Last lodge standing
January 9, 2007
Aspenites and visitors who cringe at the pace of the resort’s ongoing makeover need look no farther than the distinctive red and gray building on Main Street for a little peace of mind.
No construction crane hovers over the lodge at the corner of West Main and First streets; rather, a giant chrome eagle, crafted of junked car bumpers, still spreads its wings over the building from its commanding perch on the stone chimney, as it has for more than three decades. From its rooftop aerie, the view of Aspen has certainly changed, but the eagle – like the lodge – has no plans to take flight.The Tyrolean has been an Aspen fixture since founders Lou and Lynne Wille built the lodge on a vacant lot in 1970. Today, amid the razing and rebuilding of Aspen’s old ski lodges for mostly high-priced timeshares, the lodge remains an affordably priced, family-run affair. And, the Wille family has no plans to abandon that role.Not that second-generation innkeeper Pierre Wille doesn’t field unsolicited offers for the prime location. “We get a lot,” he concedes.”This is like our legacy,” he explained. “If we sell out, we’ll have no reason to be in Aspen.”Only a handful of the resort’s ski lodges remain in the hands of their founding families, and even fewer have neither changed hands nor undergone significant transformation – the Tyrolean and Chalet Lisl come to mind.”Now that there’s so few, we definitely want to stay,” Pierre said.
Quintessential AspenThe Willes, like the lodge itself, represent quintessential Aspen. Lou and Lynne raised four children – all avid ski racers – in a basement apartment across the alley, behind the lodge. The Tyröl, as the apartment building is known, now houses lodge employees along with other renters. It still contains an art studio, where Pierre’s brother-in-law, John Doyle, creates his trademark totem poles. Many years ago, it was where art teacher Lou Wille and student Lynne met; they were married in 1952. Lou had been lured to Aspen in 1949 by tales of free marble in the Crystal River Valley – the possibility piqued his sculpting interest. The mark of the Willes’ passions is everywhere, from the old-time skis and climbing gear that adorn the lodge rooms and lobby to the Lou Wille sculptures that dot the grounds and building. Count the imposing eagle on the rooftop among them, but sculptures in various media – frequently of eagles and other birds – are everywhere.A framed black-and-white portrait of the elder Willes greets guests in the outdoor entryway to the lodge. They are posed on Aspen Mountain, their trim figures capturing the style of early skiing – creased woolen pants tucked into leather boots, cable bindings, wooden skis.Lou’s skis in the photograph may well be the ones mounted on the opposite wall in the entryway. Pierre found his father’s old, black Heads among the family’s collection of old boards and began turning the Tyrolean into something of an informal ski museum. “I was cleaning out the basement and started finding a bunch of old skis,” he said.
His late brother Raoul’s ski-jumping skis now hang in a prominent spot out front on the lodge’s exterior wall. Other equipment, from old climbing axes and wooden skis to antique snowshoes, have become part of the Tyrolean’s decor and its quaint charm. Each of the lodge’s 16 rooms boasts a relief map of Colorado and, in its memorabilia, a nod to Aspen’s skiing heritage.The spacious rooms are equipped with multiple beds – enough to sleep at least five guests. The small “retro kitchenettes” are dated but functional, and new furnishings are from the liquidation of two other Aspen lodges that are now being redeveloped – the Limelite and the Innsbruck Inn. All of the Tyrolean’s bathrooms have also been updated.
Some of the rooms boast fireplaces. The odd, semicircular creations of Lou’s design are suspended above the floor. A wagon wheel rim extends through the wall of two adjoining rooms, creating the base of the fireplace on either side of the wall.In short, the accommodations are “a little funky, a little groovy,” Pierre admitted.The youngest of the Wille sons, Pierre took over management of the lodge after Raoul died on a climbing expedition in Nepal in 1998. Lou Wille died just last November at age 89.An athlete in his own right, Pierre owns the lead in this winter’s Aspen Town Series of cross-country ski races, and he’s likely to be found on a nordic trail when he’s not tending to business at the Tyrolean.He has, like his father, also been drawn to sculpting, but the lodge is his real work in progress.”I’ve definitely put in a lot of work in the last eight years since I’ve been running it,” Pierre said. “It’s been kind of a giant sculpture project – getting the lodge buffed out.”
Affordable AspenDespite its relative lack of pretense – don’t look for the hot tub, the pool or a wireless hookup – the Tyrolean attracts a steady stream of guests who are more interested in a good deal than five-star ambiance.The lodge’s prices may come as a shock, but not in the usual Aspen sense. Room rates during the Christmas holidays ranged from $165 to $190 per night. Now, they’ve dropped to $100 to $125 a night until the Winter X Games prompts a boost in late January. During the prime summer months, lodge rooms fetch $110 to $135 per night. Add $15 per head for extra guests beyond two occupants per room.
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Undoubtedly, the Tyrolean could ask for more and get it, but Lou and Lynne Wille were “never into exacting as much as they could get,” said Pierre, who has adhered to his parents’ philosophy.The lodge is booked fairly solidly throughout the year, according to Pierre, with resort guests taking rooms in the winter and summer, and construction workers seeking out the Tyrolean during the offseasons.A glance at tripadvisor.com reviews, posted by the lodge’s guests, suggests the Tyrolean has been well-received by the budget-conscious visitor.Said a Denver reviewer: “There is no pool or hot tub but the prices are killer, the rooms are delightful and the hotel is clean, friendly and homey. We loved our room (with kitchenette) and the easy walk to town. We would stay here again in a heartbeat. It is such a find I am almost loathe to share it!”Offered another: “We love staying at the Tyrolean and have stayed there several times. It is the most affordable place to stay in Aspen and it has a little kitchen! That is a huge feature for us because we travel on a budget and don’t want all our money going towards eating out. The location in town is as perfect as can be, everything is in walking distance. The staff has always been polite. We don’t pick lodging for its glamour, we pick lodging for its practicality and in that you can’t find better than the Tyrolean in Aspen.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.