The skier food day ... Eating on the hill ...

What does a skier food day look like?  Up early, wolf down oatmeal, cold cereal or nothing, and head for the lift.  Perhaps grab a bagel with cream cheese or egg, bacon and cheese croissant or a Cliff Bar along the way.  Ski hard and break for lunch.

Sometimes “breakfast” on the hill takes a dramatic turn of its own.  Rich and I had just driven through the night to Salt Lake City and were now at Snowbird for the first time.  Our last meal had been take-out in Las Vegas about midnight.  Impressed by the view of the mountain, and undaunted, we jumped right on the aerial tram to the summit.  Exiting the lift station, we found ourselves on a very small patch of real estate with seeming vertical cliffs on every side.  A quick assessment that perhaps our daring had overestimated our abilities, the obvious answer was to sit down in the snow and have breakfast.  Breakfast consisted of emptying the boda bag of wine Rich was carrying.  Courage restored, over the side we went.

Later that afternoon, now with wine calories completely burned and not having eaten anything all day, we were in powder near the western edge of the resort.  Rich was ahead of me; I could not see him through some low scrub trees.  Suddenly I heard a yell.  As I came through the scrub, I found Rich “seated” in the snow.  He had managed to fall with his legs crossed underneath himself, boots still locked in the bindings.  A consternated look on his face, “help me get out of here.”  First, I had to stop laughing, which did not endear me to Rich.  My skiing ability was no better than Rich’s, my luck was just better this day.  With my breath returning, I got out of my skis and waded over to Rich.  “Wading” is the appropriate description because every time I moved I sunk up to my knees in the snow.  Finally next Rich I had to dig down into the snow to find his rear binding and pop it.  With his legs crossed, the only way for Rich to move was to fall over sideways while I dug through the snow to find his other binding.  Free of his bindings, we now had to dig his skis out.  Needless to say, we left a huge divot in the snow.  No, we were not going to fill it in.

It must be acknowledged up front that on-mountain dining in ski areas has vastly and dramatically improved over the last couple of decades.  You can refuel traditionally … burgers, chili, pizza, beer, and absolutely don’t forget the fries … chili fries with lots of cheese.  On the other hand, there are many more options today, ramen, salad bar, taco bar, soup, sushi, deli sandwiches, pasta in various forms, to name but a few.  

Some ski areas sport specialty restaurants such as the Wildwood Smokehouse at Vail; fabulous barbeque, beef brisket, pulled pork or chicken, coleslaw and beans.  The belly-bomb brownie usually skis off the hill in my pocket, to be savored later.

You should not miss Corbet’s Cabin, a Jackson Hole tradition and singular experience.  Corbet’s Cabin is located at 10,450 feet at the top of the Aerial Tram.  Made-to-order waffles, yes, you can get them with bacon, are a ski day treat, whether breakfast or lunch.

The vast majority of on-mountain eating places are cafeteria-style.  We usually want to refuel in the shortest time with the least hassle and get back to skiing.  Trying to find a table in usual lunch hours is a major undertaking, much more stressful than the black diamond upon which we just left our ego.  Snoopy Vulture-like hovering in peripheral eyesight usually has little effect, especially if it is blowing outside.  

For days not measured in the number of runs or vertical feet, ski areas offer on-mountain elegant dining … white linen tablecloths, creative menus, extensive wine lists.  It is a bit of a mind warp to enjoy such elegance wearing ski boots.  It is amazing how much that expensive plastic on my feet pops into my consciousness during such an occasional (make that rare) lunch, no matter how wonderful the food.  Try the Lynn Britt Cabin or Sam’s at Snowmass, The Roundhouse at Sun Valley, Piste Mountain Bistro at Jackson Hole, Talons at Beaver Creek, Alpino Vino at Telluride, The Mountain Room at Sunday River, Rustler Lodge at Alta, the Bavarian at Taos, Cliff House at Stowe, or The 10th at Vail.  Collins Grill at Alta offers you cabin slippers so you are not distracted from your food by your ski boots.

As we were riding the cable car in Zermatt my ski guide Richard (“Re … chard”) said he was taking me to a floor show for lunch.  I did not have the opportunity to ask what he meant before the door opened and the horde piled out onto the snow.  At various stopping points during the morning, I noticed Richard checking his watch.  We were about to descend a slope when Richard said we had to ski this run very fast to make sure we arrived at the Hütte no later than 11:40 to make sure we got a seat for lunch, at which point he took off like he was in a World Cup downhill with me chasing him.  Arriving at the Hütte, me huffing and puffing, Richard pointed me to a table away from the door and said to get us two seats at the end of table facing the doorway on the deck.  The day was sunny and warm so sitting outside would not be uncomfortable.  I complied while Richard went inside to get us lunch, weiße Wurst, rösti and Cardinal (“Car … din … al”) beer.

