How the rich take luxury ski trips, according mountain resort insiders

Garrett Gardner


The distance from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport to the Yellowstone Club, where billionaires ski and golf across 15,200 exclusive acres, is about 50 miles. For most people, that’s an hour’s drive through a windy Montana canyon. But if you’re a member — along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg — it can be a much quicker jaunt.

Instead of getting to Bozeman on a commercial flight and grabbing an Uber at the airport, they arrive by jet and hop on a helicopter “so that it’s only a 10-minute ride to the club instead,” said Adamo Vullo, a former Yellowstone Club employee turned caretaking manager for Outpost, a luxury property management company in Jackson, Wyo.

Opulent? Yes. Out of the ordinary? Not so much. Vullo said it was common for guests to arrive at the club in such fashion — or shell out thousands to helicopter to lunch.

Such is life for the ultrawealthy who frequent luxury ski destinations — and not just private clubs. You can still find the type of travelers who belong on “The White Lotus” on mountains that are technically accessible to the everyman, including Aspen, Jackson Hole and the Alps.

Even if you can afford to ski next to them, good luck keeping up off the slopes. Helicopters from the airport are just the tip of the iceberg. The Washington Post interviewed industry insiders including hoteliers, ski instructors, property managers and travel planners, to understand the mountains they move for the rich.

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Private flights for the whole family

A family reunion looks different when money is no object. Last year, the private aviation company VistaJet coordinated a multi-destination get-together that began with skiing in Aspen and ended in the Bahamas.

Despite the price of lift tickets, ski gear and luxury accommodations for the group, “the biggest cost of those kinds of trip is to fly,” said Leona Qi, VistaJet’s U.S. president.

The company’s hourly rate ranges from $12,000 to $25,000, and it may take 100 hours to get multiple planes in place to pick up family members in different locations, then fly them to each place and back home — a line item totaling beyond $1 million.

The more ski industry people you talk to, the more you’ll hear about wealthy families rolling into ski towns, spending tens of thousands of dollars on brand-new clothes and equipment and leaving it all behind when they’re done.

Some of the world’s wealthiest travelers still rent their gear, but you won’t find them at the local outfitter. That’s where on-demand rental services like Ski Butlers come in.

“We go to their accommodations, whether it’s a vacation rental, a hotel, and fit them in the comfort of their living room by the fire,” says Mike Cremeno, the chief revenue officer at Ski Butlers.

Once a customer is done skiing or snowboarding for the day — or they merely want to swap their skis for a different pair — a Ski Butlers employee will find them whether they’re at the bottom of a chairlift or the middle of an aprés party. Cremeno has had clients request new equipment 15 times during their five-day booking.

“It’s part of the service,” Cremeno said. “Some people are very picky and really want to dabble in everything that we carry — and we will facilitate that.”

Beyond gear requests, Ski Butlers also handles one-off errands for clients, like the time a woman in Park City was worried her group’s ski passes hadn’t arrived yet. Instead of waiting to see if her Epic Passes came through in time for their ski morning, Cremeno went to the resort and dropped nearly $10,000 for 13 duplicate passes.

First dibs on untouched snow

Of all the luxuries the ultrawealthy enjoy, skiing untouched snow is what Cremeno finds most enviable. Paying for “first tracks,” or early access to a ski resort, is a common but expensive experience that’s “worth every single penny,” Cremeno said. “You can get a half-hour to an hour of skiing with you and your 10 buddies and there is no one else on the mountain.”

Many resorts offer reservations for first tracks, but sometimes that’s not enough. Before he joined the new Six Senses Crans-Montana as general manager, Christian Gurtner worked at other ski resorts around the world where the staff would close some ski lifts to the public for guests to ski privately, or opened them at night for after-hours shredding.

“We have operated ski lifts at the time zones of the guests so they can ski on their home time zone,” Gurtner said.

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If resort snow won’t do, there’s heli-skiing to fresh powder.

“We have a helipad about 300 yards away from the hotel,” said Bryan Woody, general manager at Madeline Hotel & Residences in Telluride, Colo. “The more experienced skiers will generally go out with a professional in a helicopter to ski the backcountry.”

Michael Friedman, COO of the luxury vacation rental company Onefinestay, arranges those services in Aspen. The package costs $19,000 to $27,000 for groups of one to four.

And for a truly off-the-grid experience, Manabu Ainai, director of Hoshino Resorts’s properties in Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, says they’ve taken clients to ski in places you can’t find on Google Maps.

For the 1 percent, a ski instructor isn’t someone you see once a season for an afternoon crash course. Some tutors collect more than $1,000 a day to work with a single client for weeks at a time.

“I might just be one-on-one for 40 days with a person,” said James P. Ruddy — a former elite ski instructor who worked at the Yellowstone Club for 16 years, as well as other premier resorts like Park City’s luxury Deer Valley Resort. “You truly become part of their family. You’re an integral part of someone’s vacation.”

“They’ll pay $1,300 dollars a day, plus the tip, just so they don’t have to wait in the lift line.”

A big trend in the industry is setting up private sessions with Olympic skiers. At Onefinestay, Friedman says they get a lot of requests from clients who want to work with Olympians at a rate of $2,800 per person, for a full day, or $1,700 for a half day.

Some travelers hire professionals to share the special privileges resorts give to instructors, not their expertise.

