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Experience Vail History with Family-Run Hotels

Turn the clock back to 1962, when Vail Mountain first opened its powdery slopes to skiers. At the time, the resort had one gondola, two chairlifts, nine runs and $5 dollar lift tickets. As word got around about the region’s soft snow, exhilarating downhills and stunning alpine vistas, the resort grew and Vail Village began to emerge.

Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer skiing in VailVail Families Keeping Vail History Alive

With the town’s budding popularity, many couples and families began to dream of putting down roots in the Vail area. Within a few years, the first few family-run hotels, inns and lodges opened their doors. Today, some of these original businesses still tell the story of the first decades of the town’s history through the eyes of the earliest members of the community. As you walk into these Vail hotels and lodges, you’ll see many relics of the town’s past — and the ongoing passion of the families that run the long-standing landmarks.

Gasthof Gramshammer

Internationally acclaimed racer Pepi Gramshammer made his mark on skiing on the Austrian National Team and International Professional Ski Racing Circuit. In 1963 at an Aspen ski race, he met Sheika, a business-minded model and dancer who worked in New York City and Las Vegas. The two fell in love and were engaged only a few weeks later.

In 1964, with the help of their business partners, Pepi and Sheika chose the perfect place to open their dream business: a hotel nestled next to an unbelievable ski summit, in the then-little-known town of Vail. They called the building the Gasthof Gramshammer to reflect the owners’ European roots. Sheika took charge of the business’ day-to-day operations, and the hotel grew in popularity alongside the town itself — which can be partly attributed to Pepi’s trusted endorsement of the region.

Today, you can still experience the old-world charm of the Gasthof Gramshammer in the heart of Vail Village, now run by the Gramshammer daughters. It offers modern amenities including a luxurious fitness center, sauna and steam room — as well as an extensive on-site sports shop — all in the iconic Austrian style that came to inspire architecture throughout the village. The hotel’s dining spot, Pepi’s Restaurant and Bar, remains a can’t-miss landmark unto itself. Order one of its European specialties like the pan-fried Wienerschnitzel, a golden-brown veal cutlet with crispy roasted potatoes — best paired with a cold beer.

historic photo of Gastof Gramshammer in Vail

Sitzmark Lodge

Robert and Helen Fritch’s love of skiing brought them to Vail and their passion for hospitality led them to purchase the Sitzmark Lodge in 1974. At the time, the couple were also busy raising their three children, including their youngest daughter Jeanne, who helps manage the business to this day. In the beginning, Bob and Helen took on the bulk of the establishment’s upkeep, from maintenance to gardening and marketing. But it was their dedication to kind and personalized service that kept guests coming back loyally every year.

Over the decades, the Sitzmark continued to expand, adding amenities like the heated outdoor pool and hot tub, a fitness center and on-premises shops where you can browse handcrafted jewelry, fine art, clothes and alpine-inspired gifts. Once you finish your spree, put down your bags and dine on delicious French cuisine at the historic Left Bank Restaurant. There, renowned chef Jean-Michel Chelain prepares gourmet dishes, which are best completed with one of their gooey chocolate soufflés topped with a sweet vanilla crème anglaise.

Located only 100 yards from Gondola One, skiers can simply strap on their goggles and gear and walk out the door to start their journey up Vail Mountain. However, snow doesn’t need to be falling to book a room. This family-run hotel is a favorite in Vail year-round, known for their warm and inviting accommodations, as well as their central location right off Gore Creek.

Sonnenalp Vail

Sonnenalp’s history began across the ocean at the original location in Germany, the Sonnenalp Resort of Bavaria, founded in 1919 by Adolf and Eleonore Faessler. After turning over management to their son and his wife, Ludwig and Resi Faessler expanded the business over several decades. It was the third generation of managers, Gretl and Karlheinz Faessler who decided to bring their family’s hospitality to the increasingly popular ski area of Vail.

In 1979, the pair purchased an inn located right by the Covered Bridge in Vail Village. Over the following decade, they added properties to their quiver, coining them the Austria Haus, Swiss Haus and Bavaria Haus, which became known as the Sonnenalp Family of Resorts. In 1986, management was handed over to the — you guessed it — fourth generation of Faesslers — husband and wife Johannes and Rosana. They added the Sonnenalp Golf Club to the family’s growing suite of properties.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, major renovations, including the addition of the beloved Sonnenalp Spa set their properties apart as luxury destinations in the area. In 2016, Sebastian Faessler entered in as the fifth generation of resort managers, joined by his wife Esmarie after they married in 2017. Now, Sonnenalp Vail stands as a family-owned landmark of renowned European hospitality throughout the town.

Visitors come back year after year to experience their lavish accommodations, with ski concierge services, modern spa offerings (including facials, massages and an oxygen bar) and fine dining at restaurants like The Stüberl at Ludwig’s. There, you can take a seat in the glowing wood-finished dining room and enjoy favorites like the Colorado Alamosa striped bass with toasted fregola, braised fennel, spicy Spanish chorizo and a saffron emulsion. It’s the perfect way to cap off a day carving the slopes or exploring shops in Vail Village.

modern-day Sonnenalp hotel in Vail on a snowy day

Tivoli Lodge

Bob and Dianne Lazier headed to Vail in 1963 for their honeymoon and decided they never wanted to leave. They spent the next few years working hard and learning all about the hospitality business in the area, buying their first piece of property in Vail Village for $7,000. In 1967, they opened the doors to the iconic Tivoli Lodge.

The stone-covered building that stands today hosts outdoor hot tubs and toasty firepits so you can sit, soak and take in views of the towering snowcapped peaks every evening. In the morning, slopeside access allows guests to hop right on Gondola One and start skiing down corduroy hills at your leisure. One of the most-beloved traditions? Their chocolate labrador mascot. Since 1995, the Tivoli has been home to an adorable brown dog. When you walk in, a pup will happily greet you in the cozy lobby lined with big leather couches and a stone fireplace that crackles all winter long.

Today, the Lazier family continues to run the lodge. While the building and amenities are modernized, you can still feel the rustic Western charm in every room you step in. Alder wood finishes, custom furniture pieces and luxurious linens make you feel like you’re sleeping in a chic mountain chalet.

 

historic village center in Vail

Discover More Hotels in Vail, Colorado

For even more lodging options, there are several other family-owned and independently managed hotels and condominiums in Vail to explore. Make one of these your homebase on your next trip:

Or find the perfect hotel for your trip to Vail by checking out our lodging resources, where you can discover all the best places to stay and filter by your desired amenities, location and more.

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