Stepping into the lobby of the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail I feel every minute of this family-owned business’s 99-year history of hospitality.
The desk staff is expecting me, and I am shown directly to my suite which has all the amenities one expects, a huge bathroom, ample closet space, a king-sized bed, flat screen TV with a variety of true High Definition programming, a minibar, refrigerator, a balcony overlooking the pool and Jacuzzi, along with robes and slippers laid out in nightly turndown service. I open a waiting bottle of water and drink in the view through the glass balcony door, mindful that humidity and oxygen are harder to find here than in Miami, couple that with the knowledge my serious slope side workout will be balanced by Sonnenalp’s pool, spa and fitness areas, and I’m as good as gold, or at least in my case, good as blue, as in the blue square that represents my downhill level.
Downstairs, the sign says their meal is a “Breakfast Worth Waking For” and I smile in agreement and exchange a “hello” with a gentleman in a traditional Bavarian jacket, turns out he is Johannes Faesler, the General Manager and member of the family who has owned Sonnenalp since 1985. So much so is the resort a family business, his great grandmother designed the patterns on their restaurant, Ludwig‘s flatware.
Sitting on the glassed-in outdoor terrace, my server brings pineapple juice, an order he’ll remember every morning for the rest of my stay, exactly the treatment one expects from a property where the owner is seen throughout the day.
From my table in the center of the space my eyes take in the floor to ceiling view of what the body will experience, and hopped up on corn flakes I’m ready for the light fluffy snowflakes that come to rest just beyond the glass that was put in about 2 years ago during a renovation. The Pantry offers an alternative to the pancake pops (a sphere of pancake batter dipped in chocolate, rolled in sprinkles, skewered by a lollipop stick) that I added to my Corn Flake diet. I’ll need a few of these beauties because each is a perfectly sized bite and in preparation for my day on the slopes, I put the sweet stuff into perspective by reminding myself that I need the energy. Fear not, consistently healthy eaters, on the other end of the buffet spectrum stands yoghurt and muesli.
For dinner I’ll have to decide just how seriously I’ll want to eat as the hotel’s three restaurants give me options ranging from a three course chef’s menu with wine pairing at Ludwig’s to a burger at Bully Ranch. Maybe I’ll split the difference in their third and have schnitzel at Swiss Chalet.
Today’s hotel of 127 spaces, encompasses junior, one and two bedroom suites and have all benefitted from the resort’s renovation in 2016 where they spent almost $6 million, adding a 10,000-sq. ft. health and fitness center and a total restaurant renovation. Beyond a reconfiguration and expansion of the building itself,
Walking away from the hotel’s address on Vail’s main street I recall it’s the Faessler Family’s second location in town, and while their hotel experience began in southern Germany circa 1919, their original Vail property opened in1979 and the knowledge they’ve garnered virtually guarantees my goals: luxury, snowboarding and relaxation.
My triple-threat of goals begins about 6 blocks from the hotel at the slope side ski concierge. Walking into the Bridge Street Skihaus, I’m directed to head downstairs, by the technician, where I meet the concierge who assigns me a basket and overnight storage space for my ride. Back upstairs I’m fitted for boots and a board, then it’s off for a day on the mountain. I figure I’ll start with the Vail side today and tomorrow I’ll tackle the Lionshead portion of the area as their gondola is about 2 miles away.
Today some of my highlights were Skid Road, Gitalong, Pony Express, and Whippersnapper. Tomorrow it’s over to Lionshead for a feline theme, where I hope to tame Simba, Cheetah and Born Free. I smile and think how convenient it is to leave my board with Sonnenalp’s ski concierge, because as I unstrap at the base, my legs tell me it’s been a full day of runs.
I take the free, in town, shuttle which runs as frequently as every five minutes, from the gondola back to Sonnenalp where I hit the suite and “slip into something a little more comfortable” (something I’ve always wanted to say BTW) and head for the spa, which I will forever think of as the SPAaaaaahhhhhh.
Instead of hopping the shuttle, I walk back to the hotel because there‘s a great selection of art galleries, snow and general clothing stores to check out, and I almost forgot the microbrew selection in every eatery along the way. On the sidewalks Russian, Italian, German and Spanish can be overheard and lend an international air, to, well… the air.
This après-ski is a wonderful contrast to the bright, airy vista which teased me at breakfast. Walking past the lobby en route the Jacuzzi, I hear Beethoven coming from the lounge’s baby grand, the atmosphere is subdued, firelight teasing the room’s oversized seating, the large dark wood bar and inviting furniture implore me to take a seat and partake in the environment before I embark upon my journey to the spa, which takes me beneath thick off-white concrete archways leading to rooms whose exposed wood-beamed ceilings make me feel like a Bavarian nobleman, welcomed back to the safety and comfort of the castle from a hard day of knighting on some Alpine battlefield.
Alas, only a short walk from the piano I find the closest thing there is to a moat, the pool and spa area. Beyond the 50 group fitness classes offered per week, have unlimited access to the Sonnenalp Club’s cutting edge Technogym-equipped health and fitness areas, but I am already in the water, the heated lap pool’s swim-through connection between its indoor and outdoor sections is calling my name. The temperature change from indoor to outdoor puts my face through a 45-degree difference, it’s like an air-based plunge pool for everything above the shoulders. As I breast stroke from inside to the snow-circled Jacuzzi, I think, “This is pretty decadent, swimming to the hot tub. The only thing more decadent might be the spa’s personal supply of flavored oxygen that I plan to breathe in for a few minutes, if I ever get out of this Jacuzzi.” Eucalyptus or tangerine is the only question.
While mine is a perfect time to ski, there’s still plenty to do in Summer. Individuals or groups can enjoy either of the hotel’s two family pools, year–round. Jacuzzi, tennis or pickleball courts are at guests’ disposal. Adult and family hikes in addition to photo and painting walks, horseback rides, and standup paddle boarding, accompanied by a river side lunch are a few things I plan on returning to take part in.
Of course, whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall, if one must commit to either a job or a spouse, making seasonal choices is easy. In Vail, this elegant, family-owned stalwart of service and luxury accommodates, and I will be back because Sonnenalp’s options are replete with all I need in a vacation.
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