Tyrolean Lodge still embraces old Aspen ideal on its 50th anniversary

Classic ski lodge was built in 1970 by the Wille family

The Tyrolean Lodge is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Aspen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

You don’t have to be a skier to stay at Aspen’s Tyrolean Lodge but if you are, you’re in for a treat.

The Tyrolean is celebrating its 50th anniversary this winter. It’s a holdover from when small ski lodges rather than mammoth luxury properties dominated the Aspen scene.

The late Lou and Lynne Wille opened the Tyrolean in 1970. It’s still in the family, now operated by one of their sons, Pierre Wille. Pierre and his two siblings don’t have any plans to sell out, even though Aspen real estate prices continue to break new barriers nearly every year.

“It’s kind of our legacy,” Wille said. “It’s the only foothold we have in Aspen.”

The 16 rooms are housed in a funky old building that Lou Wille constructed. On its own, the building is nothing special, but it’s the artifacts that adorn its hallways and rooms that are enthralling.

Pierre Wille looks up at his photographs hanging on the wall of the Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Pierre Wille is an accomplished ski mountaineer. Numerous photographs taken by him or of him in the Elk Mountains surrounding Aspen drive home the point. There are numerous unique angles of some of the best-known mountains, such as Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells, gained from an adventurer’s high-altitude perspective.

The décor, Wille said, reflects the love of the mountains he has explored all his life.

The lobby is essentially a mountaineering museum. On the walls hang climbing ropes, ice axes and hiking and skiing boots of numerous eras. A garish orange and yellow pair of Scott ski boots demands attention. An old pair of skis with bear trap bindings serves as the fixture for an old picture of Lou and Lynne Wille, the attractive couple standing in their wool pants and sweaters on long boards on a ski slope.

A photograph of Lou and Lynne Wille hangs in the office of the Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

In the covered exterior hallways there are collages of Pierre’s pictures of the Aspen area’s big peaks. Capitol Peak and Cathedral Peak, for example, are not taken from far-away views. Instead, they are in-your-face images from traverses on nearby ridges. Pierre said he wanted to share the views that have entranced him for so long.

The small, comfortable rooms feature battered old skis and vintage ski posters featuring resorts such as Sun Valley and equipment such as Northland Skis.

“The place doesn’t have much character,” Wille said. “(The décor) gives it the feel of an old ski lodge. It enhances what it is.”

A fireplace hand sculpted by Lou Wille still stands in one of the 16 rooms at the Tyrolean Lodge on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The building and property have special touches that also enhance the character. Metal work featuring flowers and vines accent the sign out front. Then, of course, there is the signature shiny metal eagle sculpture on the roof, overhanging Main Street and gazing toward Aspen Mountain.

Lou Wille was sculptor, working with wood, marble and metal. His trademark pieces are crafted from car bumpers from a bygone era. He would use a cutting torch to remove old shiny bumpers and turn them into various sculptures, many of animals.

“The shape of what he wanted was already in the bumper,” Pierre said.

The elder Willes never received permission from the city of Aspen to affix the eagle to the roof. It probably exceeded maximum height limits.

“Now it’s historic and couldn’t be taken down,” Pierre said with a chuckle.

The Tyrolean Lodge is celebrating its 50th anniversary in Aspen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

In a December 1974 article in The Aspen Times, the late, great editor Mary Eshbaugh Hayes talked to Lou Wille about how he ended up in Aspen. After college, he worked in The Sculpture Center in New York City for a time, then settled briefly in Florida, where he heard about Aspen and nearby Marble. He came to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1950.

“It was really Marble that attracted me,” Wille told Hayes. “I was like a kid in a candy store when I saw all that marble.”

He sculpted marble and bought an old miner’s house in Aspen, where he established an art studio on the upper floor and created 10 apartments in the lower levels. Lynne attended one of Lou’s classes as a student. They were married in 1952.

Pierre said his parents purchased the old Cortina Lodge on Main Street in the late 1950s and operated it for several years. It is now affordable housing for Hotel Jerome employees.

They bought a vacant lot next to their old miner’s house and Lou constructed the new lodge. They named it after the Tyrol region of Austria in the Alps.

Lou never got involved in day-to-day operations of the lodge. Lynne did everything from bookkeeping to cleaning, according to Pierre. He recalled helping around the property as a kid — painting and performing easier maintenance, and handling the switchboard.

Pierre’s older brother Raoul took the reins from Lynne and ran the lodge for 15 years until his death while on a climbing expedition on Baruntse in Nepal in 1998.

“I was the next in line,” Pierre said.

Pierre Wille looks at the handmade sign by his brother-in-law John Doyle hanging on the wall of the Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Lynne passed away in 1997. Lou died in November 2006 at age 89. They are inexplicably not enshrined in the Aspen Hall of Fame.

Each of the surviving Willes owns part of the property. Andre is retired after teaching science for several years in Roaring Fork Valley schools. Shauna Young was a professional geologist who traveled the world before retiring to Carbondale.

The Tyrolean isn’t fancy, but it’s clean, conveniently located and provides good value. It appeals to the middle-class travelers who were once Aspen’s bread and butter.

The rooms sleep one to five people. Rack rates are under $200 per night, according to current listings. During November, they were available for $50 to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

The kitchenettes in each room are a popular amenity.

“If it’s a longer stay,” Wille said, “you can save a fortune.”

Owning the property is one key to the family’s business model. “We own the property. We’re able to keep the prices down,” he said.

Baby boomers used to loyally return each winter for a one-week stay. Millenials are more adventurous and don’t stay as long or necessarily return year upon year.

“People don’t come for a whole week anymore,” Wille said. “They ski for three days.”

Weekend travelers from Denver and people attending concerts at Belly Up dominated summer business. The coronavirus pandemic put a damper on those markets this year.

Another key to business was housing most of their employees in the 10 apartments in the old miner’s house. Wille is proud that the Tyrolean isn’t adding to Aspen’s problem of having workers commute from long distances downvalley.

The Tyrolean is a dying breed in Aspen. The St. Moritz and the Mountain Chalet, which has grown, are the only similar lodges remaining.

Pierre is grateful for his parent’s decision to buy the vacant lot on Main Street in the late 1960s and build a lodge. It was the foundation of a family legacy.

“I think it was pure opportunity,” he said.