Highland Bavarian Lodge, Aspen area’s birthplace of skiing, on the market $25 million
March 16, 2017
The cradle of skiing in the Aspen area is listed for sale.
The Highland Bavarian Lodge property near the confluence of Castle and Conundrum creeks is on the market for the first time since it last sold in January 1963. The asking price is $25 million.
A 35-acre building site within the 83-acre property is driving the asking price, but the lodge still provides the "cool" factor. Even though it didn't pan out, the development of the lodge was the first scene in a series of events that led to Aspen's ascension as a skiing mecca.
The Highland Bavarian Lodge as well as a nearby bunkhouse and cabin have survived for 80 years with only minor alterations. The current owners, Bruce and Mac Coffey and their families, have applied to Pitkin County for historic designation of the three buildings.
"The importance of this property within Aspen and Pitkin County ski history is matched only by the historic Lift 1 and boat tow," said the historic designation application prepared by Sara Adams, a land-use and historic preservation planner with the firm BendonAdams.
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The roots of the Highland Bavarian trace to an encounter between T.J. Flynn and Billy Fiske at a Pasadena, California, polo club in the mid-1930s. Flynn grew up in Aspen and his family owned numerous mining claims. He was promoting the property.
Fiske was a former U.S. bobsled Olympian who became an investment banker. He shared a vision with associates such as financier Ted Ryan and real estate magnate Robert Rowan to develop a U.S. winter-sports area to rival European resorts.
Aspen historian and Aspen Times columnist Tim Willoughby wrote in a January 2011 column that Fiske and Rowan flew to the Roaring Fork Valley in summer 1936 to check out Flynn's property. The area was known as Highland Basin, now known as Little Annie Basin. They were blown away by the combination of terrain, snow conditions and views and felt the area rivaled St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Flynn, Fiske, Ryan and Rowan created the Highland Bavarian Corp., which Adams said in her report was the first ski-related corporation in Colorado. The corporation purchased the Tagert Ranch in Castle Creek Valley and went into overdrive to develop a ski lodge by winter. A dedication of the lodge attracted 350 Aspen dignitaries and residents Dec. 27, according to an article later that month in The Aspen Times.
For detailed accounts by Willoughby of how the corporation was formed and pursued the lodge, visit http://www.aspentimes.com/news/skiing-comes-to-aspen-the-highland-bavarian-corporation-part-i/ and http://www.aspentimes.com/news/promoting-skiing-the-highland-bavarian-part-ii.
Bunkrooms for men and women
The lodge featured two bunk rooms, segregated for men and women. Each side held eight guests. The spots where the bunk beds attached to the walls are still visible in modern bedrooms. There also were four cabins for rent.
The partners hired popular New Yorker magazine writer Robert Benchley to write for a brochure of their new endeavor. It was titled "How to Aspen."
"Aspen, Colorado, is a place where you can indulge in winter sports without having to get a passport, wrestle with the Atlantic, stop in Paris at the expense of your health, and come all the way back again," the brochure proclaimed.
Rates at the lodge were $7 per day. Skiers could pay 50 cents for a sleigh ride up Castle Creek Valley to the bottom of Highland Basin. They skied back on a trail cut by the corporation.
"Hardier skiers could attach skins to their skis to climb the basin to the top of Richmond Hill," Willoughby wrote in his column about establishment of the resort. "From there, they could either ski down the basin or cross over the basin divide to Buckhorn, then ski through Tourtelotte Park and down mining roads to Aspen."
The first organized ski races were held on slopes across Castle Creek Valley from the lodge.
Big plans for ski resort
The dream of the partners in the Highland Bavarian Corp. was to build ski lifts serving the slopes up to Richmond Ridge. They hired European snow experts Andre Roch and Gunther Langes to stay at the lodge property that winter and assess the plan.
"Roch and Langes agreed that the area was ripe for a ski resort; however, they preferred the end of Castle Creek Valley rather than the Little Annie Basin due to sun exposure and avalanche danger," Adams wrote in her report.
Highlands Bavarian Corp. took the experts' advice seriously and purchased the Ashcroft site. Plans were made for a vast ski area using the slopes of Hayden Peak and surrounding slopes, now designated as wilderness, where motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited.
The grandiose plan never materialized. When World War II broke out, Fiske joined Britain's Royal Air Force before the U.S. entered the war and died from battle injuries Aug. 17, 1940, after a short but distinguished record. He was the second American killed in the war.
Plans to pursue the development of the ski area idled during the war and the momentum surged to develop trails on Aspen Mountain. Ryan sold the Highland Bavarian Lodge in 1953 to a buyer who made it a private residence. Ryan went on to open the first private cross-country ski area in the country, Ashcroft Ober Aspen, in 1971.
The Highland Bavarian Lodge property was sold again in January 1963 to Keating and Virginia Coffey.
Four generations of enjoyment
Their son, Bruce Coffey, said the Highland Bavarian property was special from the start.
"When we showed up there, it was like, 'this was wonderland,'" he said. "We were city folk."
He said he was around 20 years old when his parents bought the property. Over the years, he learned the special history of the place.
"I love the rustic aspect of the lodge and the fact that it hasn't changed much over the years," he said.
He would always warn friends that came for a visit that it was "pretty rustic," but it always suited most people.
Four generations of his family have enjoyed the place over 54 years, but it has come time to sell it.
"We all have mixed feelings of it," he said.
The property retains its quaintness. The original double-sided fireplace still separates a sitting room and dining room.
Only minor alterations were made, including the addition of a patio and dormer on the easterly side of the lodge facing Castle Creek Road. A one-story bedroom was added to the west side.
Realtor Brian Hazen has the listing on the property. He said the beauty of the 83-acre setting is a strong selling point. Castle Creek runs through the property. A possible building site is in a meadow on the Conundrum Valley side of the property.
Hazen said the Highland Bavarian's storied past will likely appeal to the eventual buyer.
"I think it would be somebody that appreciates history, especially ski history," he said. "It's the birthplace of Aspen skiing. It's a true legacy property."
Land-use planner Glen Horn is helping the Coffey family with the historic designation from Pitkin County. He said Adams' research shows it was one of the first ski lodges in Colorado, if not the first. A clubhouse was built in Winter Park in the 1920s, but it wasn't built as a ski-resort lodge, according to her report.