If you're a skier, you've been there. You book a trip to a resort you're unfamiliar with, and end up in a crappy, overpriced hotel that rivals Sochi. If you're trying to schuss overseas, thing get exponentially more complicated. Enter Scout, a carefully-curated, global travel/booking site created for independent-minded skiers, by a skier. Curbed Ski talked to Australian founder Sarah Plaskitt, 38, about hand-picking hotels (no pay for play, here), finding fresh lines, and why 2015 is the year you should ski Japan. Read on for industry scoop and Plaskitt's top picks.
Curbed Ski: You're from New South Wales, and currently reside in Sydney. No offense, but how does an Australian become a ski hound?
Sarah Plaskitt: My parents skied, and as a child, we visited resorts in Australia, Japan, Europe, and the U.S. I didn't fall in love with skiing and mountains until my early 20s, however, after visiting Whistler and Telluride.
CS: You worked in advertising in Manhattan before founding Scout in 2013. How did you make that evolution?
SP: I moved back to Australia two years ago, and I knew I wanted to do something involving skiing. I used to be a journalist, and I felt that every time I booked a ski holiday, I had a difficult time deciding where to go and stay, because there was nothing geared toward the independent-minded ski traveler- my friends experienced the same frustrations. I saw an opportunity to provide credible, honest, and detailed information that would help skiers independently make up their minds about which resort and hotel was right for them. Our demographic is a mix, so we cater to a range of budgets. I want Scout to feel like you're talking to a friend who's been there. Hence, the name of the site.
CS: What makes Scout different from other ski booking sites?
SP: One of the most important things sets us apart is that I've visited all of these places myself, and that I'm writing and researching [Plaskitt produces all of the content herself] through a skier's lens. A hotel that describes itself as a 'short walk' from the slopes can often be located up a steep hill that, when carrying your gear and accompanied by young kids, isn't very convenient. Similarly, a place that might look a bit far on an online map may have a shuttle stop right out front. If I'm writing about a place, it's because I've been there, and this is my opinion. I don't gloss over negatives. Hotels are having to be more transparent now in their descriptions because of online reviews. We also don't bundle- we're for the indie skier who needs help with research.
CS: Are your visits anonymous?
SP: My write-ups aren't anonymous reviews. Obviously, it would be cost-prohibitive to stay in every single hotel, but I do tour every property featured on Scout. I tell every hotel that there's no promise they'll get listed, and I don't have contracts with any properties. Travel agents are often contracted to fill beds, and work with only a few select hotels. I want our customers to be able to make up their own minds; Scout is very much a mix of being a guide and a source of inspiration, as well as an easy-to-use, secure booking platform; our partner is TravelNow, a subsidiary of Expedia, and there are no hidden or extra fees.
CS: What do you look for when scouting hotels and resorts?
SP: For me, location is the most important thing when I'm deciding where to stay. I like to be able to get around easily, have easy access to the slopes, and great restaurants. I also personally tend to prefer resorts that have an actual town or village, places where people actually live and work. I'm not bagging on purpose-built resorts, because they have things to offer. It's just something that matters to me as a traveler. I enjoy having a cultural experience, and passing that on to our customers. I want a big part of Scout to be about discovering different places.
CS: You also produce (very attractive, Etsy-esque) Field Guides for customers who book a night on Scout. Can you tell us more about those?
SP: It's very competitive out there, and important to maintain some exclusivity, so this is a little extra we offer. The guides are 32-page resort overviews that include getting there and around, hand-drawn maps, where to get the best snow reports, rentals, lessons, tickets, and insider tips on the best deals, restaurants, bars, shopping, and spas, and all the relevant contact info.
CS: And you produce an online magazine?
SP: It's a combination of insightful articles like profiles on designers and industry people, to things like Japanese onsen (hot spring) etiquette and other cultural stories, restaurant reviews…it's meant to inspire.
CS: With that in mind, Scout currently provides booking and intel on resorts across North America, New Zealand, Europe, and Japan. Any insights on how skiing differs across the continents?
SP: Japan is becoming more popular with Western skiers because it's getting more press and anyone that's been there raves about it. Every country has such a different ski experience to offer, but Japan is so distinctive. The terrain isn't steep, but if you love soft, deep powder, and birch trees that form almost a slalom course, it's incredible. Then you stop at a mountain hut for lunch, and have ramen, and instead of après ski, you visit an onsen to soak in the natural hot water. Plus the locals and staff in resorts are some of the most friendly, helpful people you'll ever meet. But mostly, skiing in Japan is about the copious amounts of dry snow - more than you're ever likely to experience in a North American resort.
CS: What are some of your favorite ski resorts?
SP: Aaaargh. That's tough. Aspen, I love for the variety in terrain, as well as the town itself, the food, people, and beauty of the area. Jackson Hole has my favorite run, Bivouac. I love steep, challenging terrain, and the incredible talent of local skiers is amazing to watch. I also enjoy the town…it still has such a Western element. I love Val d'Isere because it has the charm of a European village, with incredible hotels, and that endless terrain and mind-boggling views so typical of the Alps. It's so beautifully French. I also like Lech, Austria. It's very easy to get around, and has wonderful hotels.
CS: So, what's next for Scout?
SP: I'm nearly done with the U.S. resorts; my focus this season is on the smaller resorts in Japan. South America will hopefully be next year. It's such a part of Aussie culture to work a season at a resort overseas; I wonder if starting Scout isn't my way of making up for not having done that!
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