Crème de la Crème: The Lodge At Vail

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Vail, Colorado

Set the Wayback Machine to the early Sixties, when J.F.K. was president, the Beatles were about to invade America and Warren Miller had a full head of hair. It was then that the Lodge at Vail-Vail's first hotel-opened its doors with 30 rooms and the hope that "this skiing thing" would catch on.

At the time there wasn't a single hotel chain that would build in a valley nobody had ever heard of, but that didn't dissuade the lodge's owners. With visions of ski vacationers dancing in their heads, they built their Austrian chalet-style inn on Lot One, Block One. When the resort opened on Dec. 15, 1962, with one gondola, two chairs, a $5 lift ticket and eight ski instructors, the Lodge was ready. The accommodations were sparse and the menu brief, but the price was right (rooms ran $10 to $20 a night) and the location to die for, a mere 150 feet from Chairlift 1.

In the 38 years since the Lodge at Vail debuted, plenty has changed. The hotel has mushroomed from 30 rooms to 60 to 118, including 12 "in-the-lap-of-luxury" guest rooms, a handful of mini-suites and a 3,800-square-foot penthouse suite that overlooks the mountain. The lodge wows with exemplary service, loosen-the-belt cuisine at Cucina Rustica and The Wildflower, and plush interior comforts. Dishes from Executive Chef Thomas Gay's staff have made The Wildflower a five-time DiRoNa award winner and a darling of the Zagat Survey.

But what I like best about the place is that despite its 118 rooms, it feels like a small inn. Its two-story lobby has overstuffed chairs, leather couches, hand-painted murals and a fireplace that crackles "sit down and relax." My room makes me feel equally at home, thanks to an inspired décor in warm hues, a fireplace and attention to little details such as fresh flowers and chocolate chip cookies.

I think I hear a fireplace calling now.

LOCATION The Lodge is in the heart of Vail Village and just steps from the Vista Bahn Quad. Eagle airport is 30 miles away, Denver International Airport, 100 miles (two hours).
DETAILS There are 118 rooms, 12 luxury guest rooms and seven suites. The list of extras includes an outdoor swimming pool, indoor spa, workout room, Jacuzzi and sauna.
DIGITS Rates run $280-$4,500. Reservations: 800-331-5634 or 970-476-5011; www.lodgeatvail.com.