Authentic and Local

Experiential Design photo credit Mark Maziarz courtesy of OZ Architecture

Guest expectations drive experiential amenities in resort design.

By Becky Stone

Resort design today expresses a marked diversion from ski resorts of the 1990s and early 2000s, which centered on an investment property-driven condo village experience that simply doesn’t work as a cookie-cutter option today.

This design detour is generated by a few key changes in vacation travel. The first and most obvious is that the retail village is not a sustainable model for resorts. Guests are just not buying from retail shops as they once did. The online shopping experience has changed our culture both in urban centers as well as in resort communities.

The second key change – and the more interesting trend – has to do with a growing inclination toward experiential vacations where multiple generations can play, dine and socialize in ways that are both active and restorative year-round. Today’s most astute resort designers are focused on key design essentials that contribute to alluring experiential resort design.

True authentic and local experiences are a must for today’s travelers, and every resort can differentiate by really looking at the cultural and natural resources they already have. These elements include:

Spanning Generations

More and more, contemporary resort-goers are bringing the whole family along for a memorable vacation experience, with grandparents accompanying their adult children and third-generation little ones in tow. Whereas resorts were once known simply for skiing, modern resorts offer indoor and outdoor activities for all ages and adventure levels.

This might take shape as family-friendly ice skating rinks, guided back country hikes, fly-fishing workshops and slow-paced nature walks outdoors. Indoor opportunities might offer painting, wine tasting, cooking workshops or game nights. Architects and designers across the resort industry are working with owners to incorporate amenities like these into the initial design or offer suggestions for retrofitting for the modern guest.

One example of an experiential resort is Utah’s Victory Ranch. The same families often return year after year to partake in wilderness activities, fishing excursions and memorable meals together.

Social Spaces

Modern experiential resort design hinges on social engagement much more than the private, exclusive resorts of the past. Much of this takes shape in consciously designed gathering spaces that act as welcoming entry points for guests. These often take shape as large, warm lobbies, inclusive central lodges or community tables in the bar — gathering places that are both informal and comfortable.

It’s also important that these gathering spaces have indoor and outdoor components. For example, reception areas might spill out onto a common public patio or a dining room community table might butt up to an operable wall that opens (or disappears) in nice weather. People who travel to resorts want to escape their homes, offices and cars and experience the fresh air whenever possible.

One theory is that history tends to repeat itself. Social supper clubs of generations past — places to socialize and dine outside the home, to gather among friends, to meet new and interesting people who are interested in similar activities — are bubbling up again with family-centric designs where everyone can hang out in the kitchen, and multiple bedrooms are located off a central living space. To compete with the vacation rental market, resorts must adapt.

Immersive Regional Focus

When people travel, they like to feel immersed in a space. As a result, the familiar, faceless retail formula doesn’t work anymore. At a ranch resort in the rural Rocky Mountains, people want to buy local beef jerky or wildflower honey — items specific to that environment or place. The Broadmoor resort in Colorado offers “The Wilderness Experience,” which immerses guests into authentic adventures without letting go of luxury.

Along those same lines, it’s important to have spaces where locals also want to be. Designing plaza spaces where local businesses, museums, cafés and even residents will gather and thrive ensures authentic mix of tourism and local flavor. Snowmass Base Village in Colorado has a plaza under construction at this time, which will be programmed in many ways from an ice rink, to the local farmers market, to an art festival, to a concert venue. These different events will bring guests to Snowmass as well as enhance the already rich local mountain town culture that makes it such a special place for residents and locals.

Thoughtful Culinary Offerings

Any great resort experience will offer really good food. This may mean fine dining in a traditional restaurant, but it may also involve something hyper-local or memorable. For example, a brick oven with a window into the kitchen to watch the chefs making bread dough. Or the opportunity to help bee keepers collect the honey, then an opportunity to taste the honey during breakfast. Perhaps you’ll get to forage in the resort’s on-site garden for Roma tomatoes, peppers, and herbs as toppings for your pizza for dinner.

Resorts are no longer designing one-size-fits-all buildings or amenities, but taking into account their primary demographics as well as their local surroundings. Smart designers see the opportunities in local history, sights and products, and their results help guests experience each one to the fullest — even if they don’t ski.

Becky Stone is the managing partner at OZ Architecture and works primarily with hospitality and resort clients, as well as on multi-family and mixed-use projects. Stone is very active in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Recreation Development Councils both Nationally and locally in Colorado. She is also on the ULI Global Awards of Excellence Jury. She can be reached at

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