by Peter Hardy and Gabriella Le Breton, The Daily Telegraph, December 1, 2016
Once all you needed for your annual winter jaunt was a tiny chalet, a flickering fire, a cheese fondue and – if you were lucky – a hot tub. But since the Russians started gracing the slopes in all their cossack-trimmed glory, the stakes have soared.
As Duncan Robertson of the luxury ski specialists Bramble Ski and Haute Montagne says, it’s not just ski wax that’s now on tap. “We have drivers on standby, helicopters a call away, rare wine merchants on speed-dial.” And rather than chalet girls and boys, he says, a raft of professional staff are on hand, to spoon caviar onto blinis and put fur into storage. “Most Haute Montagne guests have their own staff, meaning their expectations of ours are extremely high.”
So what sorts of extras do people ask for? “It could be anything,” says Robertson, “from sourcing private jets to serving curry in the cinema. It’s about tailoring service to precisely what guests want.” Adopting a less prescriptive, more reactive approach is the new norm for luxury ski operators.
Not only do guests expect designer chalets with full-service spas and private cinemas, they demand chefs with Michelin-star training, concierges who double as ski instructors, and experienced hoteliers to pander to their whims. Lavish picnics served on a glacier and cocktail parties in hand-carved igloos are now virtually standard, making “Alpine fixers” like Annabel Seel (ALS Private), Nicky ffrench-Blake (Kando Events) and Julia Summers (Summers & Winters ) invaluable.
For example, Seel, a sought-after instructor and guide, can rustle up a surprise helipicnic, a day’s heliskiing from London or a mountain-top concert at the drop of beanie. Then there’s the US-based Eleven Experience: a collection of lavish properties in niche destinations with all-inclusive heliskiing, cat-skiing, heli-fishing, snowmobiling, and even fireworks.
Its director, Jake Jones, says their aim is “to optimise the experience every day, and let you choose your own adventure, whether that’s heliskiing, foraging with the chef or watching the kids learn to ski while you look out from the spa”. But, of course, all the frills mean nothing if the winter palace is not to your liking. Here are six new ones we’ve tested for you.
The Remote Retreat: Deplar Farm, Iceland
Simply reaching Deplar Farm – surrounded by remote snow-covered valleys, and hills that fall steeply into the Arctic Ocean – is an adventure in itself. Either you fly from Reykjavik on a turboprop plane to Akureyri in northern Iceland’s Troll Peninsula, and are picked up in a pimped Mercedes with Arctic track tyres, or you hail a helicopter.
Either way, you’re dropped in front of a traditional black-painted, grass-roofed farmhouse whose timber walls enclose a whopping 23,000sq ft of immaculately decorated interiors. As well as having 13 bedrooms, a media room, games room and bar, the farm has one of the biggest private spas on the slopes, with five treatment rooms, a geothermically heated indoor/outdoor pool, three hot tubs and two saunas, all next to floor-to-ceiling windows that allow you to bathe in the light of the midnight sun.
Glass walls also flank the dining room, from which you can look out at snow-capped mountains and the Skagafjörour bay while eating freshly caught Arctic char, giant prawns and succulent lamb infused with the flavours of local wild herbs and flowers.
This wouldn’t be an Eleven Experience without toys, hence the playroom full of snowmobiles, surfboards (and thick wetsuits), fishing rods, snowshoes and a custom snowcat on which to traverse the gentle slopes surrounding the farm. And, of course, there’s peak-to-fjord heliskiing.
Eleven’s mountain guides know their 1,500sq-mile heliski area intimately and, if you make a first descent of a couloir or bowl with them, they’ll let you put your name to it, and annotate the lodge map accordingly.
From £8,140 per person for four days’ full-board, including airport transfers and semi-private heliskiing in groups of four, based on 28 sharing (001 970 349 7761 ; elevenexperience.com ).
The Alpine Lodge: Adler Mountain Lodge, near Ortisei
This is quite possibly the ultimate Alpine lodge: a perfect icon of scented pale wood and glass, situated in solitary splendour in the middle of the Alpe di Suisi, the highest-altitude alpine meadow in Europe. From the quaint valley town of Ortisei in Italy, the lodge is best reached by gondola and horse-drawn sled, or by a longer, surreal taxi ride that involves crossing a couple of busy pistes – skiers have the right of way.
Outside, eagle and griffin heads are carved into the overhanging roof. Within the spacious interiors, guests’ eyes are drawn past the floor-to-ceiling windows and firepits to the soaring cathedrals of dolomite rock that turn rose-pink at sunset.
Unlike many hotels, this is not the product of some city-based interior designer; every paint colour, length of fabric and stick of furniture in the 18 suites and 12 wooden chalets has been sourced by its owners, the Sanoner family.
There’s an infinity pool and a spa with spoiling treatments featuring natural alpine ingredients such as edelweiss, arnica and mountain hay. The chef Hannes Pignater produces organic meals that might include a trout fillet with sweet and sour pumpkin, leeks and toasted almonds, as well as giant spinach-and-cheese ravioli, with a glass of local prosecco.
While it’s ski-in, ski-out, with gentle local pistes and a link to the Sella Ronda circuit, not everyone comes to carve down mountains. For many, it’s a place to relax and take in a wildly beautiful world.
Doubles from £560 per person for three nights full-board, including all drinks. (0039 0471 723000; adler-lodge.com ).
The Ultimate Family Chalet: Chalet Calistoga, Val d'Isere
With its team of chef, manager, host and chauffeur providing seamless and discreet service, Calistoga is not any old chalet. Facing west, its sunset views remain the best in the resort.
