Longtime Alpenhof Lodge manager Mark Johnson has often quipped that the cement structure of the lodge is so authentically Swiss and strong that it could survive an avalanche. Surviving the Jackson Hole real estate market might be another matter.
With Ed Cunningham’s passing on April 24, the Teton Village lodge remains in the balance as Cunningham’s widow Susan considers her options for selling.
“The hotel is not ever going to be listed,” Cunningham said. “Everything is being handled by a real estate attorney in California.”
Johnson had originally been told the hotel would go for up auction next month and with that, he made sure everyone knew the ’Hof was still taking reservations for the upcoming winter season.
“Whoever buys the Alpenhof will have to honor or reimburse guests but it’s going to take some time for things to get settled and we could be halfway through the ski season by the time that happens,” Johnson said.
Cunningham said she has a number of documents and letters to get out but that the timeline for the real estate transaction mostly resides with her attorney, who she declined to name.
“I think if people are interested, they can contact Mark at the hotel and he will pass the information on to me,” she added when she spoke to the News&Guide from her home in San Francisco.
Many are interested — The Alpenhof is one of the most significant properties in Teton Village.
The hotel sits on two lots and owns the original walking easement between the Alpenhof and the Teewinot Lift, and where the heated walkway leads to the Bridger Center.
In 2016, the 42-room ski haus was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, honoring how every detail of the lodge is not only steeped in historic architecture but how the features have retained their original functions. The lodge’s pitched roofs and balconies are embellished with ornate balusters commonly seen on hotels in Kitzbühel and Garmisch — complete with flower boxes hanging over the railings.
Under federal law, the listing of a property in the National Register places no restrictions on what a non-federal owner may do with their property up to and including destruction, unless the property is involved in a project that receives federal assistance, usually funding or licensing/permitting, according the National Park Service’s website.
The Tyrolean feel of the lodge stems from original Teton Village developer Paul McCollister’s vision for a European-style village like Switzerland’s Verbier at the base of the mountain, with a half-dozen owner-occupied-and-operated lodges.
Dietrich and Anneliese Oberreit were ski enthusiasts from New Jersey who dreamed of owning a lodge that celebrated their Swiss and Bavarian roots — they bought into McCollister’s vision, and with that plans for the Alpenhof commenced.
To make up for their lack of experience in the business, according to Johnson, the Oberreits took correspondence courses in hotel management, and with the help of an architect, also supervised the building of the lodge.
In 1965, they packed their three children in the family station wagon family and headed west. The first hotel in Teton Village opened in time for Christmas that year with 30 rooms — making the ’Hof older than the Aerial Tram, which opened in 1966.
In 1988, after 23 years of ownership, the original owners, the Oberreits, sold the Alpenhof to longtime guests Ed and Susan Cunningham.
“The new owner would only be the third owner in the hotel’s lifetime of 55 years. I am sad to let it go—Ed would have never let it go and people are upset. But I was a skier by marriage. Ed was the skier,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said she explored placing contingencies on the sale or auction of the hotel, hoping that the handcrafted furniture and hand-painted flowers on the ceiling that match the dining room’s chandeliers would be kept intact, but she’s been advised against it.
“Every attorney has said it really doesn’t matter if I create contingencies because I cannot enforce them. The buyer can do whatever he or she wants after the sale is final — what would I do, sue someone who has billions?”
Cunningham is hopeful that whoever does purchase one of Teton Village’s last remaining original buildings sees the value in its contribution to Jackson ski culture.
In its tenure, the Alpenhof did contribute greatly to Jackson’s ski culture because, as former employee Debbie Schlinger put it, the ’Hof was “the only thing out there forever.”
“I worked at the Alpenhof while I was in college, so the summers of ’71, ’72 and ’73. I lived in the ski hutch with five different roommates — and really that was it,” Schlinger said. “You would turn on the Village Road, there was no light and there were no buildings until you got to the Village except for the Calico.”
She said she has many fond memories of her days at the Alpenhof and still has a group of 10 friends who stay in touch decades after their days of wearing dirndls.
“For a while, the Alpenhof was one of the most reputable restaurants around, except for maybe the Open Range. I was a hostess and Barb Simms worked the desk.”
The Alpenhof Lodge is one of five lodging properties owned by the Cunninghams. The couple started A Collection of Romantic Places in the early 1980s and it includes the Culloden House in Inverness, Scotland, Taychreggan in Oban, Scotland, the Pelican Inn in Muir Beach, California, and Mountain Home Inn in Mill Valley, California, along with the Alpenhof.
“I may sell another property, but I am not sure at this point,” Cunningham said. “There is so much great history, I hope that resonates with potential buyers that we need to keep some of the soul and history of this place intact.”
Cunningham is not sure how much time she will spend in Jackson after her husband’s death.
“But when I do come back, I would like to stay at the Alpenhof,” she said.
The widow said there is not a set deadline for bids at this time. She said there is still a lot of paperwork to get through but she is hopeful “to have it much clearer by next month.”