chic with a wine program (under the keen eye of wine director, Chris Dunaway, and five somms dubbed ‘wine-tenders’) featuring more than 3,000 hand-curated selections from around the world.
The Ski Boot Whisperer
Every ski town has their ‘boot whisperer.’ Whether they are a local shop with the latest technology, a local legend employing tricks of the trade learned while ski tech(ing) on the U.S. Olympic Team, or an old standby, like SureFoot, the goal remains the same, make your feet as comfortable as possible and the least of your worries. A new entrant to the space, Swiss boot brand Dahu, aims to do all of that, but do it online with a 100% fit guarantee. They call this new service, “The Corsair Fit Experience,” a blend of their out-of-the-box boot, but with a COVID-friendly, one-on-one online consultation with one of five experts around the world. The new digital experience can include support from select specialty retail stores in strategically located ski towns should a customer’s needs require work that cannot be completed digitally. What truly separates Dahu from the rest of the pack is its patented innovative design that allows for the boot to be removed from the exterior shell providing the two ultimate luxuries, both comfort and time.
The New Winter Mode of Transportation
Taking a sleigh ride is about as classic as it gets and The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, has doubled down with their Après Sleigh offering. The guided sleigh ride takes guests on a journey near migrating elk that wander to Blue Sky every fall and winter. It begins and ends at a cozy tent that’s anything but rustic, where a hot cocoa bar, curated books, and western music awaits.
The Under-the-Radar Favorite
We’re all trying to avoid crowds this year and that means the 2021 season is a perfect time to explore the ski towns less traveled. Take McCall, Idaho, for example, which not only has the scenic Shore Lodge (on the shores of Payette Lake), but the freshly renovated Tamarack Resort 35 minutes away. The latter is a fine base to explore the 2,800 feet of vertical elevation on 1,020 lift-accessed acres at the nearby mountain.
Home on the Range
If galloping wild horses and sprawling western vistas sound like your ideal winter getaway, plan an extended visit to Vista Verde Ranch located just outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The self-described “luxury dude ranch” features 12 private log cabins and an array of snowbound activities including guided ice fishing, tubing, “snoga” (a snowshoe hike to a cabin for yoga), and more.
Over at the foot of the Bitterroot mountain range in western Montana, Triple Creek Ranch provides all of the winter delights plus a focus on fine dining and an extensive wine list. Plan a private tasting led by one of the ranch’s sommeliers or spend some time with the winemakers through a scheduled Vintner Event.
The Backcountry Breakout
Imagine 1,200 acres of ungroomed Colorado in-bounds mountain terrain that’s just over two hours from Denver. The fine folks at Bluebird Backcountry are up and running for their first full season this year and have a full backcountry experience that’s aching to be explored. Even better, if you hire a guide or take a safety course at the mountain, there’s another 3,000 acres of aspen glade skiing at your disposal. For the backcountry enthusiast, this is a great excuse to pick up a Somewear Labs satellite communicator before you head out. Providing users with hours of charge (so that your cell phone battery doesn’t have to bear the burden), it’s a way to stay in touch in out-of-reach places, making backcountry skiing safer.
Private Dining In Style
Spaced out dining leads to private dining, which is how private dining and après-ski experiences are popping up at luxury resorts across the country. Colorado, in particular, is pioneering how this looks in our safety-focused world with no shortage of options available:
Aspen: The ski town continues to be a hub for premier dining, even during a pandemic. For a night out, modern eatery Firefly is continuing their live music schedule with everything from jazz to salsa. Boutique hotel The Little Nell has transformed a former après-ski bar into an eclectic wine destination with private dinners available from 7:30 p.m. nightly. To get a taste of the Alps, rent out all or part of French Alpine Bistro. If the night calls for the freshest fish in the state, the sushi counter omakase Nakazawa Aspen seats up to 10 (don’t miss the sake pairing). For an entire experience in one call, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro (midway up Aspen Highlands) is continuing their snowcat dinner where the resort organizes everything from a pre-dinner (boozy) hot chocolate to the cat ride back down for you and your party (of up to eight). If none of these are quite intimate enough, you could reserve a fondue meal in a private gondola at Almresi Aspen or simply hire Chef Barclay Dodge of new American destination Bosq Aspen to cook right in your home.
Deer Valley: New from the dining team at the St. Regis Deer Valley, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is the exhilarating Yurt VIllage. Serving lunch, après, and dinner on their new “Ski Beach” each heated, dark blue yurt consists intricate mahogany lattice work, a plexiglass stargazing dome, windows that overlook the snow-covered Wasatch Range, and are furnished in an elegant, rustic style. Each can seat up to eight people and is individually themed based on the venues held at Deer Valley resort during the 2002 XIX Winter Olympics: Slalom, Mogul, and Aerial.
