Chalets, US-style: Over there and owerawed? Here's the solution

The trouble with American resorts is that everything tends to be supersized. In Aspen, however, there's an intimacy that suits Susannah Osborne better

Chalet holidays vary. There are luxury chalets and bog-standard chalets, good chalet wine and paint-stripper chalet wine. But some things are guaranteed - a home-from-home atmosphere, communal eating, new ski buddies and lots of laughs.

Chalet holidays vary. There are luxury chalets and bog-standard chalets, good chalet wine and paint-stripper chalet wine. But some things are guaranteed - a home-from-home atmosphere, communal eating, new ski buddies and lots of laughs.

For many British skiers, the European chalet holiday is the only skiing experience we know. But a favourable exchange rate means that this year many of us will be heading to North America for the first time - into the unknown.

Experiencing European-style chalet intimacy in Canada and the States is not always easy. Like many things over the pond, ski holidays can sometimes feel supersized. The condominiums are so big that you could get lost in them. The beds are princess-and-the-pea style - four feet off the ground, with six layers of blankets and throws. And the hotels are several storeys high, with long, never-ending corridors; take the Fairmont Chateau in Whistler with its 550 bedrooms.

Then there is Aspen, Colorado. It's a special resort. It is Tinseltown on snow and has a big "wow" factor; it has the big hotels and the big condos, four big mountains to play on with something for everybody, and, at the moment, more snow than all the French resorts put together. But it also has two hotels that are half-way between boutique guesthouses and ski chalets where the experience is as close to the European model as you can get.

Hotel Lenado centres on a huge communal lounge with a roaring log fire. The boutique inn is classed as a hotel, but thanks to the set-up and the staff, you are just as likely to meet your new ski or snowboard mate over blueberry pancakes in the breakfast room, on the sofa or at the three-seater bar, as in any chalet in Europe.

I found my ski buddy within minutes of arriving, over an après-ski drink. I never did catch his name but I've narrowed it down to Dirk, Kurt or Randy. He had won his time in Hotel Lenado in a frozen turkey hurling competition. This native of Breckenridge (another Colorado ski town) was winched 12ft into the air on a crane and then had to throw a 14lb frozen turkey into a bucket below. "It didn't go right in, it kinda bounced on the edge and fell in," he said. "Wanna ski tomorrow?"

Turkey man did a "no show" at breakfast for the skiing. I guess it was something to do with JD and coke. He wasn't exactly typical of the Lenado clientele, but his attitude was; he was there to meet nice people and ski. David Evans, general manager of the Hotel Lenado, says: "We have families who have been staying in the hotel for 10 years. They first met over breakfast, started skiing together and now arrange their holidays so they are here at the same time."

It's no wonder people return. The inn is a cross between a rustic Hotel du Vin and an Alpine front room with a concierge and a touch of luxury thrown in. The bedrooms are snuggly - the kind you could hole up in for days if a storm were raging outside. The wooden-framed, four-poster or (supersized) "queen" beds are covered with foot-thick duvets called down-comforters, the roof-top hot tub is an indulgence not to be missed, and the kids' room, downstairs, with film screen and PlayStation, should keep junior occupied for hours while ma and pa chill out.

As in many European chalets, but unusually for America, the staff muck in with the clients. Whallee, the New Zealander concierge, helps to make the Lenado experience. He is not a concierge in the true sense of the word because, along with recommending restaurants, updating the weather and keeping you plied with après-ski drinks and snacks, he will also ski with you and be your mate.

Across Main Street is the Carriage House Inn, the Lenado's little sister, set in the grounds of Sardy House, a stunning old red-brick building that was once Aspen's (rather grand) mortuary. More Hotel du Vin meets Little House on the Prairie, The Carriage House takes downsizing one special step further. It has eight rooms decorated in lilac and dusky green - with snuggly duvets covered with the finest cotton linen - and, again, the emphasis is on an intimate experience, to an even greater degree than at the Lenado. You do really feel that you are staying in someone's home.

Breakfast is the talking point of both the hotels - the waffles, pancakes and omelettes attract many non-guests. But the biggest difference between this and a real chalet holiday, however, is the absence of a communal dinner - where great friends and good enemies are made over pints of dodgy wine. But Aspen has more than 150 restaurants, and eating out is a rite of passage in the town. From a $2 (£1.12) cheeseburger to a $50 steak, Aspen has it all. "Providing dinner would negate the point of being in Aspen," says Evans. "Aspen trades on eating out."

And, indeed, from the modern American Montagna at the five-star The Little Nell hotel, to Matsuhisa, Nobu's foray into ski-town dining, Aspen does have the mountain restaurant market covered.

Hotels Lenado and the Carriage House are a real find among the glitz and glamour of America's top A-list resort. And for a British skier who doesn't like to make too much of a fuss, they are perfect.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Susannah Osborne flew to Aspen with British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com), which offers return fares from London Heathrow to Denver with a connecting flight to Aspen with United Airlines from £660 return. Holiday Extras (0870 844 4186; www.holidayextras.co.uk) offers a week's parking at Heathrow Airport from £64.

Where to stay

Hotel Lenado, 200 South Aspen Street (001 970 925 6246; www.hotellenado.com) offers doubles from $365 (£192) per night with breakfast. The Carriage House Inn, 128 East Main Street (001 970 920 2525; www.sardyhouse.com) offers doubles from $355 (£187) per night with breakfast.

Further information

Colorado Tourism (01564 794 9991; www.colorado.com). The Aspen Skiing Company (001 970 925 1220; www.aspensnowmass.com) offers extensive information and pre-booked lift passes, ski lessons and ski rental packages. Seven-day lift passes start from $518 (£273). Three-day beginners' group ski lessons start at $318 (£167). Ski rental costs from $108 (£57) for seven days.

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