Future Feature: Luxury—Alaska Style
Amenities are included, but the experience is the true extravagance
When you think of luxury resorts, what first comes to mind? A private pool? An upscale spa? Monogrammed bathrobes and butler service?
In Alaska, luxury takes on a different meaning.
“There’s not a true definition for what a luxury resort in Alaska is,” says Sarah Leonard, president and CEO, Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA). “It’s more about the experience and being one of the few people able to take part in something amazing. It’s not so much about the structure or property, though there are high-end lodges; it’s about the unique experience.”
Ellie Claus, operations manager at Ultima Thule, Claus agrees. “What defines luxury is different in Alaska than what is considered the standard in the tourism industry,” she says. “We are lumped into a category that we don’t really fit into, but there’s not a better definition for what we do. It’s like the Inuit have fifty words for snow; I wish there were the same number of expressions to define luxury.
“If you’re looking for a spa, butler service, or an infinity pool, you’re not going to find it here,” she adds. “But we offer things that other places can’t.”
Ultima Thule is located 50 air miles from the nearest gravel road in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, part of the largest protected landmass on earth. Guests are picked up by plane at the McCarthy airstrip and flown to the lodge, which hosts twelve people at a time.
“While other resorts may have pools and room service, you’re sharing those amenities with 500 other people,” says Claus. “Here, you’re spending time with only eleven other people; it’s a relationship-style experience.”
Great attention to detail is paid to creature comforts in the private cabins, all of which are positioned to have private views. Cabins include running water, full bathrooms, and hot tubs and saunas, and the furniture within them is made from local lumber sources and designed to complement the natural beauty of the surrounding wilderness. One unique amenity is a reusable water bottle in each guest’s welcome kit that encourages sustainability and can be filled with glacier water.
“When you live 50 air miles from the nearest road, having electricity twenty-four hours a day is a pretty big amenity,” says Claus, adding that they spend time educating guests on what it’s like to live off the grid. “Even with our high standards of ‘luxury,’ I will be the first to tell you that our property is not designed to attract everyone. Often sustainability trumps mainstream luxury, and we try to communicate that in advance so people know what to expect.”
Ultima Thule is all-inclusive, so meals, activities, flights, and equipment are included in the package cost, which is $8,775 per person for a four-night package. The entire facility can also be rented for $25,000 per night with a minimum three-night stay, which can include sixteen people.
While all of the resort’s activities are included, they are not planned ahead of time. “We have no itinerary; we let Mother Nature lead us,” says Claus.
Read more about Ultima Thule, and two more extraordinary resorts in the June edition of Alaska Business.
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Out of the Mine and into the Smelter
Mining has long been a key fixture of Alaska’s economy. On a small scale, people flock to the 49th state to tour different operations. Kennecott Mine was once a booming copper mining site and is now a National Historic Landmark, attracting tourists eager to visit the ghost town and get a feel of the Gold Rush era it once dominated.