New chapter for Snowmass’ Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant
The beloved Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant is entering a new era as its first full remodel since 1979 is starting next week.
The renovation will be fairly substantial, expanding the building slightly and adding a bar and restrooms on the main level. But Z Group Architects has made a concerted effort to retain the integrity of the mid-mountain building, home of the only non-Aspen Skiing Co. restaurant on Snowmass ski area.
“We’re so excited because the character stays all the same, all post and beam,” owner Gwyn Knowlton said of the new design, which also will include new wood and stone finishes on the building’s exterior.
Loyal patrons of the restaurant have asked her why she and her partner George Gordon want to remodel at all, she said. But the idea of not having to climb down two sets of stairs to reach the restrooms smoothes it over.
“When I tell them about the bathrooms, they’re thrilled to death,” Knowlton said.
Gwyn’s and High Alpine are really two separate restaurants housed in the same building. Gwyn’s is a sit-down, fine-dining establishment that serves breakfast and lunch, located on the right as guests enter the front door.
High Alpine is the cafeteria-style experience that guests can walk through and then serve and seat themselves. That will change to a “market” setup, like that of the Elk Camp Restaurant and the rest of Skico’s on-mountain restaurants, so guests can go directly to what they want rather than having to stand in line.
“I think people will like that we can do marketplace,” manager Whitney Gordon said. “It will definitely make it faster.”
That change requires more space, so the market will expand into Gwyn’s footprint, and the exterior wall on that side will get pushed out. The slope on that side has already been graded for the expansion.
The expansion on that side also will create space for the new restrooms and bar closer to the main entrance. The new bar will have a large wood-burning fire and big-screen televisions.
A satellite bar and coffee station will be set up downstairs where the Culwell Bar is currently. The bathrooms there will remain but will get an update, and there will still be table seating on that level. The Pac-Man arcade game, a favorite of young ski school students whose instructors get a free meal when they bring them in, is staying, too.
The windows on both the lower and upper levels will be heightened, brightening up the space as well as making the unmatched view of Rock Island and the surrounding cliffs visible from more angles, Knowlton said. The upper level will have all-new tables and chairs; the Habitat for Humanity ReStore is taking the current set.
Loyal patrons will be pleased to hear that the sail plane hanging upside down in the rafters upstairs is coming back. Flown by both George and Gwyn in competitions, the plane will be dismantled and removed before construction begins and returned this fall when the renovation is complete. (Construction is expected to finish in time for the restaurant’s traditional opening in early December.)
The owners are less certain about the other large tokens upstairs, such as a wall sculpture by Aspen artist Travis Fulton that used to hang in the La Cocina restaurant and a vintage bicycle.
The many mementos that line the walls of Gwyn’s High Alpine, ranging from the bigger pieces down to photographs from throughout the years, are a big part of its charm and legacy. The owners have decided to give away some of the items they’re not keeping during festivities on Snowmass’ closing day April 10.
The owners also found an old menu from 1981 and decided that during the closing-day party, they’re going to honor the prices listed on that menu, such as a $4.25 hamburger and soups of the day for $2. There’ll be drink specials at the bar, including $3 domestic beers and $4 micros and imports. The owners are encouraging guests to wear retro ski clothes and send the old building out in style.
“Visually it’s going to be so beautiful,” Knowlton said. “Skico has been really good to work with.”
Construction starts April 12, the day after Skico hosts its annual employee party on the mountain. Gwyn’s restaurant closed April 2; High Alpine closes with the mountain April 10.
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The town of Snowmass Village has its eyes on some safety improvements on Highline Road and a section of Brush Creek Road that will give pedestrians and cyclists a little more room to breathe on the side of the road.