Coyotes howled close by. The frozen beaver pond outside the window was covered with snow; a creek called Snake River meandered past. Beyond were the dark spruce forest and the mountains.
It was time to get out on the slopes, but my wife and I slowly sipped our coffee by the fire. We were enjoying the view, and the rustic ambiance of Ski Tip Lodge: the antiques, the old stone and tile floors covered with oriental rugs, and the walls made of big hand-hewn logs.
Ski Tip Lodge, 75 miles west of Denver, is a century-old former stagecoach stop with 22 guest rooms and a chef who serves gourmet meals. It is in Summit County, an area heavily built up with condominium developments and motels, especially along busy I-70. But the county also boasts some of the best skiing in the Rockies, including the Keystone, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin ski areas. Ski Tip is located in a small valley less than a mile by shuttle bus from Keystone's lifts.
However, around the lodge there is a sense of seclusion and serenity. And therein lies Ski Tip's special charm.
There is no television at Ski Tip, and no telephones in any of the rooms. The guest rooms are small, but they are nicely furnished with antiques and country quilts.
An advisory warns guests that "there is only so much hot water. The early bird gets the hot shower." But remember: Ski Tip is an old-fashioned ski lodge -- five of the rooms do not have private baths. (Eight of them, however, are in an annex and are newer and a bit larger.)
Opened in 1949 -- when Colorado skiing consisted of just a few scattered slopes, rope tows and T-bar lifts -- the lodge was bought in 1985 by the Ralston Purina Co., which owns Keystone.
Throughout Ski Tip's history, however, families have always been welcome here. Kids bound up and down the stairs, exploring the narrow hallways connecting the guest rooms and romping over the uneven stone floors and steps of the lodge.
During storms, the wind sometimes blows right through the high, exposed-beam ceiling of the main lounge. In wilder days, the room actually hosted mountain-climbing lessons. Pitons, mountaineers' metal spikes, are still stuck in the huge stone fireplace. A few crooked steps away there is a bar with another fireplace, and a small sitting room which is home base for a collection of 1950s-vintage National Geographic magazines.
Ski Tip's small dining room seats only 45, and guests at the lodge get priority. Three entre'es are served each evening, among them large shrimp with Gorgonzola-stuffed tortellini in a dry vermouth cream sauce, baked salmon in garlic dill butter and a good Colorado prime rib. I had a delicious breast of chicken stuffed with spinach and sausage, and wrapped in a very delicate sour cream pastry. Each entre'e comes with soup and salad or a fresh relish tray.
The variety is astonishing, but this is no place for prudish epicures. Dining is informal. The servings are for hungry skiers -- big and hearty and usually topped with a mousse desert. The night we ate there, a toddler at the next table stood on his chair and undressed.
"You should have been here for Christmas dinner," said our good-spirited waiter. "We had four little kids wrestling in the middle of the dining room floor."
Ski Tip's dining room is generally open to the public only for dinner. Lunch is served for guests in the bar, and consists of homemade soup and bread. Dinner and a full breakfast are included in the room charge.
Most guests at Ski Tip are downhill skiers, but my wife and I spent the day cross-country skiing. Keystone's cross-country center, which offers lessons and rental equipment, is just a 30-yard walk from Ski Tip's door. And from the center, cross-country skiers can ski a kilometer to the gondola, which will carry them to the summit of Keystone Mountain. From there the challenging Mountain Top Trail winds away from the downhill slopes through the Arapahoe National Forest for 14 1/2 kilometers, including a spectacular, open stretch above the tree line. The scenery -- the rugged Gore and Ten Mile ranges -- is breathtaking at 12,000 feet.
Intermediate skiers can handle Mountain Top Trail, which is well marked, in one to three hours. A six-kilometer detour called West Ridge Loop is more difficult. Either way, skiers end up back at the gondola. After down-loading on the gondola, you can ski or take a shuttle bus back to the center and Ski Tip.
Robert C. Wurmstedt is a free-lance writer in Fort Worth, Texas.