Which luxury ski services and facilities are the richest skiers and boarders buying this ski season?
The days when a ski chalet or hotel could get away with offering a private hot tub and four-course dinner with wine, and still call itself ‘luxurious,’ are long gone. Instead the top-end accommodation providers are constantly trying to reinvent the luxury ski holiday to ever higher standards.
So what can you buy if money is no object, or you’ve at least got very deep pockets?
For the high rollers a chalet with its own casino is a must-have and fortunately Chalet Art in Meribel delivers. The casino is one on a long list of features including a spa with hamman, sauna, jacuzzi, massage room, fitness room and pool and a DJ corner, dance floor, wine cellar and a piano and lounge area.
“Pools, indoor and outdoor, are becoming a common request in chalets. Cinemas are also a regular feature, wine cellars or vinotechs are very much there as well,” says Rupert Longsdon, founder and director of the Oxford Ski Company, which provide luxury accommodation in ski resorts and issues an annual list of the 20 best luxury ski chalets in the world.
Theatre room at Bighorn, Revelstoke
Unsavoury types may have tried to steal a bathrobe bearing a famous hotel’s logo once or twice but there’s no need to do that at Chalet N in Lech. A Titanic of the Alps with 10 suites, its signature perk is that it provides its guests with pillow cases which are embroidered with their initials. Upon departure the pillowcases are washed and vacuum packed to await the guest's return.
How about champagne when you put your ski boots on in the morning? That’s on offer from the relatively new Le Strato hotel, one of a burgeoning number of newly reclassified five-star hotels at Courchevel. It installed a champagne bar in its boot room.
Helicopter landing pads are also popular, and a key feature of Bighorn at Revelstoke, Canada. The rapid development of these luxury assets are now being strongly driven forward by the demands of a more international elite clientele.
Helicopter pad outside Bighorn at Revelstoke
“Heli-transfers, airport to chalet and piste to chalet, are loved by our Russian clients,” confirms Ceri Tinley, boss of Consensio (0203 393 0833), also a provider of top-of-the-range luxury ski resort accommodation.
One area of constant innovation and competition is in the spa facilities offered in luxury hotels and private chalets. The five-star Kulm St Moritz, which 150 years ago was a simple farmhouse and inn, sets the latest high standard in the on-going contest between the luxury hotels of St Moritz to be the best. It has invested £8m on a new spa this winter which includes a 20-metre indoor pool and a remarkable range of saunas and steam rooms all with stunning views over Lake St. Moritz.
Pool at Chalet Himalaya, Val d'Isere
But perhaps in terms of your lux swimming pools, forget infinity pools or other passé novelties. What you need is a pool that’s actually a kitchen. The Chalet Himalaya in Val d'Isere has an unbelievable swimming pool which comes and goes. Normally, during the daytime, there is a perfectly solid and smart looking kitchen floor BUT at the flick of a switch this turns into the most incredible swimming pool which is both inside and outside the chalet. The floor sinks down and water comes up over it – very James Bond.
Val d'Isere seems to be something of a battle ground for swimming-pool superiority as another of the resort’s lux chalets, Chalet Lhotse, has opted to install a cinema screen at one end of its swimming pool so guests can watch their favourite movie, even Jaws, whilst basking in the luxury of the pool.
Luxury lounge at Chalet Lhotse, Val d'Isere
But it’s not all in Val, also new this winter Consensio has unveiled the new Grande Corniche chalet in Les Gets which boasts such luxuries as a billiards table that morphs into a dining table and a wine cellar with a three-storey chute you can use to slide down in to it (getting out could be trickier). A state-of-the-art glass sauna in the chalet allows guests stunning 180-degree views across the Vallee de L’Arve valley.
“We’ve always been on a subtle quest to feature the finest selection of ‘superchalets’ in France. And, up until now, all of these have been found in Meribel, Courchevel and Val d’Isere,” says Ceri Tinley of Consensio. “But Grand Corniche in Les Gets is closer to Geneva so benefits from shorter transfer times.”
Renting the six en-suite-bedroom chalet comes complete with a chef, chalet manager, host and chauffeur, costs from £14,500 for seven nights including all food, wine and champagne.
Grande Corniche glass sauna and conversation pit, Les Gets.
There is an interesting divide between what a public ski area famous for its upmarket facilities can do compared to that of a private ski resort. When the billionaire boss of Korean electronics giant Samsung, Lee Kun-Hee, asked to have three pistes reserved for his private use in Courchevel a few years back there was outrage. The many celebrities, princes, kings and fellow billionaires had always been happy to ski alongside everybody else. The resort justified the closure by saying the money paid (equating to many thousands of pounds for a few hours) would be reinvested in providing better facilities for all. Had he flown east rather than west, Mr Kun-Hee might not have had such a PR problem.
North America is home to a half-a-dozen or so entirely private members-only ski clubs, best known of which is Yellowstone in Montana. This has suffered some setbacks in the past four years due to the economic crash but essentially, membership is (or was) restricted to millionaires so would have been a good choice for the Samsung boss.
The Yellowstone Club, is a 13,600-acre private club located 20 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. Club member Bill Gates said that he had tried Vail but his family felt foolish skiing with body guards. At Yellowstone no one hits the slopes without that essential bit of ski kit – the body guard, and it’s not an issue.
Yellowstone is also lift-linked to two non-private ski areas, Big Sky and Moonlight Basin. Together the three offer some 7,500 acres of lift-linked terrain, the biggest in the US, although you can only ski all of it if you’re an owner or a guest of an owner at The Yellowstone Club. So perhaps having access to the biggest ski area in the country, when the less well-heeled do not, is the ultimate ski luxury that money can buy.
In case all these luxurious listings have left you feeling envious of what you can’t afford, you may be relieved to hear that the greatest luxury in skiing is still an affordable option for most of us. “The most common request by a mile when people book a ski chalet is still to get one that is ski-in, ski-out – often the hardest thing to deliver,” says Rupert Longsdon of Oxford Ski Company.
For a listing of the best ski-in, ski-out resorts, read our guide: The highest ski resorts in Europe