NEW YORK — Private ski lessons are so passe. The latest on-mountain perk for those with seemingly unlimited funds is spending the day with an Olympian.
The chance to plow through powder — and maybe drinks — with a gold medalist is just one of the ways resorts this season are trying to capitalize on rich travelers looking for unique experiences and some bragging rights.
One Colorado resort even offers a $50,000 package that includes helicopter transfers from the local airport.
Fear not, for those of us not named Astor, Rockefeller or Vanderbilt, there are other options as the industry tries to win over, and retain, skiers outside its loyal base.
There are free lift tickets for beginners — or those who recently flew into town — midweek specials and yes, a chance to spend time with former Olympians, although you probably won’t have them to yourself.
The epicenter of opulence this season is Colorado’s Beaver Creek Resort, which is hosting the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in February. In celebration of the giant ski competition, the resort is pulling out all the stops.
At the base of the mountain, the Park Hyatt has created a “Ski with a Legend” experience for guests with gold and silver medalists Phil and Steve Mahre. For $2,500 per brother, a group of up to six can spend a day skiing with the twins, including sampling the ski champ lifestyle over a meal and cocktails.
For those with deeper pockets, Beaver Creek is offering a $50,000 white-glove winter package for four that includes season passes to 22 mountains owned or partnered with Vail Resorts, first-class airfare from within the U.S., a private helicopter transfer from the airport to the resort, five nights at the private on-mountain, Trappers Cabin — it comes with a concierge and chef — ski equipment and private lessons. If that weren’t enough, one morning the group gets a chance to ski the mountain before anybody else.
At Park City, Utah, a “fresh powder Sherpa” wakes guests early with a mini-massage and warm breakfast so they can ski the freshest snow for $884.
At Utah’s St. Regis Deer Valley, guests can get the chance to ski with a roster of Olympians and U.S. Ski Team members including Kris “Fuzz” Feddersen, Kaylin Richardson, K.C. Oakley, Jillian Vogtli and Mac Bohonnon.
A half-day excursion for up to six people starts at $2,250. A full day begins at $3,250.
“Our guests are generally very sophisticated, frequent world travelers who expect to be wowed. Essentially, they can go anywhere in the world that they please,” says Edward Shapard, the hotel’s general manager.
The competition is pretty stiff. For instance, skiers on a $65,000 private jet excursion with stops at Four Seasons hotels in Vail and Whistler can ski with 1994 Olympic gold and silver medalist Tommy Moe when they get to the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“Put the intimidation factor aside; skiing with an Olympian has its perks, lift lines naturally open up and heads turn,” says Cory Carlson, director of sales for the hotel.
However, you don’t need deep pockets to ski with the champs. You won’t get private time, but at Colorado’s Steamboat Springs, you can get free pointers from 1964 Olympic silver medalist and world champion Billy Kidd and then join him for a run down Heavenly Daze. Check the sign at the top of the gondola to see if Kidd is skiing that day and join him at 1 p.m.
Also at Steamboat, 1992 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time World Cup mogul champion Nelson Carmichael hosts a free mogul clinic on Nelson’s Run at 1 p.m. on select Sundays throughout the season. Check grooming reports to see if he’s skiing and meet outside Four Points Lodge.
For those who aren’t star-struck, most resorts offer free mountain tours. They’re a great way to get acquainted with various runs and pick up tips. First-time skiers can find free, or deeply-discounted, tickets to the beginner areas that often come with lessons and ski rentals. Sometimes, experienced skiers can get free tickets by bringing along beginners.
Skiing mid-week also saves. Fly into Utah Monday-Thursday, bring your boarding pass to Alta or Snowbird within 24 hours, and convert it into a lift ticket for half the normal price: just $54. Tickets are also usually cheaper the earlier they’re purchased.
For those who plan ahead, on Liftopia.com, savings on nonrefundable tickets bought in advance can average 30 percent off walk-up rates. For more deals, combine tickets with extras like meals and rentals.
Rich or on a budget, skiers can’t control the snow. Luckily, in the mountains, it’s already falling.