ASPEN, Colo. — Snow was falling as the taxi stopped at the door of the Hotel Jerome with its lighted trees and the yellow glow of frosted windows. Main Street was icy, but inside, the old Victorian was as snug as an eiderdown on this cold winter night.
Circular settees and sofas faced a crackling fire, and the pendulum of an ancient clock swung beneath fluted chandeliers that shed their light on marble-top tables and an antique piano near the door.
For the moment, 19th-Century America was alive and all was well with the world.
Tomorrow skiers would take to the slopes again, but this chilly night they warmed themselves beside wood-fed fires in hotels and inns and bars throughout this old mining town that heaps its charms on a well-heeled crowd. Few disagree that Aspen is becoming a rich man's resort. Particularly those celebrities and yuppies sporting mink and sable apres-ski duds.
This isn't to say that the skier on a budget can't come in out of the cold. It's just that fewer inns are posting bargain rates.
Several do reflect a warmth that matches the hospitality of early Aspen, when streets were unpaved and all the world moved at a slower pace. Shelter at Marge Riley's Little Red Ski Haus on East Cooper Street is provided for as little as $20 a night, which is the ransom if one shares a bunk with others. Otherwise, privacy for two figures out to $72 per night.
Either way, an unusual friendliness pervades this old Victorian with its bright-red facade. Guests gather for wine-and-cheese parties, and on Thursday the gang kicks in three bucks apiece for a potluck dinner.
Built by a miner, the century-old inn accommodates as many as 50 guests, ages 18 to 80. Riley, whose twin Norma Dolle operates the twin Snow Queen Lodge next door, provides no frills: no hot tubs, no telephones, no TV. Instead, guests gather in a parlor filled with funky old furniture and cockeyed lamp shades to share new friendships.
At Len Olender's Brass Bed Inn near the foot of Aspen Mountain, two can cozy up for as little as $60 a night. A free spirit, Olender floats a pot filled with wine, vodka, cinnamon and raisins on an outdoor Jacuzzi. Guests insist a slug of Olender's potion is like overdosing on Dalmane. But never mind. Olender revives everyone in the morning with his renowned French-Canadian breakfasts.
By searching diligently, one can discover other budget inns, although Aspen without question zeros in on the affluent.
Rates at the town's snazziest hotel, the newly renovated Jerome, range from $150 a night for a room to $500 for the Grand Parlour Suite with its 18-foot ceilings and museum-quality antiques.
Oriental carpets are scattered in a lobby that appears like a scene snatched from 19th-Century Aspen, complete with an immense fireplace.
The old brick pile was known during Aspen's wild and woolly past as the Silver Queen of the Rockies. Built in 1889 by Jerome B. Wheeler, then president of Macy's, it is the grand manse of Main Street.
Its present owners spent $30 million reconstructing the Jerome, adding new rooms and spiffing up the old ones as well as a bar that's been a watering hole for nearly a century--the hangout for celebrities, cowpokes and hotdoggers down from the slopes.
The 94 guest rooms feature Victorian antiques, king-size beds with down comforters, brass light fixtures, custom-made carpets, refrigerators and Italian marble baths with Jacuzzi tubs. I for one could forgo the three telephones in each room--one by the bed, another on a desk and the obligatory third in the bath.
Still, the Jerome is enchanting. It's pleasing. It's simply the most perfectly restored hotel in the Rockies. Colorado's silver barons never had it so good. During the restoration, the owners bought out an entire estate in Missouri, scooping up doorknobs, door frames, banisters and other paraphernalia needed for the Jerome.
Guests take their meals in three restaurants. The Silver Queen with its crystal chandeliers, needlepoint chairs and French cuisine is a five-star pleasure with prices to match. Jacob's Corner does a Sunday brunch, and the charming little Cafe Jerome, which serves up finger sandwiches, pastries, hot chocolate, cappuccino and scones smothered in clotted cream, recalls a Viennese tearoom. On a snowy afternoon, Cafe Jerome draws skiers and lovers--or anyone else with an appetite along with a desire to escape the cold.
A couple of blocks away, an old Victorian built in 1892 by Aspen pioneer Three Fingers Jack Wilkinson is rated at the top of the heap. Never mind that Sardy House once served as a funeral home. Today it draws from an affluent winter crowd capable of spending as much as $395 a night for a suite that features a king-size bed, parlor, whirlpool bath and private balcony.