Sports

Private Ski Clubs

Escape the crowds with club memberships that provide perks and civility.
By Larry Olmstead

Once upon a time you could pull up to pretty much any major ski resort, park, and walk a few steps to the base. Not anymore. Parking, lockers, and changing facilities have all become scarcer as skiing becomes a victim of its own success.


Likewise, the same great improvements in ski and snowboard technology that have boosted the sports’ popularity, along with advances in lifts, with more gondolas and six- and eight-passenger high-speed chairs, have all conspired to turn on-mountain eateries into a free-for-all of long lines and no place to sit, especially on busy weekends and holidays.


At more and more resorts nationwide, private clubs are solving such problems for their members. These clubs are found at the largest ski resorts and are different from the entirely private mountain communities such as Montana’s Yellowstone Club. At a minimum, most offer a base clubhouse with parking, lockers, and breakfast. Some add lunch, après, dinner service, and fitness, spa, and pool facilities to these base lodges. A handful have lodging for out-of-town members or guests, while the best have private on-mountain dining venues to alleviate the cafeteria crunch.


Many offer social programming, special events, and VIP activities such as priority lift lines or a number of first-tracks days each season (pre-opening access to fresh snow). Some include reciprocal membership privileges worldwide, local golf access, and partnerships with nearby spas and fitness centers. In Jackson Hole, Caldera House and the Four Seasons quickly sold out the limited number of local memberships to its Base Camp facility. Vail, America’s most popular ski destination, has several, including the Vail Mountain Club and Game Creek Club. The former has an extensive private base clubhouse with lockers, free breakfast and lunch daily, a full bar, heated pool, hot tubs, and two outdoor decks with service. The latter is especially prestigious, with its own full base clubhouse, as well as the renowned Game Creek Restaurant up on the slopes. Open to the public in the evening, this is considered one of the must-eat dinner experiences in Vail, but during the ski day it is a members-only sanctum of lunch civility. Vail’s posher neighbor, Beaver Creek, also has several options, including the Beaver Creek Club, Bachelor Gulch Club, and Arrowhead Alpine Club, all of which have at least one on-mountain restaurant—the Beaver Creek Club has two, Allie’s Cabin and Beano’s Cabin. The Bachelor Gulch Club’s impressive on-mountain eatery is Zach’s Cabin, and uniquely, instead of a separate clubhouse, its base facility is sequestered within the well-amenitized Ritz-Carlton hotel, immediately adjacent to the lift.


Every club has a unique mix of benefits and different policies, but most are run like traditional country clubs or golf clubs with initiation fees, annual dues, and food and beverage minimums, plus guest and charge privileges. Parking and lockers might be major benefits for those who live locally but off the mountain, while owners of ski-in/ski-out homes might never use these. Yet private dining is a perk at just about any major resort, most of which get crowded at peak times. Choices keep proliferating: California’s Northstar resort has the Tahoe Mountain Club with stunning Schaffer’s Camp restaurant on the summit; Deer Valley has the Deer Crest Club within the St. Regis hotel; Mammoth’s Black Pass accesses private dining and use of express ski school lift lines; the Telluride Ski & Golf Club has private, on-mountain lunch at Allred’s and first light ski privileges; Snowmass has the Snowmass Mountain Club at the new Limelight hotel. The trend has not caught on as widely in the East, but there are some, such as the Stowe Mountain Club with its own clubhouse and golf access.

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