The house, situated in the quiet Le Crêt enclave of Val d’Isère, was previously the home of one of Val’s original families. The new owners reshaped the interior with French designer Emmanuelle Bardon, who worked for 18 years with Alain Perrier, France’s top Alpine architect.
The top floor is now a double-height sitting room into which light streams through giant picture windows. They’ve also added a 26ft pool with views along the valley.
Where Calistoga excels is in its bespoke service. The private chef will whip up anything from Alpine cuisine to paleo dishes, while the staff love creating surprises, with entertainment ranging from musicians to magicians and firework displays. There’s an extensive selection of children’s games and toys, and in-chalet qualified childcare.
For the family, there’s a picnic on the piste or a concert before dinner, and there’s always someone to greet skiers with hot chocolate or a glass of Perrier-Jouët, the house champagne. Chalet Calistoga is not any old family home; it’s one of the best.
From £19,500 for seven nights for exclusive use of the chalet, full-board, sleeping up to 10 (020 3393 0833 ; consensiochalets.co.uk ).
The Historic Home: House Hannes Schneider, Stuben
Known in the US as “the father of modern skiing”, Hannes Schneider shaped the way we skied through the 20th century, and his revolutionary ski stance and teaching approach soon became the gold standard. The ski superstar grew up a few snowy valleys over from St Anton, in the hamlet of Stuben in Austria, and following his role in the 1931 film Der Weiße Rausch, his local mountains, the Arlberg, became seen as the epitome of Alpine perfection.
House Hannes Schneider
When two American skiers heard his childhood home was up for sale, they seized the opportunity to own and preserve a piece of ski history. Working with Gertrude Schneider (same name, different family), who owned their favourite hotel, The Kristiania in neighbouring Lech, the duo transformed what had been a dingy café into one of the finest chalets in the Alps.
Today, black-and-white photographs of Schneider line the stairways leading to the chalet’s seven bedrooms, which combine striking contemporary art and antique ski paraphernalia with such luxe touches as monogrammed stationary and full-size toiletries from Vienna’s St Charles apothecary.
Although the basement houses a plush spa and a cosy family cinema room, it is in the reclaimed timber-clad kitchen and inviting living area that guests invariably gather, to sip G&Ts by the fire where the young Schneider used to watch the snow fall on Stuben’s sleepy main street.
From £39,700 for seven nights’ chalet board, based on 12 adults sharing, including return flights, private transfers and in-resort driver (020 3468 6133; scottdunn.com ).
The Party Pad: Chalet Chouqui, Verbier
Verbier is so liberally peppered with ultra-luxe chalets that it’s tricky to pick the very finest. Chalet Chouqui, however, does stand out from the crowd, thanks to both its style and its size.
Set in a quiet enclave near the Savoleyres lift, with sweeping views of Grand Combin, Chouqui is actually made up of two chalets which hold nine bedrooms and two living rooms, as well as a dining room, bar, games room, cinema and wine cellar, all linked by an underground walkway and hooked up to a Sonos sound system.
With its 50ft indoor pool (one of Verbier ’s largest), its sunny south-facing terrace overlooking a hot tub for 20, a fire pit and sheepskin-strewn sofas and loungers, this has become the hot new mountain party pad.
Chouqui’s contemporary interiors are the work of Gytha Nuttall, who blends herringbone tweeds and English custom-made furniture with local materials such as reclaimed timber, rough-hewn stone and furs. Attention to detail is hard to fault: the metal elevator door to the ski room was painted by a local artist to blend in with the cedar-clad walls; ski equipment is loaded into the car before you even realise that you fancy hitting the slopes; and Bamford toiletries are complemented by pots of post-exercise balm by Cornish B Skincare.
Verbier is a resort to experience at full throttle, and at Chalet Chouqui guests are encouraged to have fun: a squad of nine staff, including two chefs, is on hand to keep food and champagne flowing, while a chauffeur is employed 24 hours a day to whizz them to pistes, shops and bars.
From £69,500 for seven nights’ chalet board, based on 18 sharing (01608 674011 ; skiverbierexclusive.com ).
The Designer Chalet: Backstage Loft, Zermatt
Oh, to spend an hour in the mind of Heinz Julen, Zermatt’s celebrated artist, designer and furniture-maker. Julen’s eccentric buildings, filled with his lust-worthy furnishings, are among the most significant pieces of architectural design in the Alps, and the Backstage Loft is arguably the most remarkable. Shimmering walls of glass, softened by slender, triple-height old timber beams, look out on to the Matterhorn.
Cleverly incorporated into this contemporary glass structure is a tiny, 700-year-old timber chalet, which houses the dreamiest of bedrooms. The cosy suite is one of Julen’s few rustic touches; the rest of the property features his whimsical and almost industrial Manhattan-loft style.
Glass pervades, with the main living and dining space and upper bedrooms virtually encased in glass. A stainless-steel kitchen overlooks a 12-person glass dining table, which can be winched to ceiling level, where it doubles as a chandelier for the newly revealed dance floor (although, given that a dedicated chef is on hand to whip up everything from a circulation-boosting smoothie to a foie-gras tasting menu, most guests opt to keep it in place).
While this five-bedroom house is within spitting distance of Zermatt’s celebrated slopes and restaurants, Julen has created such a fantastical world – complete with its own spa, gym, screening room and a steel hot tub in a glass enclosure that can be opened to the crisp mountain air at the touch of a switch – that many guests never leave it.
From £27,730 for seven nights’ chalet board, based on 10 adults sharing , including two days’ ski instruction (0041 22 534 9774; brambleski.com ).
This article was written by Peter Hardy and Gabriella Le Breton from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.