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We visited 2 of the world's most expensive ski towns and found they're both wildly luxurious — but in totally different ways

Side-by-side images of Aspen and Lech.
Side-by-side images of Aspen and Lech.
  • Aspen in the US and Lech in Austria are two of the most luxurious ski resorts in the world.
  • Insider's US and London reporters visited both, which are known to attract celebrities and royals.
  • The resorts both catered to big-budget clients but Lech seemed much more traditional.
Two Insider reporters visited luxury ski resorts in the US and Europe.
Monica, left, in Aspen; Maria, right, in Lech.
Monica, left, in Aspen; Maria, right, in Lech.

Before celebrities and influencers flocked to Aspen, Colorado, for prime ski season this winter, Insider's reporter Monica Humphries spent five days in the quaint ski town. Aspen originated as a silver-mining town in the late 1800s, according to the Aspen Historical Society, and during the silver boom, the town laid much of the groundwork that stands today. But what used to be a small town attracting miners, is known today for high-end restaurants, five-star hotels, and, of course, skiing. 

Meanwhile, Insider's junior lifestyle reporter Maria Noyen spent two days in the picturesque village of Lech, Austria, after a family vacation nearby. She explored the main high street, toured a hotel that famously welcomed Princess Diana, Prince William, and Prince Harry in the 1990s, and took a beginners snowboarding lesson using advice she got from US Olympian Tessa Maud

(For full disclosure, Insider paid for both trips in accordance with our reporting standards.)

Aspen and Lech are worlds away from each other.
Arrows point to Aspen, Colorado, and Lech, Austria, on a world map.
Arrows point to Aspen, Colorado, and Lech, Austria, on a world map.

The towering Elk Mountains of the Rockies surround the tiny ski town of Aspen. It's located southwest of Denver and home to world-renowned skiing. Here, there are four ski areas with more than 5,500 acres of terrain.

By contrast, Lech is nestled into the mountainous Arlberg region of Austria and is one of a handful of villages making up the country's largest connected ski resort, according to the Ski Arlberg website. Geographically, it is also pretty close to Austria's borders with Switzerland and Germany. 

Both resorts are accessible by flying, but a private taxi from the airport is essentially the only way to get to Lech.
Insider's authors took planes and private cars to their respective ski towns.
Insider's authors took planes and private cars to their respective ski towns.

A tiny, eight-terminal airport greets commercial customers arriving in Aspen, while the celebrities and billionaires frequenting the town often opt for a private jet. Either way, flying into Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is one of the easiest ways to arrive in Aspen. The airport is a 10-minute drive to downtown Aspen. Monica purchased a $250 first-class ticket home to Denver, but tickets during prime ski season can cost upwards of $1,000. 

Meanwhile, Maria took a 40-minute local bus to Lech, which cost 5.40 euros, or around $6, after spending a week in St. Anton, a ski village known for being slightly more affordable than Lech. The closest airport to Lech, however, is over an hour away in the small city of Innsbruck. When Maria was leaving the village, she found it difficult to find public transport to the airport so she ended up taking a taxi, which cost £147.43, or around $190. 

Aspen is home to restaurants serving international cuisines, while Lech's food scene is more local and traditional.
Aspen's restaurants ranged from sushi to Italian to American; meanwhile, Lech focused on traditional Austrian food.
Aspen's restaurants ranged from sushi to Italian to American; meanwhile, Lech focused on traditional Austrian food.

Sure, Aspen is known for skiing, but it's also known for its diverse and celebrity-worthy food scene. From fresh sushi at Matsuhisa to classic Italian cuisine at Acquolina to Shanghai dim sum at Jing Aspen, restaurants in Aspen can satisfy almost every palette. Plus, there are a few historic eateries as well. Woody Creek Tavern is a historic bar that served journalist Hunter S. Thompson and J-Bar, the bar attached to Hotel Jerome, is a 19th-century bar once frequented by miners. 

Unlike Monica, Maria didn't see a lot of international cuisine in Lech. The food scene caters to big-budget clients, with restaurants like Die Stube and Gasthof Post, that lean into fine dining. But most eateries tend to serve traditional Austrian staples, such as schnitzel and fondue made with seasonal ingredients. The few non-Austrian options she came across included a pizzeria and La Fenice, a fine-dining Italian restaurant attached to Hotel Arlberg. 

