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A Lease on Luxury

What makes a perfect ski house? For Brian Waterman, it's space. Waterman, a commercial real estate broker and principal with Newmark & Company Real Estate in Manhattan, has rented deluxe ski houses with both family and friends in Whistler, B.C., and Vail and Breckenridge, Colo. Sharing a house, he says, is an excellent foundation for a vacation on which you can relax and kick back without tripping over your companions.

But the components that compose a luxury ski property go far beyond square-footage.
What really defines a premier rental? Apart from the "wow" factor that hits you when you step inside, there are some practical measurements to go by. It starts with a formula that demands a bathroom for every bedroom, a spacious master suite—with a palatial bathroom—and a list of amenities that rivals a five-star hotel.

"A seven-bedroom home has more than just seven bedrooms," explains Joe Ballstaedt, president of Resorts West in Utah, which manages 35 luxury homes at Deer Valley, Park City and The Canyons. "It might have its own weight room. Some of these houses have elevators, pool tables and ski locker rooms with boot-warmers." [NEXT ""]

Looking into a high-end rental this season? Here are some things to think about.

Price Not cheap.
Generally speaking, luxury private homes clock in at anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per night, depending on qualifying factors. But that doesn't make them prohibitive. Consider sharing with a few other couples or families. One home on Borders Road in Beaver Creek, Colo., managed by East West Resorts, has 7,800 square feet of living space, with seven bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, a media room, a formal dining room and a gourmet kitchen. There's also a cigar room, a wine cellar and a terrace with a hot tub. The house changed hands last year for $7.6 million. During Christmas and Presidents Week, it rents for $4,200 a night. But in January, it can be yours for $2,000 a night. Split among seven couples, that's about $286 a night, a fraction of what a comparable hotel room would run at Beaver Creek.

Location
As with all real estate transactions, location determines value, and if it's truly ski-in/ski-out, expect to pay for it. As for price, $1,500 to $3,000 per night in early January is where many slopeside properties begin. Double those during Christmas and Presidents Week. If you don't mind shuttling to the base area, look into a non-slopeside property. [NEXT ""]

Transportation—often private—is usually available through the management company. Be sure to ask.

Size
How many people are you hoping to accommodate? If you've got a big group, look to the larger, four-and-more-bedroom houses which are common at Beaver Creek, Vail, Aspen, Deer Valley, Lake Tahoe, Whistler and Sun Valley. In the East, Killington and Stowe are where you'll find the most large homes for rent, though many won't be slopeside.

Length of Stay
The good news for anyone with a meager vacation allotment is that minimum stays are now usually justthree nights. The traditional five- and seven-night minimums tend to apply only during Christmas and Presidents Week at most resorts. Still, book early. Holidays typically sell out a year in advance.

Décor
A big part of a property's pricing can lie in its décor and furnishings. (You should want the interior designer's business card when you leave.) Ask about the appliances (listen for brands like Viking or Sub-Zero) and the finishes in the kitchen (expect native stone, marble or granite) to be sure you're getting what you want.

Middleman or Not?
You can rent a ski home directly from its owner—which is certainly less expensive—though know that in this price bracket, most owners choose to vet their renters through a management company. (Management companies also often offer a menu of extra services with their properties. At a minimum, expect daily housekeeping.) Perhaps most appealing, a management commpany will match you with the best property for your family, taking the guesswork out of your vacation.

Service with a Smile
You'll be paying top dollar for your digs, so check out some of the over-the-top perks on tap.

[NEXT ""]This year, Resorts West is including a personal butler in the price of every rental. "This is someone who'll be responsible for your family throughout your stay," Ballstaedt says. "He'll shuttle your kids to ski lessons or serve as your waiter if you have a cocktail party."

The best management companies will, for a fee, deliver a rental car to your door, bring in cribs and coordinate ski rentals. Other perks are free: Rent a luxury house in Beaver Creek from East West and you get access to the Allegria Spa at the Park Hyatt.

Then there's the concierge. East West has three full-time concierges for its Beaver Creek properties, including Claire Vranicar. "The biggest request is for grocery deliveries," she says. "Guests may want Dom Perignon or only organic food. The wine and liquor bill can be $1,000 before they even arrive."

East West charges a $25 flat delivery fee plus 20 percent of the total bill on top of the groceries. Waterman claims this service is one of the greatest perks of staying in a deluxe ski home: "All the food is there when we arrive."

Surprisingly, many guests don't use Vranicar's services; others, however, push the envelope.

"They'll want to know the thread counts of our sheets," Vranicar says. "If they're not up to par, they'll FedEx their own." But not every request is granted: "When a guest demanded a helicopter in 10 minutes to get him to DIA," Vranicar recalls, "I'm afraid it didn't happen."

October 2005

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