Those special ski area meals ...

For most of us this ski and snowboard season is over.  A few Colorado resorts are open until mid-April; Mammoth, as usual, may be skiing until the 4th of July.  As we put our skis, snowboards, boots and gear away, what is it most skiers and snowboarders think about?  A little casual empiricism … our first thoughts are … “next season I’m going to ...” whether to visit a different ski area, or to take a lesson, or “get better,” or finally surmount that nemesis run, or ski 20 days … or 30 days or … a 100 days, or 100,000 feet of vertical, or eat at a particular restaurant, or simply to reflect on the season past … tis a fitting close to the season.  Yes, you can go ahead and check the schedule for next season’s Warren Miller film (sorry, schedule probably not out yet) while pulling out your mountain bike or kayak or ….  The new gear edition of Ski is already out, thankfully sustaining summer reading.

Unfortunately, coronavirus put a damper on many ski area dining experiences that, hopefully, will return next season in full form.  You can start thinking now about the ones you enjoyed earlier or have not yet enjoyed with family and friends.  Yes, you can enjoy these experiences in the summer, but, hey, somehow it’s not the same. However, we hope they whet your appetite …  think snow!!!

Every ski area sports tremendous restaurants and some offer unique and varied dining experiences … Beno’s Cabin at Beaver Creek, Trail Creek Cabin in Sun Valley, Game Creek in Vail, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro on Aspen Highlands, Allred’s at Telluride.  We have all enjoyed great food in ski areas, but when we tell others about our experiences, what is it that we describe?  Do we talk about the specifics of the meal, or the wine, or …?  Casual empiricism leads to the conclusion that more often than not we talk about the people associated with our experience and the unique circumstances surrounding it.

Syd, Tom, Ellen and I grabbed hot chocolates at the Sun Valley Inn before boarding the horse-drawn sleigh and snuggling together under woolen blankets while the two-horse team pulled us to Trail Creek Cabin, a mountain-style log cabin next to the rambling waters of Trail Creek.  Disembarking the sled, we were greeted by the glowing warmth of an earlier time.  First built in 1937 as Averell Harriman’s private hunting cabin, Ernest Hemingway ate more than a few steaks at Trail Creek Cabin and photos of him dot its interior.  The seasonal menu has a western flare with items including locally raised beef, Idaho trout, baby back ribs and the Hemingway meat loaf.  Needless to say, the food is excellent.  Satiated, we boarded the sleigh for the 30-minute ride back to the village.  There’s nothing more romantic than snuggling under a stary winter night sky in a horse-drawn sleigh surrounded by friends and nature.

No visit to Aspen would be complete without dinner at the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro located at the top of the Cloud Nine Lift at Aspen Highlands.  The Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, locally known as “C9,” channels a European alpine experience in a former ski patrol hut complete with a cozy wood burning fireplace.  C9 is known for its fondue, raclette and apple strudel, among other mountain delicacies.  Smoke from the bubbling cheese in the raclette grilles fills the air and casts a haze through the compact room.  Champagne has become the de rigueur libation; Veuve Clicquot the appellation of choice.

C9 dinner guests meet inside the Aspen Highlands Welcome Center and enjoy a hot chocolate with schnapps.  Fortified, we board the open-air snowcats for the half hour ride to the restaurant.  Fortunately, blankets are provided that with the schnapps and champagne encourage snuggling, both to and from C9.

We were very late in meeting our guide Richard (“Re … chard”).  After four days of hard skiing, Richard suggested we take it easy and go to Cervinia in Italy for lunch.  Of course, we really had no idea what we had agreed to do.  First the aerial tram from Zermatt to Furi, then to Trockenef Steg, and then to Klein Matterhorn; total time about thirty minutes.  Skis on we cross into Italy, no border guards, no passport control.  It’s just under 5 kilometers as the crow flies down to Cervinia, but then we’re not crows.  Italians ski like they drive; I felt like the target in a pachinko machine.  Skis off and to the check valet, we walked across the street into the trattoria for lunch; antipasto, pasta, tiramisù e vino, tanto vino.  After a very leisurely and tasty lunch, we retrieved our skis and paid the fare supplement for the aerial tram back to the Swiss border.  Relatively short tram rides and we were back to Testa Grigia, not long enough for the full effects of lunch to wear off.  Back on the aerial tram and our skis we start the return to Zermatt, about 8 kilometers as the crow flies; we’re still not crows. 

