Aspen’s Christmas Inn is out |

Aspen’s Christmas Inn is out

Janet Urquhart
Works are busy finishing the sunken courtyard at the new Annabell Inn, which is scheduled to open next month. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

The clock is ticking at Aspen’s old Christmas Inn – literally.Construction workers there are bustling faster than Santa’s elves these days, preparing for the lodge’s rebirth as the Annabelle Inn in mid-January. Evidence of a new life for the old lodge is visible above the construction fencing that surrounds the site at the corner of Main and Second streets, particularly on the clock tower. A new lighted timepiece displays the correct hour more than twice a day. The old clock on the Christmas Inn was frozen in time – it hadn’t worked for 20 years, said Dennis Chookaszian, a part-time Aspenite whose family purchased the lodge in 1999.Still to come is a rebuilt, carved figure of the old man who has traditionally perched alongside the clock, an antique ski in his hand. No one’s sure if he was supposed to be Father Christmas or Father Time, but he will be back in time for the Annabelle Inn’s Jan. 15 opening, Chookaszian said.Everything else must be ready, as well. The inn already has guests booked for its grand reopening.The clock and the figurine are reminiscent of the Christmas Inn, but visitors won’t recognize much else in its reincarnation as the Annabelle Inn.

It is virtually all new, inside and out. When the Christmas Inn was built in 1950 or thereabouts, it boasted eight rooms. By the time the Chookaszians took it over, it had 27 drafty ones. The place had seen better days. The new owners closed the lodge in the fall of 2002 for redevelopment.Two years and two contractors later (the first defaulted and filed for bankruptcy), the Annabelle Inn is essentially a brand-new lodge. Perhaps 20 percent of the prior structure remains, Chookaszian guessed.And, unlike any other local hotel project undertaken in recent years, the Annabelle Inn has eschewed the timeshare/fractional ownership approach to redevelopment. It’s just a standard lodge.Its redevelopment, for a sum Chookaszian would only describe as “too much,” won’t be recouped through the investments of timeshare buyers.”The economics of a fractional or timeshare are probably better than doing a lodge,” Chookaszian admitted. “The economics of the site would have been better just tearing the old lodge down and building condos.”But for Chookaszian, a Chicago engineer who first visited Aspen in 1962, a ski lodge is what he envisioned from the start – albeit one that meets the expectation’s of today’s guest.

“There used to be 50 lodges like this when I came here in the early ’60s – now there’s maybe nine left,” he lamented.Chookaszian spent his first Aspen vacation at the former Bell Mountain Lodge, razed to make way for multimillion-dollar townhomes on Cooper Avenue.The Annabelle Inn, named after Chookaszian’s mother, is still a small lodge, but with considerably more in the way of aesthetics and amenities than its predecessor.In now has 35 rooms and two employee units. Each room will feature its own unique finishes and furnishings. Some have fireplaces, and those on the new third floor boast views of the surrounding mountains.An excavation of the interior courtyard has produced something of a sunken garden that will feature waterfalls, a small creek, a fire pit and a hot tub. A second-floor, outdoor hot tub will sit in what has been dubbed “Nick’s notch” – a break in the building to retain the views from longtime Aspenite Nick DeWolf’s home to the north. Old ski movies, projected onto a wall next to the tub will entertain soaking guests.Off the garden-level courtyard, a new conference room that can accommodate up to 100 people seated at round tables has been constructed. It will feature a media center and dual projectors to show images on two sides of the room simultaneously.Wireless Internet will be available throughout the lodge, along with high-speed hookups in the guest rooms and the conference room. The rooms will also offer flat-screen televisions and air conditioning.

A new lounge with a fireplace has been constructed to one side of the new lobby; a breakfast room sits to the other side.Stonework and aged barn wood shipped from Ohio give the lodge a rustic feel, while a new elevator shaft in the courtyard is reminiscent of a mine shaft. The old lodge “barely had stairs,” Chookaszian joked.His pride, though, is the tech-outfitted conference facility – something that is primarily limited to Aspen’s largest, most expensive hotels.”The point is, nobody can do what we can do in the hotel – you can take over 35 rooms and run a meeting.” Nightly rates during ski season will be in the $300 to $350 range, as compared to the old Christmas Inn’s rates of $125 to $150 a night. Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is