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Aspen, Colo., is a world-class ski resort with endless lodging options for skiers. But when you arrive as a family of four, things get tricky. Differences — from level of skiing expertise to culinary preferences (foie gras vs. chicken tenders) — make it tough to choose a spot where everyone feels their needs are being met.
That’s where The Little Nell — Aspen’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond hotel – comes in. When our quartet of two adults and two children arrived, we were immediately greeted by name as though we were regulars who the staff was happy to see again. No one is ever made to feel excluded here — even the guests’ dogs, which receive their own special set of amenities such as bowls, beds, personalized identification tags and even a menu.
The closeness and familiarity that guests feel can be partly attributed to The Little Nell’s relatively smaller size. Unlike the neighboring chain hotels, The Little Nell offers only 92 rooms, including the suites.
Now in its 25th year, The Little Nell recently swapped its wooden ski lodge motif for a modern, minimalist look, using metals, silvers and stone. The hotel’s once rustic palette has been replaced with muted blue, gray and white hues with splashes of bright colors in the form of artwork or a striking armchair.
Our family stayed at the 2,000-square-foot Pfeifer Suite, one of the property’s six luxury suites.
From the foyer, we saw the gorgeous living area, and immediately fell in love with the hardwood floors, the stone-clad fireplace, the book-filled glass coffee table with black walnut legs and the down-filled couch. The kitchen features marble countertops and both bedrooms have balconies facing the slopes and bathrooms with heated marble floors.
The Pfeifer Suite windows face Aspen Mountain, affording guests a view of skiers blowing past on their way down the hill — reminding us that The Little Nell is downtown Aspen’s only ski-in/ski-out resort.
In the master bedroom, floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto Gondola Plaza, which houses the gondola that takes skiers 3,200 vertical feet up Aspen Mountain. It couldn’t have been more convenient for us.
While I luxuriated in our master digs, our girls had their own accommodations on the opposite side of the suite. They were thrilled to discover small welcome gifts, including a stuffed animal and a book, on their twin beds.
Though welcome trays stacked with edible goodies are common at many fine hotels, we soon discovered that fresh delicacies arrived each day of our visit. We always looked forward to these trays — a brilliant idea by the hotel since there’s always time after skiing and before dinner when you or the children are hungry, but don’t want to ruin your appetite.
When traveling with our children, I always have to have a talk about what’s off-limits in the room: the snack bar, usually. But that’s not so at The Little Nell. All of the snack and non-alcoholic beverages in the rooms are complimentary and restocked every day. Talk about a child’s dream – or an inner child’s dream.
Renting ski or snowboard equipment is pretty easy and convenient as well, thanks to The Little Nell’s adjoining Gorsuch Ski Demo & Rental. At Gorsuch, adult rental packages start at $45 per day and children rentals start at $30 per day, varying depending on duration of rental and type of equipment. The Little Nell’s Ski Concierge stored our skis and poles and made sure everything was ready to go each morning.
The Aspen area boasts four ski mountains. Besides the Little Nell’s Aspen Mountain, there are the nearby Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Lift tickets, starting at $129 per day for adults and $87 per day for kids, are good for all four mountains. In addition, the Little Nell has complimentary “Skier Shuttles” to each one.
It had been a year since we all skied, so we knew the first day had to be about refreshing our skills and waking up that dormant muscle memory. Since Aspen Mountain does not have any green runs — only intermediate and higher — we headed over to Snowmass for the sake of the kids.
But after a few days at Snowmass, we were itching to ski Aspen Mountain, even though that meant no safety net of beginner runs or on-site ski schools for the girls.
Pfeifer Suite is one of six luxury suites at the family-friendly and award-winning hotel, The Little Nell, in Aspen, Colo. // © 2015 David O. Marlow
Sundeck, a 10,000-square-foot space atop Aspen Mountain, is an indoor and outdoor event space at The Little Nell. // © 2015 Zorianna Kit
Fine-dining restaurant Element47, located at the hotel, serves breakfast, lunch, apres ski and dinner, seven days a week. // © 2015 Gibeon Photography
The Little Nell’s Ajax Tavern is known for its truffle fries served in a paper cone. // © 2015 Jason Dewey
Within the hotel’s wine cellar of 20,000-plus bottles, master sommelier Carlton McCoy has created a private “club” for wine lovers. // © 2015 Zorianna Kit
At the Snowmass ski mountain, kids are gearing up for a day of skiing with Treehouse Kids Adventure Center instructors. // © 2015 Zorianna Kit
Views of downtown will greet clients skiing down Aspen Mountain. // © 2015 Zorianna Kit
Although Aspen Mountain only contains 675 acres for skiing, it is dubbed the “biggest little ski area you’ll ever experience” because one can ski on it for years and never cease to discover new trails. My 11-year-old began skiing down the intermediate blue line, and by the time she ended up at the bottom, she had unwittingly — yet successfully — completed a Black Diamond. There was no going back for her after that.
Part of the adventure of skiing Aspen Mountain is the ride up in the Silver Queen Gondola. It is the longest single-stage gondola in world, whisking riders from the plaza to the top in about 20 minutes.
It was a perfect setting to get us in the proper headspace for skiing back down. We left the buzz of the downtown plaza, and watched, fascinated, as the city got smaller behind us. By the time we could see the Elk Mountains and White River National Forest, the quiet and serenity were all-encompassing.
Coming down the mountain produces the reverse effect, and we skied right off the mountain into Gondola Plaza in time for lunch at Ajax Tavern. No meal is complete without its famous truffle fries served in a paper cone, although my personal favorite is fried green tomatoes served with burrata.
While eating dinner one evening at The Little Nell’s fine restaurant, Element 47, I was handed an extensive wine list featuring more than 3,000 varieties of wine. Most are priced in the $100 to $250 range; at press time, the most expensive bottle was the 1967 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti at $42,000.
No wonder the Little Nell has become a destination for wine connoisseurs. Out of the world’s 219 currently existing Master Sommeliers, 10 of them hail or have hailed from The Little Nell — the most of any property.
In was an unexpected treat when The Little Nell’s master sommelier Carlton McCoy took me down to the wine cellar (that also has an attic) where, amid the 20,000-plus bottles, he’s created an invitation-only “club” for wine lovers who can appreciate the art of wine.
Over bottles of wine, slices of Iberico ham and hip-hop music, McCoy entertains his guests with conversation about wine and music into the wee hours of the morning. In lieu of a guestbook, visitors sign the walls and ceilings with a Sharpie.
As I signed my name on the side of a wooden wine rack using permanent marker, it was clear that my time at The Little Nell with my family had also left a permanent mark on me.