Snow Queen Lodge was family affair for 47 years
Last week’s sale of the Snow Queen Lodge, which the late owner Norma Dolle started in 1974, ended another era of family-owned inns in Aspen.
The quaint bed-and-breakfast’s 47-year run culminated with what Dolle’s son David Ledingham called a “Going Away Party” held May 31 at the baby-blue Victorian on 124 E. Cooper Ave. Two days later, on June 2, the lodge changed ownership for $7.625 million.
“The amazing thing about the Snow Queen, the way that David and his family have run it, is that you really sense the history from the very moment you step onto the property,” said broker Jonathan Boxer, who with Scott Weber of Douglas Elliman represented Ledingham in the sale of the Snow Queen to a limited liability company associated with a private-equity firm in California.
The now-eight-guestroom Victorian was built in 1886, the oldest of Aspen’s lodges. It currently is closed and isn’t taking reservations for the summer, but for a time Dolle ran the lodge immediately next door to the Little Red Ski Haus owned and operated by her identical twin sister, Marge Babcock. The two Chicago natives had landed in Aspen after attending the University of New Mexico, where they developed an affinity for skiing and the West.
“Both lodges are family-run, homey, quaint places … holdouts in the midst of Aspen’s slick condominiums and apartment complexes.”
Those words weren’t printed in the past year or two, but instead written by late Mary Eshbaugh Hayes in a December 1982 article — “The Twin Victorian Lodge Twins” — published in The Aspen Times.
“Both ladies are bouncy and blond, talkative and fun, they’re avid skiers and vigilant fighters for historic preservation,” the article continued.
The twins, who appeared in ad campaigns together in their youth, also began to remove themselves from their lodges’ respective operations around the same time. Babcock sold the Little Red Ski Haus in the early 2000s, and Dolle began to ease back in 2001.
“When she convinced me to take it over in 2001, I realized it was her whole identity, and she just loved it,” said Ledingham, one of Dolle’s three sons. “She loved the people and talking to the people, and we had a lot of return guests and she’d have hot-spiced wine parties for them.”
Dolle died on May 13, 2020, at the age of 94; her sister died six days later.
Snow Queen also was one of Aspen’s few remaining economy lodges. Rates averaged around $100 in the shoulder seasons, and in the high seasons, “you could still spend less than $200 a night,” Ledingham said.
The Snow Queen’s charm wasn’t confined to the lodge’s rich interior and exterior architecture.
“Back in the old days, people would sign your guest books and employees would work seasonally, and in the early days we mostly did trades for people to live in a room for the summer and help us out,” Ledingham said.
Yet with increased demand from guests wanting higher quality amenities and more of them, as well as the explosion of the short-term rental market and the economic fallout of the pandemic, Ledingham said his family’s time operating the lodge was complete.
An actor by trade, Ledingham also is immersed in the production of the Aspen Fringe Festival, which will be held Friday and Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House. It will signify the return of live performances to the Wheeler for the first time since the pandemic broke in March 2020.
“I can now focus my energies and move full time to being executive director of the Aspen Fringe Festival,” he said. “That’s where my passion is and I want to grow the Aspen Fringe Fest, and I’ll have the time to do that. It was so hard to run the Snow Queen and produce the festival, and now I can focus on building the festival with Nikki Boxer. We feel like it’s starting to gain some momentum.”
Nikki Boxer is the wife of Jonathan, also an actor, of Douglas Elliman.
While the Snow Queen sale represented a change in ownership of Aspen’s oldest lodge, Aspen’s oldest owner-built lodge was sold in March when the Mountain Chalet fetched $68 million. The Melville family built the slopeside hotel in 1954.
Also, the Little Red Ski Haus sold for $8.9 million in January to the same new owner of the Snow Queen, which property records tie to the California-based Clearlake Capital firm.
Andrew Ernemann of Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s, who represented the buyer in the transaction, said Friday the new owner wants to remain private.
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