A two-gondola ride from River Run Village at Keystone delivers you to The Alpenglow Stube atop North Peak; you even get a blanket for the ride.  Another chance to snuggle.  At an elevation of 11,444 feet above sea level, Alpenglow Stube is the highest AAA 4-Diamond restaurant in North America, and offers a stunning natural backdrop, charming dining room complete with fireplace, and exquisite mountaintop views.  The menu is classic Colorado with an extensive wine list.

Another legendary mountain dining experience is Beano’s Cabin at Beaver Creek, nestled in a mountain meadow at the base of Larkspur Bowl.  This elegantly rustic cabin features vaulted ceilings, antler chandeliers, a large stone hearth and a wraparound deck with stunning views.  The menu features a variety of local favorites, including Colorado bass, grilled pork porterhouse and lamb top sirloin.  Getting there is another open-air sleigh ride behind a snowcat, here only about twenty minutes.

The Vail Ski and Snowboard School offers a unique program called Focused Learning (FL) in multiple formats, Ultimate Express, four days, FLS Express, two days, and Alumni Mountain Camps, three days.  Focused Learning is designed for adult intermediate and advanced skiers.  The coaches are the best on the mountain and have decades of teaching experience (Ingie, Laura, Dave, Herb and Marek have been our coaches).  They have developed cutting edge learning tools to dramatically advance skiing skills and confidence.  Intense in their training, the coaches are also a lot of fun.  One of the recurring features is the on-slope performance videos that are reviewed by the coaches and your skiing comrades; no shrinking violets here.  Furthermore, Focused Learning is the best ski instruction deal in skiing; for less than the cost of a private instructor for a day you get access to the very best instructors on the mountain for multiple days in very small groups.  [We expectantly hope Focused Learning comes back post-coronavirus!!!]

Ultimate Express is appropriately named, four-days of intense ski instruction.  The coaches take you apart every morning and then spend the day putting you back together better.  We start with basic skills, stance, balance, body position, work on them on familiar terrain, add new skills, practice them on familiar terrain, and then take our new skills into unfamiliar terrain.  From confidence to klutz and back again, day after day.  Seemingly magically, and most times mysteriously, by the end of the four days we feel more capable and more confident.

The first two days of Ultimate Express are typically Sunday and Monday, and the second two days Wednesday and Thursday.  No class on Tuesday, thankfully, thankfully, thankfully.  A day’s respite from the intensity for brain and body reset.  We usually truly take Tuesday completely off, no skiing; sleep late, breakfast late, walk in town, take a nap.  Tuesday evening is reserved for a special dinner at Game Creek.

Situated at 10,300 feet in Game Creek Bowl, during the ski day Game Greek is a private club.  At night it is elegant white-linen and wine list restaurant.  

Getting to Game Creek is itself an adventure, starting with a ride on the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead Village to the top of the mountain, Eagle’s Nest, at sunset to meet the snowcat that will drive us down to the restaurant.  This snowcat is enclosed; no need for blankets … snuggling will have to come later.

The west wall of the restaurant is all glass; we always request a table next to the windows.  Sunsets are amazing.

Over the years we looked forward to seeing Josh, the sommelier.  Each of his wine selections came with a story about the winery, the vintner and what to expect upon tasting … don’t ask me exactly what the wines were, those brain cells are gone.  I can tell you that each wine incredibly enhanced whatever we were eating. Unfortunately, Josh left Vail for Miami; Vail’s loss.

We were talking to Josh one evening and mentioned having a cottage at Tamarack in Idaho, just south of McCall.  Josh said the Game Creek Executive Chef had been at Shore Lodge in McCall.  We asked to meet him if he had a moment, and did; Chef Steve Topple.  Chef Topple also left Vail for Donnelly, Idaho (there is more to this story later).  Another Vail loss.

Satiated with exquisite food and wine Ellen and I again mount the snow cat for the ride back to Eagle’s Nest.  If you’re nice you might get to ride up front in the cab where the already stunning views are even more stunning in the crystal night sky.

From Eagle’s Nest, the nighttime Eagle Bahn ride down to Lionshead is enveloping; stars and village lights. 

Skiing, snowboarding and mountain living offer unique and distinctive experiences, enhanced by culinary delights.  When we talk about our evenings at Game Creek the narrative is about the gondola rides, the snow cat rides, Josh, Chef Topple and the great time we had.  Only occasionally have we gone into detail about the food courses.  I venture to guess your descriptions are mostly about the people as well, as it should be.

Des expériences culinaires de montagne savourées aujourd'hui qui aiguisent notre appétit pour les futures saisons d'hiver en famille et entre amis!  (Mountain dining experiences savored today that whet our appetite for future winter seasons with family and friends!)