Ralph Melville, founder, builder, and operator of the Mountain Chalet

Ralph first came to Aspen in 1951.  He found the town overbuilt from the 1950 FIS races. He returned in 1953 and broke his ankle skiing. He considers this his lucky break because he found himself stuck here with nothing to do but wander around and look at real estate. With real estate agent Jim Moore, Ralph looked at the lot where the St. Regis now sits.  It was seven lots and was initially offered at $4000, which was too much. They came back asking $4500 and Ralph felt that was really overpriced. As an alternative, Mrs. Salisbury owned two lots (1200 square feet) on the corner of Mill and Durant. Ralph bought this property for $2000 in February 1953.

He began building in
August 1954

and was ready to open at Christmas-time with three usable rooms:  2 bunk rooms (each with 4 beds) and one room with two twin beds.  Over the winter he finished six more rooms.   In 1957 he bought Billy Zaugg’s two lots from Mrs. Towne, and bought Mrs. Swearringen’s lot after she died in 1963 or 1964.

In the spring of 1956 Ralph began two floors of the east wing, at the same time he built Ed’s Beds and a house for Madge Soderstrom.  He had three guys working with him.  This east wing section was finished in the winter.

Ralph made $1900 the winter of 1954-55 and lost it all the summer of 1955

trying to run it as a regular lodge.  So in the summer of 1956 Ralph started providing housing for music students in town for the Music Associates of Aspen. They leased the whole lodge for 9 weeks.  This continued every summer until the Marolt Housing was built.  With these low-maintenance guests at the lodge, Ralph would do other projects.  Some years they would go to New Mexico to work on the railroad, or sometimes there were houses to build for people around Aspen.

Marian met Ralph in June 1956. She had come to Aspen in 1955 with Dottie Keleher whom she had met at Mont Tremblant, Canada in 1954; they were in the same American Youth Hostel group with Charlie Patterson. She spent her first winter in Aspen skiing and working at the Holland House and the Sundeck.

Marian and Ralph first met formally at a picnic at Chapman Dam up the Frying Pan River valley.  She and her then-boyfriend caught a ride back to Aspen with Ralph, but the boyfriend had so much to drink he fell asleep on the trip.  With the boyfriend out of the picture their relationship moved quickly.  They were engaged in July and set a wedding date of August 18, 1956.