Both reporters were surprised to find there weren't any fast-food chains in either Aspen or Lech.

Both Aspen and Lech are very walkable ski towns.
Both author's found their respective ski towns to be easily accessible on foot.
Both authors found their respective ski towns to be easily accessible on foot.

Nearly everything is within walking distance in Aspen. Monica found that the town's art galleries, restaurants, and famed ski slopes were all within a 10-minute radius, and she rarely needed a car during her five-day trip. 

Maria found Lech to also be super walkable. There were paths along the main high street that pedestrians and skiers could share. Elsewhere, there were pink signs throughout town indicating walking paths – some of which led up to peaks with great views of the village. 

Walking around Aspen and Lech, both reporters instantly saw things that screamed luxury.
Art galleries and golf carts were two major signs of luxury in the ski towns.
Art galleries and golf carts were two major signs of luxury in the ski towns.

Designer dogs in designer handbags were one of the first signs of extravagance Monica spotted in Aspen. But beyond the Gucci purses and Chanel ski suits, luxury filled every corner of Aspen. It was in the cannabis store where weed was sold next to Rolex watches and cashmere scarves; it was in the hotel rooms, which had complimentary snack bars and a high-end assortment of liquor, and in the dozens of art galleries that filled the heart of downtown Aspen.

Like Monica, Maria saw examples of Lech's luxuriousness from the get-go. A prime example, and the first thing that she noticed which surprised her, was just how many people were taking golf carts around the town, even though it is highly walkable, with their ski gear. As someone used to lugging heavy skis to and from chairlifts, this was a luxury she'd never come across prior. 

Aspen is a hub for celebrities, billionaires, and influencers, whereas Lech is the go-to ski resort for royals.
While celebrities frequent Aspen, Lech targets a royal crowd.
While celebrities frequent Aspen, Lech targets a royal crowd.

Vacationing in Aspen is a status symbol. A lengthy list of celebrities frequents the ski town. The Kardashians have spent time in the snowy town, as well as Katy Perry, Dua Lipa, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beyoncé, and Britney Spears to name a few. But it's not just celebrities. Some of the world's richest people live and vacation in Aspen. The Bezos family has property in Aspen along with other billionaires like former professional hockey player Patrick Dovigi and candy mogul William Wrigley Jr. And, of course, social-media influencers also flock to the ski town each winter. 

Lech, however, seems to attract a old money – more specifically, the royal crowd. Maria was told by multiple people she spoke to in the town that it was a favorite of the Dutch royals, who she later saw have visited Lech annually on family trips for 60-plus years. It was also Princess Diana's go-to ski destination for five years in a row in the 1990s; seeing as Elizabeth Debicki, who is set to play the royal on season five of "The Crown," was spotted wearing a similar look Diana wore in Lech, it's likely her time spent in the village will be re-created on the show.

Shops in Aspen and Lech both cater to big-budget clients.
Both streets were lined with high-end designer stores.
Streets in Aspen and Lech were lined with high-end designer stores.

High-end retailers are crammed into Aspen's downtown core. There's Kemo Sabe that's known for selling luxury Western apparel, and flashy names like Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton line Aspen's streets.

Similarly, Maria saw high-end retail shops lining Lech's high street such as Huber Lech, a boutique selling Rolex watches, as well as a Swarovski shop. But it wasn't just the shopping – Maria found that Strolz, the winter-sport rental shop she visited, had been designed to be a luxurious experience and featured flashy interior decor like a multi-story chandelier and elevators ensuring clients wouldn't have to carry heavy equipment for long.

Lech was also one of the first ski resorts to install heated chair lifts in 2004, according to the Lech Zürs website. 

One major difference between the towns is that Aspen's real-estate market is booming while it's rare for anyone to buy a home in Lech.
The two ski towns have drastically different real-estate markets.
The two ski towns have drastically different real-estate markets.

The housing market in Aspen is hot, luxury real-estate agent Heidi Houston told Monica on a tour of a $44.5 million mansion. Houses aren't on the market for long, and it takes to buy a mansion in Aspen is a hefty budget. The average home in the town sold for $11.4 million in 2020 — up from $6.4 million in 2019, according to Aspen Daily News.

But in Lech, even if you are a billionaire, you'll probably find yourself having trouble buying into the town's real-estate scene, Maria learned. 

