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Take Steps to Last Century at Colorado Ski Lodge

November 23, 1986|MICHAEL CARLTON | Carlton is a Denver Post travel columnist.

KEYSTONE, Colo. — Near Keystone, in a valley where the mist walks across the top of the aspen trees each morning, the last century is only 27 steps away.

Those steps take you along a narrow gravel path, through a split-rail fence where little white lights twinkle at night, to a narrow door with a rounded top and a leaded glass window in its middle. The door, the color of cinnamon, yawns open on two large iron hinges, which cough in protest.

Once inside you have arrived at one of the most unusual lodgings in the Rocky Mountains, a place where the past, not the present, rules.

The foyer into which you step is pure 1860, the year this place was built as a stagecoach stop on the old Georgetown-to-Montezuma route. Hand-hewn logs face you, and ancient caulking keeps the winds outside. A hand-carved center post holds up the roof and an old cash register sits on the small reception desk.

Antiques and a View

Just beyond, across crumbling bricks and through a doorway warped by the years, is the living room, with its peaked ceiling, massive beams and hardwood floors that speak of another age. There are Oriental rugs, an upright piano in one corner, a roll-top desk in another and four windows opening to the beauty of the Snake River Valley and the distant Montezuma Mountain Range.

Two stuffed ptarmigan roost on one ceiling beam, and an ancient cross-country ski crosses from one beam to another. Each night--summer and winter--pine wood crackles and pops as it burns in the fireplace.

Through another door is the bar, with a fireplace with seating where you can quickly warm yourself after a day of skiing or hiking in the high Rockies. The paw prints of dogs now long dead are pressed deep into the salmon-colored tile floor, and antiques--ladder-back chairs, iron and copper bed warmers, old lanterns and chests--are scattered throughout this comfortable place.

Seven leather stools face the small bar, and four tables, each with four mismatched chairs, provide more room for the drinking crowd.

Down a hall that winds like a maze is the dining room, where nine bare wood tables glimmer in the glow of a stucco fireplace, and diners eat fresh trout and pepper steak, scampi and broiled shark in a room of great informality and warmth.

Follow farther along the maze and you will find bedrooms--13 of them--spare little rooms where down comforters keep you warm at night, antique wardrobes accept your clothes and a claw-footed tub will help soak the weariness from your city bones.

No two bedrooms are alike and only nine have private baths. Room 12 is particularly nice. Two 125-year-old ceiling beams cross above you and windows of thick glass overlook a pond the color of creamed coffee. Two bunk beds provide comfort for the night.

Outside, wood smoke flavors the air, and the rumble of the Snake River provides the only noise. In summer an occasional hummingbird will swirl by, its peculiar raspy call haunting your ears. In winter there is no external noise other than the soft swish-swish of a cross-country skier heading through the deep pine forests girding the valley.

Leave the City Behind

It is easy to get lost in the past in this enclave tucked away only 75 miles from the glittering glass of Denver, easy to forget automobiles and traffic jams, hypertension and office politics.

This old building, which became Colorado's first skiing guest lodge in 1945, has a tradition of hospitality. Its way of life has barely changed--except for electricity and indoor plumbing--from the first day in 1860.

Ski Tip was made into a ski lodge by Max Dercum and Larry Jump, a veteran of the famed 10th Mountain Division of World War II, who rigged up a rope tow at nearby Arapahoe Basin and began sliding down the perfect powder on their skis. Soon so many of their friends began to visit that they made the old stagecoach stop into a lodge.

Changed Little

Since then, Ski Tip has changed little. The addition of two tennis courts and something called The Annex--a 1940s Holiday Inn sort of place--are the only major modifications. There are seven rooms in The Annex, sterile places that are perfect for a ski club or group because most of the rooms are connected, but they lack the charm of the main building.

Keystone Ski Resort owns and manages Ski Tip, has staffed the kitchen with a good chef, Peter Murphy, and runs the old place as a historic inn. There are no TVs or telephones in the rooms. There is a pay phone in the foyer if you need to make a call.

Ski Tip is the antithesis of the glamour of most ski resorts, as far removed from the high-energy rock 'n' roll of Vail and Aspen as the last century is from this.

Casual is the way of dressing and behaving, good friends are made over a glass of wine in the bar and lasting relationships are often formed between strangers. This Christmas, for example, all the rooms have been booked by folks who came to Ski Tip last year and want to come back to see their new-found friends at our most festive holiday time.

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