Jim Aronstein was always scouring the landscape for a place he could call his own.
The avid skier and retired natural resources attorney finally found that chunk of land about 25 miles northeast of Telluride in southwestern Colorado.
It tops out at 11,450 feet and covers 1,750 acres, making it larger than Aspen Mountain — with access to 10,000 acres of public land.
Its skiable terrain includes groomed runs for novices and steep couloirs bordered by 800-foot-tall cliffs.
Aronstein, family members and friends have been skiing the slopes there for more than a decade, and it’s where he’s building the Cimarron Mountain Club, a private resort for 15 wealthy families and their friends.
Six have already signed up, he said, and they often enjoy snowcat skiing in deep powder that can last for days.
A big yurt is used as the base now, but several four-room cabins should be ready by the start of the 2018 season, Aronstein said.
Cimarron is the latest exclusive membership club to pop up in ski country, said Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations in New York City.
“We get a lot of questions about them from ultra-high-net-worth individuals and celebrities,” he said.
“The buy-in is pricey, but there’s a growing demand from people who want the best conditions with no lift lines and the feeling of being out in nature practically all to themselves.”
A Cimarron membership will cost you $3 million, including land, but the buy-in at Montana’s Yellowstone Club is a mere $300,000. Moonlight Basin, on the edge of Montana's Big Sky Resort, charges $50,000 for a Signature membership after you’ve purchased a home, which can cost $1 million to $15 million.
All have annual fees. Moonlight’s start at $9,371, Yellowstone’s at $40,000 and Cimarron at $50,000.
Aronstein said he had long had a “utopian dream of combining wilderness with boutique hotel luxury for a new type of ski experience.”
“When I was 18, a buddy and I went on a backpacking and fishing trip in Maine,” he said.
“We climbed Mt. Katahdin, the highest peak in the state at 5,267 feet. We were the only ones there, and for a moment I had a sensation of being incredibly connected to the wild, while also wanting to create something nice that would perpetuate that feeling for other people.”
Aronstein said ski areas have become more crowded in recent years. Six-person lifts move people up the slopes faster. and visitors stay in busy, almost urban environments.
“I’m trying to create an experience that is hassle-free, where you can be more in touch with nature instead of always making sure you don’t collide with the hundreds of other people who are on a slope the same time you are,” he said.
To date, Aronstein has cut more than 50 runs that skiers and snowboarders can reach by snowcat and has added 14 fishing ponds, put in a road, and made other infrastructure improvements.
He plans to build three four-bedroom cabins next year and a luxury lodge in 2019. Each member will have 35 acres on which a home can be built.
“The Yellowstone Club, which also has a golf course, often comes to mind when people think of private ski areas,” Aronstein said. “But it has hundreds of members.
“Our model is more based on elite fishing clubs, like Elk Creek Ranch on the White River outside Meeker, [Colo.], which has around 65 members who want to pursue their sport in the best-possible setting.”
The Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts have eight private clubs between them that offer members a variety of benefits.
If joining a private ski club is too expensive, Silverton Mountain co-owner Jen Brill said you can rent her resort’s 1,819 acres of challenging runs and chutes for $14,900 a day for groups of 40 or less.
The resort, 48 miles north of Durango, Colo., also has access to 29,000 acres for heli-skiing, which costs $999 for six runs, she said.
For an exclusive backcountry experience, 10 skiers or snowboarders can book the entire Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte, Colo. Rates begin at $17,235 a day for a chef-prepared breakfast and lunch; house alcohol; resort, backcountry and nordic skiing, snowshoeing and other activities besides snowcat skiiing.
In northeastern Nevada, the 10,000-square-foot Ruby 360 Lodge, perched high above the Great Basin, can be rented for $82,400 for three days of heliskiing or snowboarding with Ruby Mountain Heli-Experience guides.
The fee covers three days of skiing for 16, lodging, food, airport shuttle from Elko, Nev., powder skis and a guaranteed 18 helicopter-shuttled runs.
And if you want to go farther afield, the luxurious, eight-bedroom Bighorn Revelstoke Lodge in British Columbia costs about $50,000 a week U.S. Heliskiing is extra.
Canadian Mountain Holidays will rent the entire Valemount heli-ski lodge for a week to you and nine friends for about $195,000 U.S.