Rösti is a Swiss potato dish perhaps best described as a cross between hash browns and a potato pancake.  Originally a farmer’s breakfast from German-speaking Switzerland, it is now a Swiss national dish.   Every region of Switzerland has its own version, and as is to be expected, rösti in German-speaking Switzerland is different from rösti in French-speaking Switzerland.  The “Röstigraben” (Rösti ditch) is a humorous term used to refer to the cultural boundary between German-speaking and French-speaking parts of Switzerland.  The Röstigraben is on full display in the town of Visp where the school cross-walk is painted “école” on the western side and “Schule” on the eastern side.  Rösti is cut into wedges and served with sausages or other meats and cheeses, weiße Wurst being the best in my opinion.  

Rösti

3 to 4 medium starchy potatoes, like russets (peeled)

1 medium white onion

2 to 4 tablespoons butter

Salt to taste

Optional add-ins: parsley, diced bacon fried crisp, nutmeg, pepper, or ground paprika.  You can serve the rösti with a fried egg on top.

1.     Melt 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter in an 8-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet.  Slowly sweat 1 onion, chopped or sliced into thin strips.  Onions are more flavorful if sauteed over low heat for 30 minutes before adding the potatoes.  Do not allow onions to brown.

2.     Grate the peeled raw potatoes into a bowl.  The grating is usually done by hand and traditionally with a rösti grater with large holes, but a box grater will do nicely.

3.     Add the potato mixture to the skillet about 1 inch deep and salt as desired.

4.     Cook the potatoes over medium heat several minutes, stirring two or three times with a spatula to coat the potatoes evenly with butter.  Pat the potatoes into a cake with the spatula and let them cook for 10 minutes.  Cover the potatoes and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.

5.     This is the tricky part.  When the bottom of the potato cake is golden brown, place a plate that barely fits inside the skillet on top of the potatoes.  Invert the pan, holding on to the plate.  Remove the pan and set it back on the stove.  Add another tablespoon or so of butter to the pan, allowing it to melt.

6.     Slide the rösti off the plate and back into the pan, golden side up.  Cook for about 15 minutes, pressing down once or twice with the spatula to make the pancake stick together a little more.  You can cover the pan to get the potatoes cooked in the middle if desired but remove the cover at least 5 minutes before the end of cooking so that your pancake is crispy on the outside.

7.     Slide the rösti onto a plate and cut it into wedges.  Add more salt and pepper if desired.

Richard returned with our lunch and sat down.  Quizzically I asked him what was the rush, there was no one on the deck except us.  Richard just smiled and said “wait.”  Five minutes later it seemed like everyone in Zermatt was suddenly on the deck, the floor show had begun.  There were the dowager duchesses, princesses, and lesser nobility with their virile courtier ski guides and instructors; the septuagenarian and octogenarian dukes, princes, and monarchs with their bedecked arm wrappers; and a phalanx of supporting cast, the aspirant understudies.  Everyone was kissing everyone on the cheek and making noises like they have not seen the other in eons, all the while checking out the apparel and the bling; lots and lots of bling.  There were courtiers just to carry the bling.  Food appeared but I don’t think I saw anyone eating; you know you can never be too thin.  Richard and I were just two ski bums watching the floor show; no cover, no drink minimum. 

The show was long enough for Richard to work his way through the stage to refill our beers so we could stay through the final curtain.  I teasingly asked Richard why he wasn’t a guide for one of the on-stage actors; the tips and benefits must be quite good.  Richard replied that when he first started guiding, he did so for some of the actors but quickly learned he liked to ski and guide for people that liked to ski more than he liked being a stage prop.  After about an hour, the curtain fell and we were once again alone on the deck.  As we headed back into town at the end of the day, Richard said I could catch the après ski rerun of the floor show at the Schweizerhof.  I declined, once was plenty.

Richard continued that the European tour included St. Moritz, Verbier, Gstaad and Davos in Switzerland, Chamonix in France, Cortina in Italy, St. Anton in Austria, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, among other locals.  The score and lyrics are the same; all that changes are the members of the cast.

The floor show does have an American tour.  You can particularly find versions during Christmas and New Year’s at the “name” ski areas, Aspen, Vail, Sun Valley, Deer Valley, Killington, Sugar Bush, Stowe, and the like.  All ski season versions are available anywhere the glitterati congregate in winter; some of them actually ski and snowboard.

Runs counted, turns taken, vertical measured, the ski or snowboard day is done.  Euphorically off the hill to après ski or back to the condo to prepare dinner or get ready to go out to a restaurant; more food choices to come, maybe even a floor show, planned or not.