Historic Mountain Chalet in downtown Aspen sold to new ownership group

At 67 years old, property is oldest owner-built lodge in Aspen

Snow covers the entrance of the Mountain Chalet in downtown Aspen on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Mountain Chalet, the oldest owner-built lodge in Aspen, has been sold to a partnership that specializes in boutique hotels and high-end restaurants.

The sale of the 67-year-old hotel on Durant Avenue closed Wednesday for $68 million, according to the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder.

The new owners are part of a partnership, led by Zach Kupperman and Larry McGuire.

McGuire is co-founder and managing partner of Austin, Texas-based McGuire Moorman Hospitality. Kupperman is the founder of New Orleans-based Kupperman Companies, which develops and invests in boutique hotels and other real estate assets.

McGuire’s firm, which specializes in the development and management of restaurants and hotels, made its mark on Aspen in 2017.

“Our team has fallen in love with Aspen after opening Clark’s Oyster Bar in the Little Annie’s location,” McGuire said this week. “We hope to continue to help preserve the Aspen spirit while taking on the challenges of renovating and stewarding iconic businesses like the Chalet into the future.”

The Melville family, founders of the Mountain Chalet and the only owners for nearly 70 years, will continue to have some ownership stake in the new partnership and will continue operating the lodge until at least May 2022.

The patriarch of the family, Ralph Melville who passed away in 2016, built the original lodge in 1954 and opened with three rooms.

A caption in The Aspen Times with this image from Feb. 10, 1955, reads: "One of Aspen's newest lodges is the Mountain Chalet which was built last fall by Ralph Melville at the corner of Mill and Durant Streets. Constructed of pumice block, Mountain Chalet has a full basement and two full floors above. Skiers can ski right to the front door since the lodge is located about midway between the chair lift and the Constam T-bar lift."
Courtesy Aspen Historical Society, Ringle Collection

He bought the two lots at the base of Aspen Mountain for $2,000 in 1953, and three more parcels in the ensuing years as he continued to build out the lodge to its existing 60 rooms.

The property will be renamed the Aspen Mountain Chalet and will undergo a full renovation, which will include at least two new restaurants.

McGuire said he envisions a traditional alpine restaurant where the lodge’s breakfast room is currently located, and a bar on the fifth floor, which is now used for conference space and community events like memorials and celebrations.

“We want to keep the heart and soul of it being a European-inspired chalet, that’s the goal and what drew us to the project,” McGuire said. “They run it as a very family-oriented chalet but lacks the services and the food and beverage experience that we’re going to bring to it, so I would say it’s going to be a luxury chalet but will retain a lot of its quirk and personality and design features like hand-painted murals, but we are definitely going to trick out the rooms and add (food and beverage).”

Marian Melville, 91, who married Ralph in 1956 when the lodge had eight rooms, said this week the building’s Alps-style design was inspired by a visit to Garmisch, Germany.

“People would ask ‘why did you build it this way?’ and he would say ‘they have these buildings in the Alps and they do very well in the snow,'” she said Tuesday while sitting in the fifth-floor space with her son Craig, who is the lodge manager, and her daughter, Susan.

The Mountain Chalet Ski Lodge, seen here in the late summer or fall of 1955, stands alone with some old wooden cabins to the right.
Courtesy Aspen Historical Society, LeMassena Collection

If the walls could talk

The lodge has a storied history and is one of the last affordable places to stay in Aspen, with room rates this week at $250 a night and in the offseason around $150, Craig said.

For decades, the Mountain Chalet has been the go-to place for ski groups and many skiers who met at the lodge during après wine and cheese gatherings, or the famous Monday gluhwein parties, and began to vacation together here.

“Our guests have been fantastic,” Susan said. “We’ve got an incredible clientele. It’s one of the things that has made running the place pretty nice … they are very forgiving of our quirkiness.”

Marian recalled the time when then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stayed at the lodge during the 1960s.

“We had a switchboard and we had a direct line from the president,” she said. “For a little place like this it was pretty important and very exciting.”

Susan said when she and family members met with McGuire and Kupperman last fall during negotiations, they were assured that the 47,000-square-foot building would be preserved.

“Mom came to the meeting and they were talking about what they were going to do and her question was to them, ‘will you keep what Ralph Melville built?’ and they said ‘our plan is to keep your building’ so that made her heart feel good,” Susan said.

Mountain Chalet owner Marian Melville stands in the back of the lodge in Aspen on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Preserving history

McGuire said the plan is a renovation and rejuvenation of the property and will keep the key count the same as today.

“We’ll keep the same square footage and just play within the building envelope,” he said.

Craig said the lodge’s ownership, of which there are 20 shareholders who are all family members, has received numerous offers to sell over the years but there was never a majority who wanted to let go of the historic property.

But this deal felt right, and since there was no interest from the family’s third generation to operate the lodge in the future, the new partnership was the best path forward, Craig said.

“They came to us, and we actually liked what they had envisioned better than anything we’d seen, and we still said no,” he said, adding that after Kupperman and McGuire’s pitch, a majority of shareholders started agreeing that it was time to sell. “It was not the highest offer we got, but we liked their vision and what they wanted to do with the place.”

The redevelopment team includes Kupperman, McGuire, the Melvilles and partners Elle Florescu, Tom Moorman and Liz Lambert.

The chalet will continue to be independently owned and will be operated by McGuire Moorman Hospitality.

“One of the things we are really looking forward to and has been impressive is seeing how their family for the last 60-odd years has run this, built this and served the Aspen community, and we are looking forward to keeping that tradition alive in a reimagined state and working with them,” Kupperman said. “It’s really an incredible location. It’s an incredible history that the Melville family has built and maintained over the years, and we’re excited to bring it forward and celebrate what they’ve done.”

Mountain Chalet owner Marian Melville and son Craig Melville, who is the general manager, sit in a room in the lodge in Aspen on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Melvilles plan to remain in Aspen and in the hotel industry.

“In addition to remaining partners in the Mountain Chalet Aspen, we are still operating the Cristiana Guesthaus in Crested Butte, which is operated by our niece Hannah Carballo, and the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs,” Craig said.

They also are looking to acquire other hotels and investment properties with the proceeds from the sale.

“We are actively exploring other properties both in this area and around the country,” Craig added. “We’re getting closer to retirement age, but we’re not there yet.”