Wanted: A loving new owner for an old lodge | AspenTimes.com

Wanted: A loving new owner for an old lodge

Janet Urquhart

For 36 years, the world came to Marge Babcock’s living room.

Now she sits alone on a worn Victorian sofa below a giant elk hide on display in her silent parlor and wonders if visitors to glitzy Aspen might still find a bit of magic in a simple lodge that offers a homey atmosphere in lieu of the latest luxuries.

Nearly 40 years after Babcock and her late husband, Jim, purchased a quaint Victorian on Cooper Avenue and spent countless hours converting it into the Little Red Ski Haus, Babcock knows it’s time to let go.

Poor health forced her to close up the lodge at the end of the ski season in 1998. Now, at age 74, she’s contemplating selling the property and retiring to Hawaii.

The quaint, bright red Victorian that the Babcocks, both teachers, scraped together the money to buy in 1962 for $24,000 is no doubt worth millions today. It would seem a simple matter to list the property and cash in on years of hard work and her fortuitous real estate investment, but the likely fate of her beloved lodge leaves Babcock trembling.

The thought of its probable conversion to a single-family home that sits vacant most of the year reduces her to momentary tears.

What she wants, prays for in fact, is a buyer who wants to run the Little Red Ski Haus as a lodge again.

“This is my love, this place. I hate to see it go for a residence or even employee housing,” she said. “There are such memories of it as a lodge.”

These days, a sign posted in a front window lets visitors know they can no longer find a bed for the night at the Ski Haus. “This house is now a private residence,” it reads.

But that’s not how it should be, said Babcock, and many of her loyal guests would agree.

“I have had calls every day from all over the world: `Are you open. We want to come back,'” she said. “All these beds – people could be in them.”

The original three-bedroom Victorian, built in 1888, constitutes the front of the lodge. A curving staircase leads to three second-story bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. In a simple downstairs kitchen, Babcock prepared breakfasts for guests – at first on a wood stove that still anchors one wall, though it has been converted to gas.

The original house is designated as an historic building, protecting it from demolition, but the mainstay of the lodge consists of three stories in back, which the Babcocks added one by one as funds allowed.

A combination of bunks, beds and antique furniture adorns the quaint rooms, most named after Aspen Mountain ski runs. Many require use of shared bathrooms. In all, the lodge contains 21 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms and can accommodate 50 guests. But there are no telephones in the rooms, no televisions, no modem connections to hook up a PC.

“Someone asked me once, `Do you have a Jacuzzi?’ I said, `No, but I’ll give you an egg beater for the bathtub,'” Babcock recalls with a chuckle.

“Would somebody in this day and age mind coming and sharing a room with strangers?” she muses aloud. “Do people still want to stay in this kind of lodging?”

She’d like to believe they would. With many of Aspen’s small lodges converting to other uses, Babcock thinks the need for something simple and affordable is greater than ever if Aspen is to lure the young people on shoestring budgets who have always brought a certain vitality to the town. The Babcocks themselves, living initially in a van with twin infants at a Maroon Bells campground, once fit that bill.

“What young people are going to come up here? Where are they going to stay?” she said.

Even shortly before the Ski Haus closed, its rates were among the most reasonable in town. The cheapest room at Christmastime – one bunk in a room for four – costs $44 a night. Music students paid $135 a week during the summer months.

The Ski Haus had always been noted for its affordability and its simplicity. In the beginning, guests slept on grass matting on the floors because the Babcocks couldn’t afford beds. Montgomery Ward provided the couple with a three-year loan to buy bunk beds, Babcock recalled.

She dashed to a local laundromat to clean the bedding between visitors because they had no laundry facilities on site.

The lodge never offered its guests the kind of luxury amenities now associated with Aspen, but that’s not what Ski Haus loyals were looking for anyway, Babcock contends. A gathering place for guests from around the world, the lodge’s front room was alive with chatter and laughter. There was no need for television.

“Everybody talked to everybody. Nobody complained about waiting for the bath,” she said. “People made friends here. They’d meet year after year here. People met their future wives and husbands here.

“Nobody had to go out to dinner alone. People would go skiing together,” she said. “It was like the world came to the front living room – such memories, such history.

“I had people writing to me and crying on the phone about this place closing up,” she said.

Now, Babcock said, some have suggested she sell the property as a private residence – an approach that would likely fetch the best price.

“I don’t want to do that. I am going to try to sell it as a lodge,” she said. “I should be happy that I was able to be a part of it for all these years, but I’m sad about what might happen to it.”

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Posted:Monday, October 23, 2000

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