The Best Of The West: Classic Ski Lodges

tamarack lodgeDespite deceptively balmy temperatures in parts of the U.S., there’s still plenty of ski season left. Why not spend it staying at a classic ski lodge or chalet out West? These regal or groovy remnants from the early-to-mid-20th century are a dying breed, although some have been refurbished to good effect, while still retaining their original style. They also tend to offer friendly, personalized service, so you feel like a welcome guest, not just a number.

Classic places are often more affordable, and just as stylish and comfortable than their boutique or generic high-end chain counterparts. Even when they’re pricey, they’re a bit of living history that can give your ski trip a fun retro feel. Think racy Piz Buin and Lange boots ads, fondue, tight, color-blocked sweaters, Bicentennial Ray-Bans, and all things Bavarian.

Below, some favorite vintage ski accommodations across the West. Don’t forget your Glockenspiel.

Tyrolean Lodge, Aspen, CO
It may come as a shock that Aspen has a classic ski lodge that’s remained little-changed in atmosphere or ski-town spirit since its opening in 1970, but the Tyrolean is just that place. Located several minutes’ walk from the slopes, this no-frills, family-owned chalet is one of the best deals in town, with rooms starting at $155/night; some with kitchenettes. The rooms have been upgraded to be more modern, but the decor and vibe is still vintage Tyrol ski culture. Love.

Tamarack Lodge
, Mammoth Mountain, CA
This small, mid-century property overlooking Twin Lakes is on the California Register of Historic Places, and caters to the cross-country crowd. It has both European guesthouse style rooms, historic, refurbished cabins (see photo above), and from December through April, ski-in/out access. If the town of Mammoth is too hectic and soulless for you, consider this a peaceful alternative to the mainstream.
strawberry lodgeStrawberry Lodge, Kyburz, CA
Highway 50 Tahoe road-trip regulars will be familiar with this former Pony Express stop (right). Located off the side of the road in the nano-community of Kyburz, Strawberry is 20 minutes from South Shore. It’s seriously old-school, in that musty, funky way, with bad taxidermy, historical oddities, and is a much-loved Lake Tahoe institution.

With 31 rooms starting at just $49 a night (some are European style, with a shared bath), it’s hard to pass up, especially when you consider the proximity to all manner of vices, ranging from drinking (please don’t attempt to drive back) and gambling, to outdoor recreation. I love it because it’s one of the last remnants of old Tahoe, in a pastoral mountain setting. Strawberry also offers cross-country skiing, and the restaurant and bar can get hopping, sometimes with live music.
sun valley lodge
Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho
Built in 1936 at America’s first destination ski resort (with the world’s first chairlifts), the SVL was considered cutting-edge. It offered “every amenity a skier could possibly imagine.” Today, the 148-room property has been completely refurbished into a luxury hotel, complete with glass-encased swimming pool, yet it retains its majestic timber-and-stone facade and stately atmosphere.
P.S. Hemingway slept here.

Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood, OR
Celebrating its 76th year, this National Historic Landmark (lobby, right) was built at a time when American heritage and the spirit of adventure crashed head-on with the Great Depression. FDR heralded the lodge as a “testament to the workers on the rolls of the Works Progress Administration,” which funded most of the property’s construction. The lodge shut down twice, once during WWII, and again in 1955, as it had fallen into disrepair. Under a new lessee, it was restored to grandeur and reopened later that year.

Located less than 90 minutes from Portland, Mt. Hood is a favorite local’s ski area. Timberline is built in the classic Pacific Northwestern lodge style, constructed primarily by hand of native timber and rock. The bright rooms are upscale rustic, with wood paneling, thick comforters, and stone fireplaces: all the trappings for a cozy getaway.

Alta Peruvian Lodge
, UT
Located at one of Utah’s premier ski resorts, this three-story wooden lodge had an unlikely start as a pair of barracks buildings in Brigham. They were relocated to Alta in eight pieces, and reconstructed into a 50-room lodge that opened in 1948. In 1979, an architect was hired to gussy up the property, although by today’s standards, it retains a retro Alpine charm (the kelly-green shutters decorated with Edelweiss, for example).

Rooms are straightforward and more motel than mountain lodge, but a fantastic deal, starting at $129 for a dorm bed. Prices include all meals, served family style in the lodge dining room, and free shuttle service to Alta Mountain and Snowbird. There are also twin and queen rooms with a shared or private bath, as well as bedroom suites. As for why the property is called the Peruvian? No one knows, although possibly it’s for a nearby landmark, Peruvian Creek.
Nordic Inn
Nordic Inn, Crested Butte, CO
Reopened on December 15, 2012, under new ownership, this beloved, 28-room Alpine lodge (right) opened over 50 years ago. Located just 500 yards from the slopes, the Nordic has refurbished half of its spacious rooms, which are now kitted out with hardwood floors, down comforters and pillows, and gorgeous Colorado beetle kill pine woodwork. The remaining rooms (which are a colorful ode to the ’80s, and a screaming deal for ski-in lodging) will be redone by June 1.

P.S. Ski lodges aren’t just for winter! Many are open year-round, and summer is also peak season for outdoor recreation.

