The lot on which The Little Nell sits today has had quite a history over the past several hundred years. Summer hunting ground of the Ute Indians. Miners’ retreat. Railroad stop and depot. Grazing pasture for the Aspen Dairy. Ski lift. Skiers’ watering hole. In 1989, history was made again as Aspen’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond hotel rose to prominence on the site. Named after a mining claim originally located not far uphill from where the hotel sits today, it wasn’t long before the hotel began attracting a diverse international clientele, including celebrities, dignitaries, Fortune 500 magnates and political leaders. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, The Little Nell underwent a major renovation of its guest rooms and suites at the hands of renowned interior designer, Holly Hunt.
In the winter of 1879, a group of miners ignored the pleas of the Colorado governor to abandon camp due to an uprising of the Ute Indians. Their passion for this place was a sign of things to come. In fact, the passions of one miner were so ardent, he named his mine after a certain lady of the night – Little Nell. In 1880 “Ute City” was re-named Aspen, and by 1892 Aspen was the most prolific silver-producer in the U.S., with banks, a hospital, a police department, two theaters, an opera house and electric lights. Then, as if to prove that nothing here ever happens by halves, came the Panic of 1893. Mining did revive somewhat, but by 1930 only 705 hardy citizens remained.
While the Panic of 1893 thinned out the population, the commercial buildings and residences weren’t going anywhere. And neither was all that glorious snow. Investors planned a ski resort as early as the ‘30’s, but then came a world war. The idea didn’t ignite until Friedl Pfeifer, a 10th Mountain Division skier who had trained here, joined forces with industrialist Walter Paepcke and his wife Elizabeth. The Aspen Skiing Corporation was born in 1946, and Aspen hosted the FIS World Championships in 1950. Paepcke was a true visionary, and conceived a center for mind, body, and spirit in this remote valley. In short order, the Paepckes went on to found the Aspen Music Festival and School, today’s Aspen Institute, and the seminal International Design Conference. It was the birth of the “Aspen Idea”.
By 1967, the “Summer of Love”, three adjacent ski areas had also been developed - Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass. Aspen didn’t just help to popularize skiing in the U.S., it was well on the way to becoming an international lifestyle destination. Walter Paepcke had succeeded in connecting culture with commerce by attracting both business and creative leaders. Now, in a time of social tumult, Aspen became a rollicking, bohemian, even outlaw haven. In 1970, infamous “Gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson ran for county sheriff on the "Freak Power" ticket. He advocated grassy pedestrian malls instead of paved streets, banning buildings tall enough to block the view, and de-criminalizing cannabis. Ideas that have all found their way into the world half a century later.
The Little Nell hotel opened its doors in 1989. It was built on the site of a funky ski-bum bar dating from 1947 by the same name, at the foot of the slope where the original mine shaft had been dug – the one named after that lady of the night. It was the only ski-in, ski-out access to Aspen Mountain (and it still is). In 1991, we earned Five Diamonds from the American Automobile Association, and in 1996, earned Five Stars from Forbes Travel Guide (we have earned them again every year since). That same year, only 49 lodges and 16 restaurants in the U.S. were awarded Five Stars, and out of the 23 hotels that first earned the recognition in 1996, only 9 remain. The Little Nell signature restaurant, element 47, earned the Five-Star recognition in 2015. As of 2016, just 154 hotels and 56 restaurants around the world hold the recognition.
Aspen today is a product of its past – a little bit silver, a little bit soul. It is a crossroads of wild mountain and electric city, a gathering place for a community that comes from all over the world. Walter Paepke’s brainchild of culture and commerce is flourishing in this unique microclimate, up here on the great Continental Divide. Today the Aspen experience is a heady cocktail of invigorating mountain air and mental stimulation. From the X Games, to the Food & Wine Classic, to the Ideas Festival. The Little Nell is the quintessential Aspen experience. Guests come a long way for all this, and we go a long way to make them feel at home. The little things really matter, which is why we recently renovated the hotel. And so do the big things – The Little Nell is an art gallery in its own right. There really is nowhere quite like this, anywhere.