Gold Digs

A new class of hotels pitches boutique offerings to thrill-seeking hipsters


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ADVENTURE TRAVEL doesn’t have to mean drafty cabins, cold showers, and strange rashes. In fact, these days it can mean relaxation lounges, Egyptian cotton, and Aveda bath products. Those are just several of the chic amenities offered at Base Backpackers (, a new line of swank hostels from French hotel giant Accor. The chain, which charges $60–$70 per night for a private room, or $18–$23 per night for a bunk in a dorm-style suite, has opened nine outposts across Australia and New Zealand since 2002 and plans to double that in 2005, as well as expand into Asia, Europe, and the U.S.

While a hostel promising hair-straightening irons may sound absurd, Base Backpackers is not alone in thinking adren-aline-hungry travelers are tired of dirtbag accommodations. In recent years, hoteliers have launched a new breed of boutique hotel that caters to clients who value high thread counts as much as they do backdoor access to the terrain park. “Today’s adventure travelers are well educated, well traveled, and have higher expectations,” says Accor spokeswoman Gaynor Reid. “They expect sophistication.”

For the clientele these hotels are after, that sophistication can range from deluxe dorms to over-the-top opulence. At the Sky (800-882-2582,, a mod hotel with 90 rooms and slopeside access to Colorado’s Aspen Mountain, après-skiers can chill out in eight-foot-tall cream-colored leather chairs in the lobby or nosh on sushi nachos at the bar. Opened in 2002 by the Kimpton Hotel Group, The Sky charges $339 for standard rooms and $639 for suites outfitted with fireplaces and iPods loaded with “hiptronica,” all designed around a motif the owners call “uptempo downtime.”

With free energy drinks and a rule that employees can’t turn down cocktails offered by clients, the Block (888-544-4055,, a two-year-old 50-room South Lake Tahoe inn catering to twenty-something snowboarders, assumes its guests never want to come down. Co-owned by pro snowboarder Marc Frank Montoya and Liko S. Smith, a veteran Las Vegas hotelier, The Block charges $70–$130 for a standard double and $140–$270 for one of ten themed rooms styled by high-street-cred design labels like Spy Optic and Zoo York. All rooms provide boot dryers, stereos, and PlayStation 2 consoles, and there’s a wax room downstairs so you can prime your board for nearby Heavenly Mountain Resort. “Our goal,” says Smith, “was to have any snowboarder walk in and say, ‘This place just read my mind.’ “

Backers of all three operations believe they’ve tapped into a rising market—and the numbers support them. Base Backpackers and The Sky have been running at near capacity during peak seasons, while The Block, which this year opened a second 52-room property in Big Bear, California, projects a combined 75,000 guests for 2005. That’s an astounding rate for a boutique hotel, and it has a bullish Smith talking big. “These kinds of hotels,” he says, “represent the next 20 years of the industry.”

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