On an average day at Vail,
Colorado, 10,000 skiers carve up the 5,300-acres of snow-covered slopes. At
Yellowstone Club, 100 or so fortunate skiers share the vast 2,200-acre private
playground among Montana’s mountains, riding high-speed lifts and schussing
perfectly groomed trails. Membership has its privileges indeed. Yellowstone Club
members know no lift lines – just untouched powder, elegant slopeside lodges and
an amiable community of like-minded millionaires.
been granted a peek at this remote resort for the rich, (not because of my stock
portfolio – but because of my press affiliation), I can tell you that
Yellowstone Club is every bit cushy but casual, opulent yet approachable, and
financially impressive but family friendly, all rolled into a postcard setting
in the remote mountains of Montana near the northwest corner of Yellowstone
National Park and bordering Big Sky Ski Area.
I expected to see diamond-studded Bogner wearing stars, sitting in the ski lodge
by a roaring fireplace with cell phones in one hand, champagne flutes and caviar
canapés in the other. Instead I saw a few relaxed families carving corduroy on
Jack Kemps’ namesake trail “Quarterback Sneak.” Along the otherwise vacant ski
slopes, I spotted a few smiling ski instructors each with a cozy camp of three
giggling kids in tow.
is extremely impressive to the eye, besides the mountainous Montana landscape
and endless blue sky, is the real estate of magnificent log hewn mansions
sprinkled around the immaculate ski resort.
The diamonds I discovered were on the slopes, of the double black trail variety.
Translation – we were not in Naples anymore. I was amazed to find bountiful
steep and deep off the panoramic 9,860-ft. Pioneer Mountain, accessible
exclusively to Club members. A handful of the rich get radical on seriously
extreme chutes like Hour Glass, Stein’s and Elevator Shaft. No worries for
intermediate and beginning skiers though, as there are miles and miles of scenic
but soft-on-the-ego ski trails.
two kids thought Yellowstone’s terrain was “awesome.” I would
add “spacious” with three or four-dozen skiers and snowboarders allotted eight
modern lifts at a ski area with more acreage than Aspen, and a vertical drop of
2,700-feet. You can still find untracked powder at 3:30 in the afternoon the day
after a foot of “freshies,” if you haven’t succumbed to the fireside lounge for
après toddies, slippers provided.
While the skiing is as good, or better because of the short guest list, as any
top ski resort in North America – it is the Club’s niceties that really wowed
me. For a hot cocoa break, we skied up to the Timberline Lodge and Cafe, a
splendid mid-mountain lodge. As we entered the elegantly appointed ski chalet,
waiters poured fresh water with lemon for us, and delectable freshly baked
cookies were piled high on a china plate (not a cafeteria tray in sight). A
short respite on the deep leather couches by the stone fireplace reinvigorated
us to explore more of the 40-something trails before lunch.
skied past palatial slopeside homes on our descent to the Buffalo Lodge, where
we discovered another cozy, western-themed interior. Our day’s menu special was
a beautifully arranged Asian salmon salad, far healthier and more delicious than
the usual ski area fare of burger and fries – though they offer that too for the
kids. Shedding ski boots for soft slippers, and lunching with linens – now I
could easily become accustomed to this.
Tim & Edra Blixseth, self-made billionaires, started this
world’s only private ski and golf community in 2000. The uber-wealthy
couple divorced in 2008 (the Club was a sticking point of their $2 billion
settlement). The bankrupt club was purchased by Sam Byrne of Mass. of CrossHarbor Capital
in 2009, and things are back in the black. Byrne has made the Club more family
friendly = -converting the Caviar Champagne Bar to a bagel and coffee cafe for
example and creating a Kids Game Room. A bankruptcy court judge ruled in
December 2012 that Tim Blixseth must pay back $41 million to the Club for
misspent funds borrowed from Credit Suisse. Of the $375 million borrowed
from Credit Suisse, the Blixseth's apparently spent $109 million of Yellowstone
money on lavish jets, castles, yachts and islands.
The Yellowstone’s posh ski-in ski-out lodges, dramatically decorated with
indigenous elk skin coverings, sumptuous decor, and grand antler chandeliers. The lavish log homes carefully spaced throughout the high-elevation
enclave reflect Tim’s background in the local Timber industry, and much of the
wood is carefully harvested from their extensive personal stash.
Money talks, but it doesn’t guarantee you a spot in this special skiing society.
Initial access is by invitation only. And apparently a few snooty
high-maintenance guests have been asked to leave. While this is a privileged
powder crowd, it is also an extended family– so respect for fellow members,
their children, and the Club’s first-rate staff is a golden rule. It is about
blending in, not boasting your way up apparently. A family-friendly atmosphere
is of peak priority at Yellowstone Club.
Kids rule, surprisingly, with daily activities (on and off slope) organized by
the staff, including avalanche dog rescue demonstrations, Wacky Winter Olympics,
and après ski games just for the under-aged set. Select evenings, the privileged
pint-size members are delivered by snow-cat for a slumber party sleepover in the
summit ski lodge. Cool to be a kid in high places. Yellowstone has something for
tiresome teens too, a trendy “20 Below” hangout area offers foosball, comfy
couches, and internet access.
parents are left to dine by fireside and candlelight in one of the stylish
timber lodges - a seamless transition from ski glove to white glove service. A
hand-carved bar stool at the Rainbow Lodge is a favorite social spot for cordial
drinks and discussion. Dinner here consists of gourmet wild game or native bison
prepared by the acclaimed chefs. You can be seated next to the massive stone
fireplace complete with a gentle waterfall that trickles over the native rocks,
or perhaps you prefer a window seat with a view of Big Sky’s pinnacle
11,000-foot Lone Peak, framed by an infinity-edge reflecting pool. Who knew
skiing could be so sublime?
Our kids got word that Yellowstone kids quickly become pen pals (or more modern
e-mail buddies), plotting mutual Montana trips with newfound club companions,
telling Mom and Dad “we have to go when the so and so family is going.”
Not only does the Club registry include the finest fallline families as members,
their staff résumés are equally impressive.
A former Secret Service agent handles security, a key detail with such a high
concentration of mega-moguls. Justin Timberlake and Ashton Kutcher are among the
famous Yellowstone ski vacationers, enjoying the private skiing and protection
from the paparazzi. Dan Quayle and Jack Kemp are on
the board (when they are not on their ski boards). Rounding out the downhillers
on the honorary board are pro-golfers Annika Sorenstam and Tom Weiskopf –
Yellowstone’s 18-hole golf course designer.
Even the lift attendants here are groomed, gracious and well educated. It seems
they have plenty of time for literature between the infrequent chair loading to
pursue their own book club and swap.
As director of skiing, ski film legend Warren Miller serves as skiing play date
to prospective members on Yellowstone’s perfectly manicured pitch about 80 days
each winter. Miller said, “They invited me to come here and be director of
skiing. It’s the best job; I have no boss, no job description. Once and awhile
they ask me to ski with someone.”
The extravagant 110,000 square-foot Club Lodge at the base of the ski mountain
bears Miller’s name, and serves as a gathering place for members, complete with
exercise facilities and a grand ballroom.
John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “Montana
has the kind of mountains I’d create if mountains were put on my agenda.” If
Steinbeck had been a skier, I am certain Yellowstone Club membership would have
been on his agenda.