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Mountain Chalet bucking the trend

Janet Urquhart

While Aspen’s small, affordable lodges continue to disappear at a rate alarming to some resort officials, one of the town’s venerable ski lodges is ready to buck the trend.

Mountain Chalet owner Ralph Melville wants to redevelop a portion of his family’s Durant Avenue lodge to add 16 rooms and five employee housing units.

“We’ve got a lot of faithful guests that come back year after year,” he said. “We get more requests for reservations than what we can take.”

A development application filed with the city of Aspen last week outlines plans for a three-phase project that will demolish 20 existing rooms at the lodge and replace them with 36 new ones. The lodge will expand upward to four stories and a small, fifth-floor lounge will be constructed atop part of the building, according to the plan.

Not only will the project boost the Chalet’s room count, it will give the lodge some rooms with a view over its imposing neighbor to the south, the St. Regis hotel.

Expansion is nothing new at the Chalet, though the latest plan constitutes the most significant addition of guest accommodations at the lodge since it opened for Christmas in 1954.

The benefit of a broken leg

Melville was 26 years old when he first arrived in Aspen to spend a couple of months as a ski bum in 1951. He cleared tables at the Sundeck in exchange for a lift pass and a small wage.

He returned in 1953 and broke his leg, cutting short his ski season. Melville spent the winter looking at real estate for a ski lodge instead, and he found the perfect spot at the corner of Durant Avenue and Mill Street.

“If I hadn’t broken my leg, I don’t know – I might not have started looking at property,” he said.

Melville returned the following August and started work on his lodge. He had three rooms ready to open by Christmas.

Soon after, he married Marian Headley and they ran the lodge together. These days, daughter Susan and her husband, Stan Hajenga, operate the lodge, though Melville is hardly a stranger at the Chalet.

Melville added six rooms to the lodge in 1955 and six more in 1957. In six more phases between 1958 and 1969, the Mountain Chalet expanded to 48 rooms. In 1995, the restaurant area was remodeled into three deluxe rooms and the lodge’s room count stood at 51.

The latest expansion plan would give the lodge a net gain of 16 lodge units for a total of 67.

One phase at a time

The first phase includes the addition of a fourth floor in the central portion of the building, containing eight new units, plus a new fifth-floor common area, according to the development application. Part of the existing lodge is already a four-story structure.

The second phase, the most major piece of the three-part project, would bring demolition of the existing 2.5-story east wing and construction of a four-story addition with seven units on each floor. The employee housing would be constructed in “garden level” subgrade space below the new wing.

While the first phase could occur in 2002, the second phase is probably several years away, according to Melville. The section of the lodge to be demolished contains the oldest rooms in the building, he said.

A third phase calls for remodeling of the Mountain Chalet lobby and other areas.

The Mountain Chalet lost many of its views of Aspen Mountain when the former Ritz-Carlton hotel was built next door in the early 1990s. The luxury hotel, now the St. Regis, flanks the lodge on two sides.

Part of the rationale for the upward expansion is to regain some mountain views for guests, Melville said. Even with the additional stories, the Mountain Chalet will still be lower than the St. Regis, according to the application.

“It’ll be high enough that [guests] will get to see a little bit of the mountain over the Ritz,” Melville said.

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Posted: Monday, March 5, 2001


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