Vail luxury ski hotel: Sonnenalp hotel review

I have been lucky enough to stay in many luxury ski hotel properties, from Whistler to Tahoe to points east. My stay at The Sonnenalp, a Leading Hotels of the World property in Vail, Colorado, met the expectations that properties like the Fairmont or the Ritz Carlton had set for me, but also exceeded those expectations in subtle ways.

Sonnenalp

What do I mean by this? The Sonnenalp Hotel, which is a true family-owned property, in the same family for four generations, has a very understated and timeless style of luxury and service. From the moment you drive into the porte-cochère and your ski gear is whisked effortlessly away by the ski concierge team to the simple yet thoughtful texts sent by the front desk staff, inquiring how your stay is going and whether there is anything they can do for you, at The Sonnenalp, it’s all about quietly and efficiently serving, while providing a timeless and lovely place to call home in the heart of Vail.

sonnenalp

 

While beautiful, the Sonnenalp exhibits a cozy Bavarian elegance, not a flashy or sleek luxury vibe. Inside, the long halls with meandering staircases with wooden handrails call to mind a European ski chalet; in fact, in some parts of the hotel, I truly would mistake my location for the Alps. All the guest spaces of the hotel, from the small front lobby to the expansive King’s Club lounge (arguably the heart of the hotel) exhibit an understated but sophisticated elegance. You’d never make the mistake that you were in a budget hotel, by any means, but you are also spared any sort of stuffy or snooty ambiance.

Sonnenalp rooms:

suite

Ever stayed at a five-star, very expensive property and looked around your hotel room and noted you were actually lacking a lot of useful items, like a fridge, table, or microwave? The Sonnenalp has 112 suites to its 15 rooms, with a focus on comfort. I stayed in one of their two-level mountain suites, which was laid out with a living room and wet bar space downstairs (with fireplace) and two bedrooms upstairs, with over 1300 square feet total space. Be sure to ask for a few room fans upon check-in, as we found the upstairs to get stuffy. I appreciated having a Nespresso machine, a minibar, a second fridge for storing our own things, a microwave, and two and a half bathrooms.

great room

We enjoyed turndown service, lovely robes for use in the room and at the spa area, and eco-friendly bath amenities. The only thing I found missing: access to a washer and dryer, or even just a dryer, in the suites. When skiing with a family, a dryer is huge. 

Sonnenalp European spa:

At The Sonnenalp, the European spa concept means that in addition to their luxurious spa, most of the spa’s 10,000 square feet is accessible for all guests, including children. What this looks like: when you enter the spa area, you are not stopped at a sign-in desk (though they have one). Instead, you’re invited into the large space that houses a 360 degree fireplace with sunken seating, a full bar (with oxygen bar), and the indoor pool and hot tub. Off of this room are the men’s and women’s locker rooms, sauna, steam rooms, and fitness center…open to everyone (though children under 16 are not allowed in the back locker rooms or fitness center of the spa). Out glass doors by the pool, the outdoor section of the pool and two additional outdoor hot tubs await.

spa

While kids need to be respectfully quiet in this greater spa area, they are welcome, and what results is a very cozy, warm space for families to gather apres-ski or anytime. For adults, complementary yoga classes are held here almost daily, as well as personal training services. While the fitness center is not large, it has the cardio and weight training equipment needed.

pools

While I love that most of the spa can be appreciated by everyone, I do recommend booking at least one spa treatment during your stay. My aromatherapy massage was one of the best I’ve ever had, made even more relaxing in the knowledge that the rest of my group could be having fun in the pools and hot tubs. A poolside/spa-side menu is available (though outdoor pool deck service is seasonal).

Sonnenalp dining:

swiss chalet

The Sonnenalp has multiple restaurants onsite, and of course, you’re in the heart of the Vail village, so many additional restaurants are within walking distance. As noted above, the cozy King’s Club, with bar, a ‘living room’ type space, and even a library, is the place to start your evening with a drink during their happy hour. It’s also the place to return later in the evening for live music. A must do is Swiss Chalet, Sonnenalp’s nod to Alpine cuisine, with fondue and raclette, and for the most casual dining option, head to Bully Ranch, the hotel’s Western-themed restaurant (where you’ll instantly feel like you’re in Wyoming, not Germany).

buffet

While Sonnenalp may be best known for Swiss Chalet’s fondue dinner, their breakfast buffet, held daily at Ludwig’s, is in danger of outshining it all. There’s more than any one person could possibly eat at this gourmet buffet of hot dishes, granolas, fresh fruits, berries, cheese spreads, bagels and lox, smoked salmon, artisan breads, and more. The buffet is $35 per person (or $23 for the continental version), but don’t gasp just yet: with most reservations, it can be included in the cost of the stay as an add-on (well worth it). If you don’t add the buffet on and don’t want to pay that price, there is also an a la carte menu, as well as room service. By no means is Sonnenalp dining inexpensive, but it is part of the overall experience of the hotel.

Sonnenalp activities:

The Sonnenalp’s activity director, Kara Schmidt, offers wintery activities such as snowshoeing for adults ($50 per person) and tubing and dinner (with supervision so parents can have a date night) for kids (also for an additional fee). The hotel does have a kids’ club, which is complementary Sunday through Thursday, and while it’s not one of those resort clubs with extensive hours, it has activities planned for kids daily, with drop-in options. At the time of my visit, the club was open from 4 pm to 6 pm, which was great: parents can enjoy happy hour while the kids are busy. This service is for kids three and up who are potty trained ,but even if you have a younger one, stop by for a complementary box of sanitized toys to take back to your room. For older kids, there’s a game room adjacent.

kids club

The planned activities for adults, beyond the spa and fitness offerings, such as the snowshoeing treks aforementioned, were offered six days a week during my visit. Of course, a main activity for parents is simply relaxing. I recommend sitting in the library with one of their famous mudslides.

sonnenalp

If visiting in winter, most families plan to ski. Here’s how the ski concierge services work at Sonnenalp:

Because the hotel is about three blocks from Gondola One (where you can upload for Vail skiing), the Sonnenalp has their own ski concierge locker room space gondola-side, in the bottom of Bridge Street Ski Haus. The ski concierge team will transport your gear there upon your arrival to the hotel. Guests walk the few blocks in comfortable winter boots, instead of ski boots, and grab their gear from the concierge there, by the gondola. The space has ample room for getting on gear and storing skis and boards, and even a refreshment station with hot cocoa, tea and water. You can also apply sunscreen here and pick up hand warmers. Store the boots you wore to the concierge room there, and do the reverse when your ski day is over.

For summer season guests, Sonnenalp has their own private golf course, with a much large fitness center and pool complex, as well as on-site dining, Harvest. The fitness center and Harvest are actually open year-round, and shuttles can be arranged from the hotel. There is a daily fee for golf, but I was assured hotel guests have use of the fitness area complementarily.

Photo credit: Amy Whitley and Sonnenalp.

Disclosure: I stayed at Sonnenalp as a guest of the hotel, for the purpose of review. All opinions remain my own.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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