Rooms for rent, but at what price? | AspenTimes.com

Rooms for rent, but at what price?

Janet Urquhart

A bunk at the St. Moritz is perhaps the cheapest bed in town, but guests might have to share the room and bathroom with strangers. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

Vacationers motoring across Colorado this summer may well decide, on the spur of the moment, to spend a night or two in Aspen. Or, they may stop for a quick look around and then hit the road.For cost-conscious travelers, the price of a room in town is often the key consideration as they mull options that include cheaper rooms on the other side of Independence Pass or farther down the Roaring Fork Valley.Of course cheap is a relative term. In Aspen, $200 a night is the oft-cited threshold that separates reasonably priced lodging from the “honey-let’s-go-to-Glenwood” variety.

More and more, Aspen has fewer and fewer affordable lodge rooms to offer. The resort boasts about 7,000 pillows – literally places where a traveler can lay their weary head – but less than 25 percent of them are affordable by the summertime standard of $200 or less a night. Peak winter rates are higher.Whether Aspen attracts that strata of visitor or not is sort of a chicken-and-the-egg thing, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a local reservations agency.”Supply and demand are definitely related,” he said. “When you lose affordable hotel rooms, you lose the demand, as well.”It’s a trend we don’t want to see continue,” Tomcich added. “If those lodges disappear, so will those guests.”

Aspen’s supply of moderately priced lodging has long been dwindling, but the drain has picked up the pace of late.Owners of the longtime, family-run Holland House announced their 24-room lodge is under contract. What comes next for the property is uncertain, but it’s not likely to be quaint rooms that average $156 a night during the winter season – a deal by Aspen standards.Operators of the Skier’s Chalet have also called it quits. The remaining nine lodge rooms there rented for $159 to $199 a night last ski season.An East Coast visitor who has vacationed in Aspen during the past three ski seasons – either at the Holland House or the Skier’s Chalet – will head to Park City, Utah, this winter after receiving word that the Skier’s Chalet has closed its doors.”We were planning on going back to Aspen until the lodge closed, because of the hospitality and reasonable pricing that the Skier’s Chalet provided,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Aspen Times. “We … will miss the more reasonably priced lodging options for Aspen. All this fractional ownership is way out of my price range. I just want to ski/ride and a place to crash.”

A condominium hotel, with individual owners of each unit, is in the future for the Skier’s Chalet. Meanwhile, the Innsbruck Inn on Main Street is closed for renovations that will turn it into fractional-ownership units.The Boomerang has been sold to new owners who plan to follow through with an expansion plan and then “modernize” the existing lodge. What that means has not been defined.L’Auberge D’Aspen, a collection of new and funky old cabins that operates in the style of the traditional motor lodge, will likely exist for one more winter, but the local Jewish congregation intends to redevelop the Main Street property as the Aspen Jewish Community Center.The Limelite, the largest independently owned lodge in town, is pursuing plans to redevelop with a project that retains a moderately priced hotel, but the fate of the controversial development remains undecided.

Though they’re dwindling, there are still moderately priced rooms to be had in Aspen, resort officials are quick to note.A handful of small lodges that market themselves jointly as the Gems of Aspen include some of the resort’s most reasonably priced establishments, though both the Innsbruck Inn and Holland House – both no longer available – remain listed on the gemsofaspen.com website.The Mountain House Lodge on East Hopkins Avenue isn’t a Gem member, but it’s one of the resort’s more affordable options. An economy room with a double bed goes for $110 a night at the height of the summer season and $195 a night during the peak holiday period, according to its website. As with many small lodges, breakfast is included with a night’s stay.The establishment’s popularity is evident in its recent bookings – it has been full every weekend, according to Linda Nichols, who runs the 24-room property with her husband.When travelers stop in at Stay Aspen Snowmass to check on room availability for a summer night, they often choose to head downvalley or over Independence Pass to Leadville if there’s nothing still available for less than $200 a night in Aspen.

“When there are no cheap rooms in Aspen, it’s amazing how many cars are parked outside the Best Western in Basalt,” said the reservation agency’s Tomcich, a Basalt resident. “We don’t only lose out on the potential lodging, but the dining, the shopping.”With the closing of the Skier’s Chalet, which had operated strictly during the winter months of late, its former guests are being directed to the Mountain Chalet, another longtime family-run ski lodge.Some of the Holland House’s guests have been directed to the Annabelle Inn on Main Street, where new owners completely rebuilt the well-worn Christmas Inn and gave the new, nicely appointed, modern lodge a new name.The Annabelle Inn retained the phone number used by the old Christmas Inn, though, and callers are sometimes surprised to find the old, affordable lodge has been replaced by one that charges more than twice the rates of its predecessor.”They’re very dismayed that there’s no $80 or $100 room,” reports innkeeper Charley Case, whose family stayed at the Holland House every year for more than two decades while he was growing up.

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Case eventually worked for the Holland House. Now, he’s giving guests from that lodge a deal to stay at the Annabelle Inn this winter.”I’m trying to make a home for as many Holland House’ers as I can,” said Case, who’s well-acquainted with the attraction of the Holland House. The Holland House lacked individual bathrooms with many of its rooms and none of the units had TVs, but guests gathered in the front room by the fireplace for weekly wine and cheese parties. In the old days, there was popcorn and ski movies, recalled Marcia Goshorn, sales manager at the Molly Gibson Lodge, another of Aspen’s moderately priced establishments.The camaraderie was part of the Holland House’s charm, Case said.”There are plenty of people who stayed at the Holland House who could have afforded to stay anywhere in town – it was the lodge, and the family,” he said. “That place will be sorely missed.”

The former Christmas Inn was probably among the least expensive lodges in town. These days, that distinction belongs to establishments like the Tyrolean and the Mountain House Lodge. A private room during the peak summer weeks can be had for $60 per night at the Tyrolean, according to its website.There are better deals yet, though, for those willing to bunk with strangers or friends. The Little Red Ski Haus and the St. Moritz Lodge both offer a nightly rate for a bed in shared quarters among their accommodations. This summer, a night in a Ski Haus bunk room with four beds goes for about $71 (per bed) per night. At the St. Moritz, a “hostel” space during the peak of the summer fetches $38 per night, according to its website.The largest of Aspen’s moderately priced lodges is the Limelite, a collection of buildings that includes the Deep Powder and the Snowflake Inn. In fact, with 110 rooms (312 pillows), it’s the second largest standard hotel in Aspen, behind the luxury St. Regis Aspen. The most inexpensive room at the Limelite during the peak of the summer season runs $149.The family-run enterprise is currently seeking approvals to replace the lodge, recently downgraded from a three-star to a two-star facility, with a modern (as in the bathroom should be larger than a closet) and efficient, but still midpriced lodge. Part of the property is slated for controversial free-market condos to finance the lodge project.Modern, moderately priced lodging is in short supply, noted Kris McKinnon, managing director of worldwide sales for the Aspen Skiing Co., voicing support for the Limelite plan at a recent city hearing.

“It’s an important product and we’re a little bit behind the eight ball,” she said.If the Limelite redevelopment doesn’t win final city approval, the aging lodge’s days are numbered, its owners say.”If the Limelite disappears and doesn’t get redeveloped, that would be a huge, huge impact,” according to Tomcich, who has also spoken in favor of the project. “It’s very important for this community, in my opinion, that this redevelopment moves forward.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com