Ptarmigan Inn in Steamboat to undergo $5M renovation
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Walking into the Ptarmigan Inn in Steamboat Springs is like walking back in time, but not for long. The iconic ski-in, ski-out hotel at the base of Steamboat Resort is getting a $5 million renovation, just in time for ski season this winter.
General Manager Benjamin Franko has been the face of the hotel for two decades, welcoming travelers from around the globe to the little inn on the slopes, the last of its kind. Construction crews are tearing out old carpet and moving furniture that looks like it came straight from a 1980’s apartment.
Ptarmigan was built in 1969 when Apres Ski Way road was still dirt. It added more rooms in 1979. It’s now Steamboat’s only hotel that is true ski-in and ski-out. In a world of fancy condos and timeshares, the Ptarmigan Inn is truly a throwback. Franko runs it like an old-fashioned innkeeper. For him, to spend seven days per week either working or checking on the hotel is not unusual.
“We’re not shiny, we’re not flashy. We’re like a blue collar hotel in an extremely white collar location,” said Franko.
But Franko’s excitement for the renovation can barely be contained as he shows off the inn’s one remodeled room as if it’s his own home.
“We’re preserving the spirit of the Ptarmigan Inn, but making it look a lot nicer,” said Franko, pointing to a fashionable little pup tent meant for children who want to camp in their parents’ rooms.
He walked through an old room with pink bathroom vanities and drab, dark furniture, then showed how designers replaced it with a modern look that lights up the small boutique-type rooms with grays, whites and blues.
Designers are also using whimsical art and a new ptarmigan mascot named Ptom to liven up the old hotel. The spelling of Ptom plays on the inn’s difficult-to-pronounce name, Ptarmigan. Ptom will even have his own welcome sheet for customers, which will include how to pronounced the inn’s name: ‘tär-muh-gun — a grouse bird with feathered legs and feet.
Loyal guests thrilled at renovation
About 30 years ago, Victor and Angela North of Euxton, England, found a little ad in a ski magazine for Steamboat Springs. They decided to skip their usual Canadian ski trip for this little cowboy town in the Rockies.
“We picked Ptarmigan Inn out of the blue,” said Victor North, in a phone call from his home near Manchester, England.
While the Norths booked the trip with a ski company at the time, they met an American family from New Jersey. The Berk family asked if they’d come back the next year. Not only did the Norths return, but they became come close friends with several other American families.
During the Christmas holidays, the Ptarmigan has been their home away from home for 30 years.
“We got to know all the staff. The service and the welcome we get every year has more than made up for what has become a very ‘tired’ hotel,” said North.
“Now that it’s being refurbished, it’s music to our ears. This is a very small hotel, so it’s a lot more personalized than staying at The (Steamboat) Grand or the Sheraton (Steamboat Resort Villas). It’s the best ski-in, ski-out hotel we’ve ever been to.”
The renovation comes as Denver-based CoralTree Hospitality Group takes over management for the 77-room inn. Executive Vice President Andrew Fournier of CoralTree said its executives have operated in Colorado for 47 years in ski towns like Aspen, Snowmass and Vail. In fact, CoralTree is a “wholly owned subsidiary” of Lowe Enterprises, a well-known national company in the real estate and hospitality industry. A CoralTree spokeswoman said the Ptarmigan is owned by one of Lowe’s investors.
“There’s a tremendous amount of loyalty, and we don’t want to change its charm, but (the Ptarmigan) needs some care and that’s what we’re doing,” said Fournier.
Along with replacing outdated interiors, updating the restaurant and adding a new breakfast/brunch menu, CoralTree will bring the Ptarmigan into the world of savvy travelers.
“They haven’t had a formal distribution into the worldwide web,” said Fournier.
“The property has great identity and is fairly priced. Now people will be able to find the hotel more effectively.”
The inn sits on prime real estate where visitors can walk out the door onto the slope or watch their kids at ski school from their room. It was originally built by the Elkins and Pomerantz families; then bought in 2006 by owners who planned to tear it down and build modern condos.
The economy went bust and so did the idea of tearing down the Ptarmigan.
“That’s not an option today. They’re (owners) being conservative in their approach. The building is in good shape and runs efficiently.”
Fournier said they like to keep local properties authentic, and with new marketing, they want the Ptarmigan’s incredible location and hospitality to lure in more consumers.
“It’ll be a lift for Steamboat as well,” said Fournier.
As for the North family of Euxton, England, they’ll get to break in the new furnishings with a visit during the holidays, where they’ll meet some of their American friends in front of the lobby fireplace.
“We take it for granted that we take over the lobby every evening. Probably wrongly, of course,” laughed Vic North.
North and his American friends are so ensconced in the Ptarmigan family that the little inn put a plaque up in honor of one of their now-deceased friends.
“If you were to go to the back door of the hotel, you’d see the plaque on the wall. ‘In memory of Bill Berk, the best 300-pound skier on the mountain,’” quoted North.
One wonders if the plaque will survive the renovation.
The Ptarmigan Inn should be open for business when ski season begins.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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