The blaze started in a kitchen storeroom on the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the busy Aviemore ski resort, which was full of Hogmanay revellers.
Acrid smoke quickly spread throughout the 90-bedroom, eight-storey building, and 190 guests, including 32 children and many foreign visitors, were evacuated into the bitterly cold night - some only wearing bedclothes.
Fire brigade units and a fleet of seven ambulances had difficulty getting to the blaze due to a heavy snowfall blanketing Highland roads.
Rescuers found a woman in distress in her fourth floor bedroom and brought her to the ground by ladder, but she died on the way to the ambulance. Police named her as Patricia Shaw, 55, of Kippax, Leeds.
Firefighters also discovered a middle-aged man collapsed on an escape stairway, but medical crews pronounced him dead.
He was Graham Strachan, 64, of Strathblane in Stirlingshire.
A Fire Brigade spokesman said: "The fire was confined to the ground floor but smoke was right through the building. Guests were told to stay in their rooms until firemen could reach them."
Divisional Officer John Cheadle, who was in charge of the fire-fighting operation, said yesterday: "An investigation into how the fire started has begun but there are no indications so far as to what was the cause.''