Why An All-Inclusive Ski Trip Might Be Your Best Winter Vacation
Ski vacations can be awesome trips, and are perfect for many types of travelers, including couples, families or friends. But they can also be expensive and full of sticker shock and unpleasant surprises, from outrageous après cocktails and mediocre but overpriced on-mountain lunches to sky high equipment rentals and lessons.
But it does not have to be that way.
All-inclusive vacations have long been staples for beach lovers in hotspots like Mexico and the Caribbean. One reason cruises are so popular is because with a few exceptions for extras, the entire price of the trip is known up front. But while most travelers know that this strategy works for warm weather destinations, few realize there are a surprising breadth of and variants on all-inclusive ski and snowboard trips, a secret weapon for saving on a skiing vacation – or at least sticking to a budget.
Of course, all-inclusive does not always mean cheap – some of the most luxurious ski vacations you can possibly take are all-inclusives. As a result, there is truly something for everyone.
First some clarity: even when it comes to beach resorts or cruises, all-inclusive is rarely “all” inclusive, and options such as spa treatments and premium wines or almost always extra. But you can get pretty close, and it makes sense that the company most famous for popularizing the all-inclusive beach vacation model around the globe is also the leader when it comes to skiing.
Club Med, the French resort brand that has specialized in all-inclusive travel for decades, is a big-time ski resort operator, with around two dozen ski properties, mostly across Europe and the French, Swiss, Austrian and Italian Alps, but also in Japan (two different resorts in Hokkaido), the world’s hottest emerging ski destination pre-COVID, and as of this winter, North America. Not only are all meals included and of surprisingly high quality (and with local flair!), but so are adult beverages, lots of non-skiing activities such as guided snowshoe tours, and Club Med is the rare operator that even includes free daily lessons in its rates – unlimited and for all ability levels. Most resorts are fully equipped with amenities like swimming pools, fitness centers and multiple bars and restaurants, and they often include nighttime entertainment options. If you have kids learning to ski, included lessons alone can be a huge budget bonus. Also, its ski properties tend to be among the nicest resorts in the company’s portfolio and make it easier for Americans who have never skied in the Alps, or especially Japan, to navigate the myriad cultural differences.
Club Med is debuting its first North American winter resort (they once had one at Copper Mountain, Colorado but it closed long ago) at Quebec’s Charlevoix. Club Med Québec is a ski-in/ski-out property with 300 rooms and multiple dining options, including Terroir & Co, which mixes local Québec specialties with ski staples of the Alps such as fondue and raclette. I have been seeing a surprisingly high level of industry interest in this property, notably from luxury travel agents. Charlevoix claims to have the most snow of any Canadian resort (over 21 feet annually) and unique extras like a nearly 5-mile sledding run.
This winter will also see another new all-inclusive Club Med resort open in France, La Rosiere. The property offers panoramic views from an elevation of more than 6000-feet, and La Rosiere is one of several interconnected mountains comprising the enormous Espace San Bernardo ski resort, which straddles the French and Italian borders. The alpine style hotel has just shy of 400 rooms, two restaurants and three bars, and is positioned at the high-end of the Club Med collection.
Most interestingly of all, Club Med is moving ahead with its first U.S. ski hotel in Utah, opening date still to be determined. What is exceptional about this one is that it is at Snowbasin, the best and largest ski resort in the country that currently has no on-site lodging, which will give Club Med a unique monopoly.
The other notable all-in-one all-inclusive in this model, with lodging, food (four meals daily including après!) booze and great skiing, is Chile’s Portillo resort, considered one of the best ski resorts in the Southern hemisphere, meaning ski season is our summer. Portillo has long been the choice of many pros and national ski teams for “off season” training. I’ve been, it is great, the food and wine are distinctly local in flavor and of high quality, and the entire mountain (excellent skiing) essentially belongs to guests of the 123-room ski-in/ski-out Hotel Portillo, run sort of like a slope-side cruise ship (it even has a movie theater), with weeklong all-inclusive stays. Other resort options include two dorm-like small lodges aimed at budget and single travelers and more luxurious chalets for families and groups. This makes an awesome summer trip for any avid skier, and the gateway city of Santiago is both easy to get to and a great destination on its own, perfect for tacking on a weekend. Also, Chile is extremely affordable.
Beyond the one hotel with food and drink and skiing included model of Portillo and Club Med, there are several other ski trip variations on the all-inclusive theme.
One of these is guided trips, which typically combine lodging, lift tickets, a ski guide/instructor, transfers and most meals. You can do these privately for your group, or more economically as part of a scheduled group trip with strangers. You end up spending a little more out of pocket but still have a very good grasp on your budget going in, and many operators can also bundle air. One nice bonus is that you do get to have a few meals on your own as you would on a more typical ski vacation, giving you a better sense of place. This is perfect for Europe, because the on-mountain dining scene is so much different, so much better, but also more confusing than in the U.S., and the huge, interconnected resort complexes are much harder to navigate (the five largest ski resorts in the world are all in the Alps).
One of the very best destinations offering these kinds of trips is the Dolomites, home to 12 adjacent resorts which form Dolomiti Superski, arguably the largest interconnected ski experience in the world, with a single lift ticket covering 746 miles of trails in one place. For these reasons, most companies specializing in guided ski trips offer the Dolomites a top choice. For more on what makes this area such a great winter spot, read this.
