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sheldon chalet, alaska

A visit to Sheldon Chalet is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. But you should probably go twice. Just for fun.

 If your goal in traveling is to see something you’ve never seen before, the world is full of options. If your goal is to see something almost nobody else has seen, those options are considerably more limited. Especially if you want them to come with custom-made omelets and fireside cocktails.

One of the few places on Earth you’ll find that combination of remote exclusivity and tailored luxury is Sheldon Chalet, a five-room lodge set atop a glacier 10 miles from the Denali summit. It’s an isolated bastion of luxury in some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet, a way to delve deep into Denali then return to a warm, cozy bed and glass of bourbon at the end of the day.

Cheap it is not, as rates start at $32,000 a night for a group of four. But if you want to hike along a glacier to see the Northern Lights, then traverse backcountry ski trails even Olympians have never braved, price probably isn’t your first concern.

 A Father’s Dream Comes to Fruition

Sheldon Chalet is a family affair, the creation of Marne and Robert Sheldon, and Robert’s sister Kate. It sits in Don Sheldon Amphitheater, a tableau of white Alaskan wilderness surrounded by granite peaks, named after Robert and Kate’s father. His claim to fame? Pioneering a way for airplanes to land on glaciers.

“If you look at the blood of the Sheldons they do wild, crazy, impossible things,” says Marne Sheldon. “So, what inspired us was the family.”

Don built a mountain house in his namesake amphitheater before he died in 1975. And when his wife Roberta passed away in 2014, their adult children discovered plans for what looked like a resort on their remote property inside Denali National Park. That included architectural drawings, maps, and over 60 hours of audio where Don Sheldon discussed his plans for a remote mountain lodge.

“Once we knew what they intended to do,” Marne says, “We decided to build this in their honor.”

 Sheldon Chalet: A Slice of Alaskan Heaven

sheldon chalet, alaska

The result is nothing short of spectacular, a hexagonal, two-story luxury lodge with five bedrooms and very large windows set in a valley of snow and granite worlds away from reality. “We are in a true amphitheater of majestic peaks, and there’s this sense of wonderment,” says Marne. ‘It doesn’t matter what you do or what you have in your bank account, everyone is human up here.”

Guests arrive by private flightseeing helicopter, a journey that might be more spectacular than the destination. After descending onto the glacier, you’re greeted by a concierge and a chef bearing an Alaskan seafood tower. Then, for the next three to five nights Denali is your home and your playground, where you and your crew have the run of some of the most dramatic and enduring terrain on the planet.

A Typical Day at the Chalet

sheldon chalet, alaska

“Settle in for (a few nights) of spectacular awe and wonder,” Marne advises. “There’s nothing like it on the planet.”
What you do depends on your level of fitness and how crazy you want to get. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll meet with your team of guides who’ll go over your options for the next day. That could include climbing a rock face, trekking 2.5 miles across the glacier, or exploring an ice cavern that changes almost every day.

The next morning, you’ll spend a couple of hours at Glacier School, where guides give you the dope on how to put on a harness and carabiner, how to use snowshoes, and the rules of being on a rope team.

Avid skiers can also explore backcountry ski runs ranging from green to double black or snowshoe out to gorges surrounded by 10,000-foot rock faces. Those who came to Denali to relax can do what Marne calls “adventure in place,” where you curl up with a book by the fire. Or explore the original mountain house just a hundred yards from the chalet.
“It runs the gamut from green to crazy,” says Marne.

 Alaskan Culinary Traditions Lend Themselves to Sustainability

sheldon chalet, alaska

Most adventures also include a lunchtime picnic, where your guides arrange a menu of everything from foraged berries to cured game meat, all of it served al fresco in one of the most stunning settings in the world.

Your meal is the creation of Todd Ritter, an Alaska native who’s familiar with using the bounty that Alaska provides.“The whole concept in Alaska is gathering everything you can in the summer and fall, and preserving it in different ways for wintertime,” Ritter says. “So, when I came back up here, the whole focus was preservation of food and teaching people different ways to use recipes.”

His creations run the gamut from cranberry-brined grouse and pheasant to moose head ragu. He also cures salmon, smoking it in the great northwest tradition, and serves cured game meat as a sort of Alaskan take on bacon.

A Truly Alaskan Adventure

Using local food sources is a large way in which the hotel lends itself to sustainability. But how it powers itself is even more impressive. The heating and other electricity comes from a series of super capacitors, where solar and generator power are stored. The fuel for the generators has to be flown in by plane or helicopter—like everything at Sheldon Chalet. So, depending on alternative fuels isn’t just a way of looking sustainable to outsiders. It’s a necessity.

“It’s popular to talk about sustainability, but we do what we do because it’s right, and also because it’s how our building functions,” says Marne. “We’re sustainable because there’s no other way. We can’t ruin our environment because if we did, it wouldn’t be pretty. And then, nobody would come.”

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