Surrounded by sweeping views of Ruth Glacier and the jagged Alaska Range, the Sheldon Chalet welcomed its first guests in February, but its debut has been nearly half a century in the making. In the 1970s, trailblazing bush pilot Don Sheldon and his wife, Roberta, had lofty dreams of bringing adventure tourism to their almost five-acre homestead in the shadow of North America’s tallest mountain. Four decades later, their children discovered Don’s blueprints for a hexagonal structure and reimagined the building with a level of luxury that early Alaskan pioneers could never have fathomed.
Guests arrive by helicopter from Talkeetna and are welcomed with champagne, oysters, king crab legs, and knockout views of Denali’s 20,310-foot summit, ten miles to the northwest. Don might have rolled his eyes at the faux-fur throws in the five guest rooms or the helipad that doubles as a wine-tasting deck, but he would have loved the world-class adventure offerings. In the winter, ski-tour the mile-thick Ruth Glacier, rappel into crevasses, or explore neighboring Mountain House, a rugged hut built by Don in 1966 as a refuge for climbers. In the summer, heli-fish for king salmon along the Chulitna River or hike to historic homesteads. When you need a rest day, the staff can arrange a helicopter trip to remote hot springs or a flightseeing tour of the park. Many guests come specifically for the otherworldly glow of the aurora borealis, which can be seen from mid-September through late April. No matter the season, spend your evenings on the chalet’s observation deck as meteors light up the sky.
From Anchorage, drive two hours north to the small village of Talkeetna or book a three-hour journey on the Alaska Railroad. Then board the waiting helicopter for a 45-minute flight to the chalet. From $2,300, all-inclusive
Denali National Park’s weather is extremely variable, so bring winter clothes even in the warmest months. The chalet will provide a comprehensive list of necessary gear once you book your stay. You can ski all year on the glacier, but the best snow conditions are from February to April. The heli-hiking and fishing season is May through July.
In winter, bookend your trip with steep-and-deep skiing at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, 40 miles south of Anchorage. The aerial tram to the top of Mount Alyeska delivers stunning views of the glacier-filled Chugach Mountains.
Wager with the Wind: The Don Sheldon Story, by James Greiner, explores the bush pilot’s life, from mountain rescue missions to the cancer that claimed him in 1975, at age 53.