The early morning November sunlight wafted through the plantation shutters of our supremely cozy suite at the famed Little Nell in Aspen, Colo. Through the picture window, we could see the day’s first skiers boarding the gondola, just a two-minute walk from the property. Here, in this famed, yet elegantly understated place that pleasantly feels like a “real” town, we felt the excitement of our perfect powder day awaiting us.
Texans account for a sizable number of Colorado ski country enthusiasts — some estimate 30 to 40 percent. With 22 resorts boasting 300 days of sunshine, 222 ski lifts, and approximately 300 inches of snow per year blanketing more than 29,758 acres and 1,883 trails, it’s no wonder. Fortunately, with all of those advantages, visitors seeking a luxury-oriented ski vacation have a nice array from which to choose. Here, we’ve noted three of our favorite spots — replete with accommodations, dining, activities and, of course, the information needed to ski and snowboard. These resorts typically attract a diverse international clientele including celebrities, dignitaries, Fortune 500 magnates, political leaders and maybe you.
Aspen consists of four ski resorts with the most iconic being Aspen Mountain, affectionately called “Ajax.” The others are Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Buttermilk has the highest percentage of “green” beginner slopes while Aspen Mountain has the most “double-black diamonds,” or expert slopes. All four offer other difficulty levels as well. Lift tickets are valid at all four areas and provide the opportunity to try out two, three or all four on a multi-day vacation. The Aspen Airport offers commercial nonstop flights on United Airlines, United Express, Delta and American Airlines. www.aspensnowmass.com
Where to stay: The Little Nell (a Relais & Châteaux resort) is Aspen’s five-star, five-diamond, ski-in/ski-out property. In season, a ski concierge team tunes equipment, warms your boots, stores equipment overnight and arranges for rentals and instruction. Literally seconds from the Silver Queen Gondola, the 52 guest rooms, 26 premium guest rooms, eight suites and six signature suites are all unique with gas log fireplaces and Crèma Marfil heated, marble flooring and walls. Most have private balconies. The amenity list goes on and on. You’ll soothe your tired muscles in the heated swimming pool and outdoor, covered, cabaña-like hot tub, while the adjacent cabinet holds deliciously heated towels and robes. Dogs enjoy a special “canine” room-service menu, and children rejoice in The Nell’s over-the-top kid offerings, like the hot chocolate chosen as the “best on the planet” by Travel + Leisure magazine. www.thelittlenell.com
Other upscale properties in the area include The Limelight, the Hotel Jerome, St. Regis Aspen and the Snowmass Viceroy.
Lift ticket info: Prices are customized on the website www.aspensnowmass.com for exact dates and discount advance purchases. Regular one-day passes are $155.
Other activities: Fly fishing, shopping, celebrity watching, spa treatments, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, visiting the Aspen Art Museum, and a “don’t miss” stroll through the supremely meditative and tranquil John Denver Sanctuary, which is lovely any time of year.
Where to dine: Element 47, The Nell’s main restaurant, has won awards from James Beard, Wine Enthusiast, Forbes Travel Guide and more. It has a 20,000-bottle wine cellar, has earned the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1996, and has achieved the remarkable feat of graduating 10 of North America’s 147 Master Sommeliers — the most of any establishment in North America. www.thelittlenell.com.
Aspen has a hefty list of other acclaimed dining spots such as Matsuhisa Aspen, Chefs Club at the St. Regis Hotel, Cache Cache and Grey Lady, to name a few.
Owned by Vail Resorts Corp., Beaver Creek opened in 1980, with neighboring Bachelor Gulch launching in 1997. The environmentally responsible development of Beaver Creek was designed to deliver an unparalleled elegant Rocky Mountain vacation by catering to those who desire a slower pace and more exclusivity. The town center features an impressive array of high-end art galleries, apparel shops and award-winning restaurants surrounding a large ice skating rink. It’s all moments from the world-class slopes. Blazing fire pits and cascades of romantic, twinkling lights warm cold nights.
A 25-minute drive from Vail/Eagle County Regional Airport or a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport, Beaver Creek caters to a mature, discreet, family-oriented audience. With three distinct base villages, village-to-village skiing and snowboarding, it is akin to the superb experience found in the European Alps. www.beavercreek.com
Where to stay: RockResorts, owned by Vail Resorts, is a small chain of luxury ski resort properties in the western U.S. The intimate, 60-room The Pines Lodge is a RockResorts property on a slopeside location with a choice between comfortable hotel rooms and the uber-divine, private residences available for rental. The Village at Beaver Creek is a five-minute walk.
Other luxury choices in Beaver Creek include the Ritz-Carlton at Bachelor Gulch, Park Hyatt, Beaver Creek Lodge and The Osprey.
Lift ticket info: For Beaver Creek and Vail, travel agents highly recommend purchasing online tickets in advance for the lowest guaranteed price. Online lift tickets are available until midnight the day before your visit. Or add days to your existing Epic Pass card and head straight to the lift. For the biggest discount, purchase at least seven days prior to your visit. www.vail.com/plan-your-trip
Other activities: Ice skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, spa treatments, fly fishing, sleigh rides and boutique shopping
Where to dine: The Pines Lodge is home to Grouse Mountain Grill, an AAA Four Diamond, award-winning restaurant featuring such favorites as lobster mascarpone, roasted duck breast, Colorado striped bass, lamb, Alaskan halibut and salmon. Dishes are prepared with ingredients locally sourced from Colorado family farms and ranches.
Other choices include the romantic Beano’s Cabin, Splendido at the Chateau and Mirabelle.
Vail is beloved for its legendary Back Bowls (seven of them), three terrain parks, 5,300 acres of ski and snowboard terrain, as well as its year-round events and activities, festivals, world-class shops, acclaimed dining, elegant accommodations and spas. This extraordinary area, the nation’s third-largest single mountain ski resort, is one of the world’s top places to vacation since opening in 1962. Vail attracts a very international clientele so foreign languages are frequently heard. The resort is a 25-minute drive from Vail/Eagle County Regional Airport, or about two hours from Denver International Airport. www.vail.com
Where to stay: RockResorts offers the AAA Four Diamond The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a spectacular property reminiscent of grande dame European hotels. It features intricate, Israeli mosaic tile work and tapestries, original artwork and a splendid lobby with a majestic fireplace and dramatic chandeliers. Sumptuous guest rooms and suites, uber-luxe private residences of up to 2,500-square-feet, a pampering 10,000-square-foot spa, slopeside ski valet, rooftop lap pool and hot tubs are designed for those who want the best.
Other properties include: The Lodge at Vail, Sonnenalp Hotel, Four Seasons and the Sebastian, to name a few.
Other activities: Fly fishing, shopping, ice skating, spa treatments, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and visiting the Walking Mountain Science Center.
Where to dine: Tavern on the Square is on property, serving all three meals in a cozy, off-lobby ambiance.
Other high-end restaurants in Vail include Sweet Basil, Elway’s, La Tour, Leonora and for more casual, superb fare, Mountain Standard.