“They’ll pay $1,300 dollars a day, plus the tip, just so they don’t have to wait in the lift line,” said Berkely Tolman, who has worked for 16 years at the ski-in, ski-out Stein Eriksen Lodge, a section of Utah’s Deer Valley resort where nightly rates average $2,000 most of the winter.

Skipping the line may seem valuable at a huge ski resort where lifts may have 30-minute waits, but Deer Valley doesn’t allow a ton of skiers at a time.

“At the busiest times, I’ve never once in my life waited more than maybe 10 minutes to get on a chairlift,” Tolman said.

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Hiring film crews to make family movies

It can be a hassle to interrupt precious travel memories by taking your own photo, and even more so when you’re trying to ski down a mountain. But the ultrawealthy have a solution.

“A lot of people like to have a photographer and a videographer with them to capture the moment,” said Naomi Mano, president and CEO of the Tokyo-based luxury travel company Luxurique Inc. “They don’t want to be the ones holding a selfie stick; they want somebody to photograph every moment of their experience.”

Mano said these professionals have filled a job that used to be left to butlers, nannies and other helpers. Many task Luxurique with hiring people to document their entire trip, which can cost more than $1,000 a day per photographer. After the vacation, it’ll cost another couple thousand to put together a photo book.

“It’s for those people who wouldn’t hesitate to put an extra twenty, thirty thousand dollars on their trip,” Mano said.

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Requests for pink snow, a live elephant

To make their ski trips as romantic as possible, ultrawealthy couples spare no expense.

Patrick Davila, general manager of Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, remembers a couple who requested a staff member follow them around on a snowmobile to carry their champagne. Alexandra Vesin, general manager at Aman Le Mélézin in Courchevel, France, says the property has arranged a marriage proposal in a hot-air balloon over the Alps.

Tolman’s most memorable request came from a Stein Eriksen regular who wanted to have Deer Valley blow pink snow out of snowmakers while he and his wife took a nighttime chairlift ride for a mountaintop dinner and private evening ski session.

Unfortunately for the guest, “there are just so many reasons this wouldn’t work,” Tolman said. For starters “the water for the snow-making comes from a pond.”

It’s no fad for the rich to spoil their lovers at high altitude. Marijana Jakic, brand manager for the iconic Swiss ski resort town St. Moritz, says decades ago a guest of Badrutt’s Palace hotel (where Alfred Hitchcock spent his honeymoon) had staff bring in a live elephant as a birthday gift for his wife.

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$100,000 to redecorate a hotel room

Brian Pentek, owner of LuxeLife Travel, says there’s a massive difference between the displays of wealth in the United States and Europe. While there’s a ton of money in Aspen, it doesn’t hold a candle to what he coordinates in the Alps. “It’s easy to see lunch bills top [100,000], 200,000 euros,” Pentek said.

Pentek once had an ultrahigh net-worth client staying in a European ski town for a few weeks. She loved the hotel, but she didn’t love her room, “so she had her designer go over, and they redecorated the room to be a little more like her home,” Pentek said, estimating the request cost to be more than $100,000.

Back in 2004, you could still find celebrities and royalty checking out gear in places like the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole — which opened that year. That opening season, Matt Wolfe, now a real estate adviser for Engel & Volkers Salt Lake City, says he was working in the Wyoming resort’s ski shop when he was asked to wax custom skis for Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud.

“The men in the entourage wouldn’t wear our maroon ski boots because they thought that color was feminine or something,” Wolfe said of the prince’s traveling party. “We actually ended up putting them in women’s boots because they were black.”

Nights in a fully staffed chalet mansion

For the richest skiers, preferences vary when it comes to accommodations. Some want fully staffed mountain mansions, like the $30,000-a-night chalet that the luxury travel company Remote Lands books for clients in Niseko, Japan’s premier ski resort.

“It’s just massive and it has everything you can possibly imagine in it,” Remote Lands CEO Catherine Heald said.

Other people prefer to book an entire resort. Nadine Paulo of Travel Edge buys out the whole Sheldon Chalet in remote Alaska for clients willing to pay $75,000 for up to four people for a three-night minimum stay.

Of course some people would rather buy a property (or a room) at a resort.

“We have several billionaires who own here,” Tolman said of Stein Eriksen, where all rooms are individually owned.

Some skiers stay at their rooms all season; some rent them out part of the time. Tolman knows of one owner who bought the property without seeing it, remodeled it and has still never been.

“Just probably had to park $5 million somewhere,” he said.

No one’s too big for a condo

At the Yellowstone Club — where some property sells for more than $1 million an acre — Vullo says members are willing to spend exorbitant amounts for townhouses and condos with easy access to resort amenities and ski runs instead of bigger, stand-alone homes on ranches.

He was fascinated by his clients, two brothers, who bought a pair of three-bedroom condos next to each other despite their penchant for hosting big groups. “You see friends and family sleeping on the couch of your $12 million condo when you could have had a badass ski house somewhere else, but people pay that for being in there,” Vullo said.

Friedman sees a similar demand from certain celebrity clients of Onefinestay.

“We get a lot of country music artists in [Steamboat Springs, Colo.] and they love staying in condos,” Friedman said. “It’s close to the lift, they can walk to the lift. They just don’t want big homes.”


A previous version of this article misstated the amount it cost to rent the entire Sheldon Chalet in Alaska. Because of a recent price increase, buy-outs now start at $75,000 for up to four people for a minimum three-night reservation. This article has been corrected.

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