An excellent local ski tour specialist called Dolomite Mountains offers a variety of guided (in English) weeklong nearly all-inclusive ski tours around the region, including all lodging, breakfasts, dinners, local transport, guides, lift tickets and luggage transfers. Some trips also include transfers from Venice, the nearest major airport (2-3 hour). Because the region is famous for its World Cup races and will be hosting the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, Dolomite Mountains just added a new specialty group tour, “Olympic Ski Safari,” allowing guests to ski the famous courses of the World Cup races and the upcoming Olympics, as well as the historic courses of the 1956 Cortina Olympics, with lodging in 4 and 5-Star hotels, five full days of guided skiing and six nights lodging, for €4,590 per person. Dolomites Mountains offers less expensive guided group trips from just €2,890, private guided trips, luxury guided trips, even special food-centric “Gourmet Ski Safaris.” It is Italy after all.
Other top operators offering fairly all-inclusive group trips include one of the oldest and most venerable travel specialists in the industry, Aspen-based Ski.com – which despite its name actually pre-dates the internet. Because its guided group trips were cancelled during the pandemic season last year, they are slowly coming back, with the Dolomites on tap for this winter and their main event, an annual guided trip to Niseko, Japan – home of the world’s deepest powder – back on for 2023.
Alpine Adventures is another mountain and ski travel specialist with an upscale slant (they are part of the luxury Virtuoso travel and travel agent consortium). But while Alpine Adventures routinely books custom luxury trips to some of the world’s fanciest hotels and chalets, they also run a lineup of guided group trips around the world, including the U.S. For instance, a 7-night trip to Steamboat, Colorado with lodging, 5-days skiing, transfers, breakfasts – and domestic airfare – starts at $2,395. Other group ski trip destinations that include flights run the gamut from Zermatt, Switzerland to Sestriere, Italy.
Another option for a sort of all-inclusive ski vacation is the classic European way, renting a staffed chalet. While home rentals here typically don’t come with much, the Alpine ski chalet vacation pioneered by the British often is a fully staffed house with chef, meals, booze, sometimes even masseuse and ski guide. These kinds of chalets are found at all the major resorts, especially the biggies in France, Courchevel, Val d’Isere, Megeve and so on. For the level of luxury provided, the value proposition beats comparable hotels, and in general everything from lift tickets to food is less expensive than in the U.S. The top chalets feature amenities such as full gyms, spas, home theaters and even luxuries such as bowling alleys, billiard rooms or indoor golf simulators.
“You have more rooms than your family would in a hotel, it’s more personalized, and the entire staff works just for you. Many take you around town, you never have to deal with driving or taxis. But the best thing is that everyone who goes skiing has essentially the same schedule, and no matter how nice a hotel is, they can’t give everyone spa appointments at three or four, but that’s when everyone wants them. Here you go back to your house and take turns getting massages from your therapist while sitting in your hot tub,” said Rick Reichsfeld, President of Alpine Adventures, which books a lot of chalet trips, even more popular since the pandemic because of the privacy. “We could have sold three times as many chalets for this winter if there was inventory.”
Scout Ski is another excellent bespoke ski tour operator exceptionally strong in both Europe and Japan that books a lot of chalet trips. Because the entire chalet ski vacation model was invented by the British, it makes sense that one of the premier specialists is UK-based Oxford Ski Company.
Lodge-based ski trips, typically for heli-skiing, cat skiing, or both, are usually at the luxury end of the all-inclusive model, with a price that includes lodging, the skiing itself, guides, necessary gear like fat skis and avalanche safety equipment, plus all meals, often adult beverages, and transfers. Of course, heli-skiing doesn’t come cheap, but other than spa treatments or extra runs, it’s hard to spend more money once you arrive. The biggest and best-known operator is Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), with multiple lodges and there lots of options in Alaska as well. Ski travel specialists such as Ski.com and Alpine Adventures also book a lot of heli and sno-cat trips.
Finally, another lesser-known luxury twist on the model is top tier western dude ranches, the Forbes 4 and 5-Star ones the roll out the all-inclusive red carpet with opulent lodging, standout cuisine and top shelf wine and spirits as well as a vast laundry list of included activities from shooting to fishing to horseback riding. Surprisingly, the best of these include alpine skiing, alongside huge trail networks for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire snow biking and snowmobiling.
Other than lessons (only Club Med does that), this is as all-inclusive as it gets, with all rental gear, even clothing, included, plus every single meal. The two standout examples are the Forbes 5-Star Ranch at Rock Creek and the acclaimed Relais & Chateaux Triple Creek Ranch, both near Missoula, MT. Each ranch partners with a sizable hidden gem local resort, Discovery Mountain and Lost Trail Powder Mountain respectively. Both include all rental gear, lift tickets, private transfers to and from the mountain, and because of the culinary focus, send skiers with gourmet packed lunches or in some cases cook right in the ski resort parking lot. Both properties are among the nation’s very best luxury resorts of any kind, but since spring to fall is their high season, few travelers realize what they offer for skiers. These are also the best kinds of indulgent winter trip for skiers and non-skiers to enjoy together.