According to Maizie Delaney Baird, director of ski property marketing company Lindforth, the local government in Lech is super strict on buyers purchasing vacation homes and chalets in the village because they want to avoid it becoming a ghost town during the off-season.

The street style in Aspen and Lech shows how wealthy the regular clients are.
Both expensive ski towns had visitors that fit the role.
Visitors to the expensive ski towns dressed the part.

Unsurprisingly, the people carrying Louis Vuitton and Chanel shopping bags also donned designer garb head-to-toe. Every direction Monica looked in Aspen, she spotted something designer. On the ski slopes, it was colorful, branded ski jackets; in town, it was leather pants, designer scarves, and oversized purses. 

Similarly, Maria saw a lot of high-fashion ski outfits during her short trip in Lech. Walking around town, she saw a lot of skiers and snowboarders wearing fancy matching snowsuits, fur-lined coats, and fluffy boots. Inside the shops and restaurants, she couldn't count how many designer bags and sunglasses she spotted from brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior.

Cost-wise, Aspen is a bit more expensive. A day pass to ski in Aspen will set you back about $200 compared to Lech's $72 lift ticket.
Lift tickets in Aspen were pricier than in Lech.
Lift tickets in Aspen were pricier than in Lech.

Depending on whether you're skiing on a weekday or weekend, a lift ticket to access Aspen's four mountains costs between $194 and $204 or between 175 euros and 184 euros, according to Aspen Snowmass

In Lech, a day pass for an adult will set you back 65 euros, or around $72, according to the Lech Zürs website. However, you can also opt for an hourly ticket, which Maria did for her snowboarding lesson; it costs the same as the day pass initially, but will subtract a refund based on how many hours you spent out on the slopes.

Hot tubs are an Aspen staple, but in Lech it's all about the sauna.
Both of the Aspen hotel Monica stayed in had hot tubs whereas Maria's hotel had a sauna.
Both of the Aspen hotels Monica stayed in had hot tubs, whereas Maria's hotel had a sauna.

As the bellhop at the five-star Little Nell Hotel dropped off Monica's luggage, he made sure to highlight that the hotel has a hot tub that's open 24/7. Later in the week, Monica would discover the multiple hot tubs at the St. Regis Aspen Hotel's property. It seemed like nearly every hotel had hot tubs. 

Meanwhile, saunas seem to be the relaxation feature of choice in Lech. From Maria's three-star hotel to the five-star Hotel Arlberg, Princess Diana's go-to hotel, accommodations in Lech of all price points seemed to have an in-house sauna. 

Skiing-wise, Lech's slopes are known to be super wide, which is helpful for beginners. Meanwhile, Aspen is more suited to advanced skiers.
The two ski towns had slopes with varying levels of difficulty for its skiers.
The two ski towns had slopes with varying levels of difficulty for its skiers.

After a quick look at the ski map for Aspen Mountain, Monica quickly realized this wasn't the ideal place to learn to ski. The mountain has 76 runs compromised of 675 acres, but not a single run is ranked for beginners. Instead, new skiers would need to head to nearby Buttermilk Mountain, where about 35% of its slopes are ranked easy, according to AllTrips Aspen.

One thing about Lech that Maria noticed is how wide the slopes were, which is ideal for beginners or those looking for a more gentle ski and snowboard experience. She also spoke to several ski instructors who've worked in the town she stayed at before coming to Lech who said Lech is known to have much easier runs than other resorts in the area.

A big difference between Aspen and Lech's ski runs is how the difficulty of the slopes are graded. In Lech, the runs are graded either blue, red, or black, with the first being the easiest. 

Both reporters would go back to Aspen and Lech when they have the chance.
Side-by-side images of Aspen and Lech.
Side-by-side images of Aspen and Lech.

By no means are Aspen's five-star hotels and fine-dining restaurants accessible to most travelers. While there were moments when Monica felt out of place without a Chanel purse or Dior sunglasses, Aspen won her heart. The town was filled with history, friendly people, delicious food, and breathtaking scenery. Plus, the high-end sheets inside her five-star hotel room were an added bonus. 

After two days spent experiencing all of Lech's comforts, Maria can safely say she would return to the luxury ski village in a heartbeat. But given the price point, she'd probably stick to day trips as Lech is accessible by ski from other towns in the region. Though a stay at Princess Diana's five-star Hotel Arlberg is probably not in the cards for her, she'll make do with hitting Lech's slopes from time to time.

Read the original article on Insider


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