The New Terrain
In southern Idaho, historic Sun Valley has just added more than 380 acres of skiable terrain on Bald Mountain’s southern flank landing in a wide open, sun-kissed bowl. This is increasing lift service on the mountain by nearly 20% and opened in tandem with a new high-speed quad lift replacing the resort’s oldest people mover. This tucked away destination was already catching on for those in the know and is poised to grow even faster with this new addition.
The Cross Country Catch-All
This season’s hottest sport is cross-country skiing and everyone is trying to snap up scarcely available gear to try their hand at this heart-elevating, low-impact Nordic activity. It’s also a great excuse to buy a National Parks pass and explore some of America’s best geography, especially in many of the parks’ off-season. You could glide across the land at Yellowstone (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming), take in the sights at Acadia (Maine), or test your mettle in the shadow of Mt. Rainier (Washington).
The Downhill Alternative
But what if skiing or snowboarding isn’t your fancy? There’s still plenty to do. In Big Sky, Montana, Lone Mountain Ranch’s Winter Discovery package includes a sleigh ride to a yurt dinner, snowshoe equipment and much more near the border of Yellowstone National Park. If something a little less planned is called for, grab snowshoes and take a walk around the rim of Crater Lake (Oregon), or for even less crowds, explore the expansive state and national forests surrounding the national park.
The American Chalet
If you were used to traveling abroad for ski season, you’re undoubtedly missing the European ski chalet culture: an essential part of winter on the continent. Fortunately, there are a couple of options stateside that do a good job of replicating the experience:
Crested Butte, Colorado: Rent yourself the perfect dose of old-world charm with Eleven Experience’s flagship Scarp Ridge Lodge right in the heart of the Rockies. The lodge is available for a full buyout at $15,600/night with an option to add on the adjacent Sopris House (built in 1882) for larger groups. If that wasn’t enough, the buyout includes a private snowcat that will pull up curbside and whisk you and your team to Eleven’s exclusive backcountry terrain.
Dolores, Colorado: You could visit Dunton Hot Springs, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, simply as a restorative trip to enjoy its namesake, or you could take advantage of a spectacular array of winter activities. No matter your choice, it’s all set within a 1800s “ghost town” that’s available as a full private rental for you and whoever is lucky enough to join you.
The Work/Life Balance
If you’re one of many that can work remote, but need more than just a desk and wifi, there are plenty of ski towns you can phone in from.
Aspen: The membership-based Here House is a WeWork/SoHo House for the ski set complete with open seating and private dining (membership begins at $150/month). For the hotel vibe, the St. Regis Aspen, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, has an Alpine Office Annex; a full working suite with in-room hair styling and A/V tech available for daily rental (from $899/day). Lastly, The Little Nell’s “Work From Hotel” package (both within the hotel and residences) includes dedicated IT support, personal concierge for office services, and—for those with a luxury suite—a full in-room work setup (pricing upon request).
Breckenridge and Vail: The hot new haus on the hill, Gravity Haus blurs the lines between both work and home with memberships to an on-site co-working space that also includes discounted on-site lodging rates. The list of benefits is vast, but the fitness center, Dryland Sports, takes the cake making training like a pro a cinch with top coaches, a schedule of small group HIIT classes, an outdoor Max Air Super Tramp, and high-tech recovery equipment like a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and NormaTec compression sleeves. The brand is opening a third property in Winter Park, 90 minutes from Denver, this spring. (Memberships from $40/month for 12 months.)
The Spring Skiing Spectacle
Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a storied destination, especially for later season skiing. New properties do not sprout up often in the town of less than 11,000, so the announcement of The Cloudveil, an Autograph Collection Hotel is certainly a newsmaker. Set to open in Spring, the 100-room hotel is a mix of quintessential Teton chic and modern city style situated right on Jackson’s Town Square. Coupled with the closing of Gavin Fine’s legendary Rendezvous Bistro after a brilliant 20-year run at the end of the season, there’s certainly a lot to experience, both familiar and new.
The Yogi Holiday
Given how stressful 2020 was, a gentle, soul-cleansing holiday is certainly in order. Yoga studio Aspen Shakti has two ways to make that happen: the first is a “Sanctuary Space Setting Experience,” where the Shakti team comes over to “clear” your practice area instantly transforming any space into the ideal Vinyasa setting. Alternatively, the studio can also organize private practices (from $225/hour) or at-home classes for groups of up to 10.