[Photo credits: Tamarack, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area; Strawberry, 50Cabins.COM; Sun Valley, Sun Valley Resorts; Nordic Inn, Ken Stone]

Gunnison’s Wanderlust Hostel Offers $35 Crested Butte Lift Tickets

skiingWhile I was enjoying a few days of Nordic (read: free) activities in Crested Butte last week, a local let me in on a secret. “You can get deals on lift tickets everywhere. You just need to know where to look.” And then she passed on some intel to me.

In that spirit, I’d like to present to you what is perhaps the most insane ski deal I’ve ever come across. Gunnison’s groovy Wanderlust Hostel is offering up $35 lift tickets with a one-night stay.

Located just 30 miles down-valley from Crested Butte, Gunnison is still very much the old-school ranching community it’s always been. Sure, they have a coffee house and some good restaurants now, but it’s still rural Colorado, albeit just outside one of the state’s most enchanting and authentic ski towns.

Wanderlust, which is owned by outdoor guide Amy Stevens and her cat Porkchop (don’t laugh; he’s kind of a badass, and even has his own blog), is the anti-hosteler’s hostel. It’s spotless, homey, peaceful, full of funky style, and caters to outdoorsy folks of all ages (for photos, click here). If the pursuit of powder (or, in summer, slab climbing, fly-fishing, trail-riding, or mountain biking) is more important to you than thread-count, you’ll appreciate Wanderlust.

There are private and shared rooms starting at just $23/night, and a family room that sleeps up to six. You can spend your time off the slopes curled up next to the fireplace, or cooking in the spacious hostel kitchen. No car? There’s a free shuttle to Crested Butte running eight times a day, just a half-block away.

[Photo credit: Tom Stillo]

The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

Ski Free In Aspen With Killer Hotel Deals

aspenThink you can’t afford Aspen? Think again. Two of the most elite hotels in town are offering can’t-miss winter season packages that include free ski passes.

Did I stutter? Nope. It’s part of a “ski free” promotion designed to draw visitors back to the Rockies after last year’s notoriously dry winter. Happily, this year looks good, as I can attest from an Aspen visit earlier in the week, and the town is buzzing with holiday festivities.

Local favorite The Little Nell is offering two separate packages for skiers. “Ski Free” gives guests who stay three nights or longer up to two free lift tickets (by comparison, a two-day, seven-day advance purchase adult pass will run you $202, high season) per day. The “Ultimate Ski Free” package: Stay four nights, and ski gratis at all four mountains of Aspen/Snowmass (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk), on top-of-the-line demo equipment. A full-day private lesson is also included.

The newly revamped, groovilicious Limelight Hotel is doing its own “Ski Free” special, in addition to offering complimentary snowshoes to all guests. The ski package includes up to two free lift tickets per day (good at all four mountains), with a three-night minimum stay, based upon availability; some blackout dates apply.

[Photo credit: Aspen/Snowmass]

Crested Butte’s Nordic Inn: All That’s Old Is New Again

crested butteSkiing. Budget. Two words that don’t generally go hand-in-hand. Fortunately, fans of fluffy Rockies pow have one more offbeat lodging option to choose from, with the re-opening of Crested Butte’s classic Nordic Inn today.

The 50-year-old property, which was recently purchased from longtime owners Allen and Judy Cox, is the longest operating lodge in Gunnison County. The new proprietors have renovated and upgraded half of the 28-room inn and separate chalet, utilizing sustainable materials like Colorado beetle kill pine, and adding ADA-approved, handicapped-accessible rooms.

There are also new, high-thread-count linens and down comforters, pet-friendly rooms, a hot tub, free Wi-Fi, heated walkways, in-room boot dryers, ski/snowboard storage, shuttle service, a meeting room and free continental breakfast. The property still retains its original exterior grooviness, however, and offers a variety of rooms ranging from loft or suite, to kitchenettes (see room photo after the jump). If you like the Spider Sabitch-era feel, opt to stay in one of the original rooms. High-season rates average $249 for a Signature King room.

nordic innFor those on a nano-budget, there’s also the clean, pleasant, Crested Butte International Lodge & Hostel, which offers everything from small dorm to family rooms, at rock-bottom prices ($34/night average for a dorm bed, high season). Do note that the hostel is located within the historic town of Crested Butte proper, while the Nordic Inn is three miles away, at the base of the ski mountain, known as Mt. Crested Butte.

Need more incentive? Crested Butte is one of the few remaining authentic ski towns in Colorado. It consists of just a few blocks of what was once a 19th century coal-mining center: these days, the refurbished storefronts house top-notch dining, drinking, and shopping establishments.

Crested Butte also has a reputation for fantastically bizarre cultural and sports events ranging from costumed Nordic marathons and a nighttime “Big Air” comp on the main street, to Flauschink (the “flushing” of winter). The holidays are also notoriously festive, featuring torchlight parades and fireworks. In addition to skiing, the Crested Butte region also offers Nordic sports, dog-sledding, snowmobiling, Snowcat-driving, ice skating, and backcountry excursions.

[Photo credit: Ken Stone]