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Dec. 12, 2020, 8:06 a.m. EST

Luxury Ski Resorts Face a Season Unlike Any Other

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The world's most in-demand ski resorts have always faced their share of complications, namely challenging geographic barriers and inconsistent weather patterns. (Imagine facing the disappointment of international guests who, after spending five figures on non-refundable reservations, arrive to encounter suboptimal ski conditions or closed roadways.) 

Now, in the age of Covid-19, notable ski resorts are bracing for an exceptionally uncertain ski season, given the ever-changing restrictions and circumstances. Most notably, scores of Europe’s leading luxury ski resorts remain in limbo, balancing plans for the upcoming season in the face of an uncertain future. 

Wait-and-See in Europe

FORESTIS, a hideaway in the Italian Dolomites that opened in July, offers an atypical ski-in/ski-out experience. Perhaps the most exciting new opening in the Alps this year, FORESTIS has already hosted the famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner , who has raved about the idyllic setting. 

The spacious format, including a restaurant designed like a theater, offers ample space and privacy to guests, as do terraces, gardens, and a nature-focused spa. The 62-unit resort is planning to open for its ski season on Dec.r 17, but is waiting in limbo as government regulations yet to be announced due to concerns over rising Covid-19 numbers after skiing holidays. 

For the highly rated Maisons et Hôtels Sibuet in Megève, this will be the first time in 30 years not having guests for Christmas, as the French government has put a halt on operations until Jan. 20. The family-run hotel is located in the Alps of southeastern France, near the Italian and Swiss borders, and emerged as a popular ski destination for the rich and famous.

“We are seeing many new booking requests from guests who used to stay in other destinations that are known for their après ski scenes and parties. Guests now seek the secluded aspect, distance, and safety,” says Philippe Clarinval , GM of the highly-rated Carlton Hotel in St. Moritz , the famously cosmopolitan Swiss resort town. “Some guests hesitate to confirm their bookings far in advance and are opting instead for short-term bookings because of the changing restrictions in the countries they are traveling from. When speaking to our hotelier colleagues in St. Moritz, we agree on the fact that the bookings this year will be much more short-term.”

The Kulm Hotel, a five-star St. Moritz institution offering close proximity to the St. Moritz–Corviglia funicular, reports an increased amount of short-term requests, with many guests preferring to make their final decisions at the last minute. In response, the hotel has amended its cancelation policy to allow for greater flexibility. Hotel management is confident that once travel restrictions are lifted, especially in neighboring countries, it will see an increase in bookings, noting how many of its loyal customers won’t mind having to quarantine after returning home as long as they can get their skiing fix.

Across the country in the heart of the Swiss Alps, the Chedi Andermatt reports a dramatic increase in local guests, due in part to friendlier-than-usual cancellation policies. The Chedi, which offers ski butlers and a skating rink in its courtyard, is proceeding in the face of an uncertain start to 2021 by offering three-night ski packages from January onward.

Reliance on More Local Travelers and Changing Rules in Canada

Leading ski resorts in Canada, faced with the reality of indefinitely closed U.S. borders, have had to rely on domestic guests in an unprecedented manner. 

The Post Hotel & Spa, a Relais & Chateaux property in scenic Lake Louise , in the heart of Alberta’s Banff National Park, has been limited to regional guests, with winter bookings slower than usual thus far. 

Over in Whistler, British Columbia, visitors are required to reserve their time on Whistler Mountain, with bookings opening a week in advance. At the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, new changes can be found at the ski concierge, which will only store skis this year as boots, boot fitting, and other equipment will be stored in guest rooms. Guests looking forward to celebratory s’mores by the resort’s big fire pit instead will fill one of the newly created fire pits featuring extended operating hours to ensure each group can have its own space. 

Alaska Attracts More Americans

With travelers unable to head to their favorite ski destinations in Europe, Alaska has become a compelling alternative for Americans, especially for its smaller, bespoke offerings that provide a stark alternative to crowded ski resorts. This ski season, Alaska’s heli and backcountry skiing offerings are receiving increased interest. 

Due to its remote location in Alaska’s Denali National Park and direct transfers, the Sheldon Chalet never had to close during 2020, though one major change came in May, when the Chalet became available for exclusive buyouts only. By offering three-night packages costing around $35,000 for two guests, the owners of the 2- year-old property were hesitant to see how the rest of 2020 would play out. (Packages include a helicopter “flightseeing” tour, gourmet meals, five-bedroom luxe accommodations, all gear and equipment, and more.)

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