Just like many other skiers and snowboarders, I aspire to lose weight from all the outdoor exercise. However, the high altitude appetite coupled with top quality ski hill dining usually puts a pause on any diet regimen. Here are four mountain top restaurants that are tempting skiers with colorful cuisine and decadent desserts this season:
1. The 10th (Vail, Colorado)
The flamboyance of the mountain-modern interior at Vail’s The 10th is equaled by its quixotic cuisine and incredible mountain views. Executive Chef, Vishwatej “Vishu” Nath describes the concept as Modern Alpine, reflecting mountain fare from France, Switzerland, Italy and Colorado.
“The flavors are delicately balanced against one another to create a thoughtfully crafted meal,” he says.
Trained in Geneva, Nath brought with him a host of helpful hints for mountain catering as well as bold flavors from his Indian heritage. At 10,250 feet above sea level, though, everything is affected by altitude, one of the bugbears of mountain cuisine.
“Bringing food to The 10th is a three to five day process,” says Nath.
Cooking times have to be adjusted for altitude and occasionally the staff has to learn by mistake – such as don’t leave out dough in the high altitude sunlight.
“We came back in the next morning and the whole table was covered in the yeast dough and the kitchen had a bad stink to it for a couple of hours,” says Nath.
Although I-70 closures can prevent important deliveries from timely arrival, there are plenty of local grocery stores to supplement ingredients.
“We have to feed our guests,” says Nath. “We certainly do a lot cross utilization of products due to availability, space and most of all delivery logistics up to the mountain.”
“We add more ingredients to the dishes to elevate them and use them for dinner as well,” Nath explains. “We have to be creative in changing things up.”
With its panoramic views over the snowy Gore Mountains, the onhill restaurant is flexible, too, in catering to differing needs throughout the ski day. Lunch needs to be quick so skiers and snowboarders can get back out onto the slopes; après ski is a more leisurely but casual fireside experience; and dinner has to be an “any occasion experience” with some people coming in ski boots (there are cozy slippers provided) and others dressed to celebrate. The good news is The 10th is also open for non-skiers via Vail’s Gondola One and the lift is free from 4pm.
“Alta does occasionally have road closures and sometimes there is ‘interlodge’ – that’s where you cannot go outside of the Lodge due to avalanche danger,” says manager, Joni Dykstra. “But both of these circumstances are short term, generally not more than a few hours.”
With a strong culture of hardcore skiers who return year after year, the almost 75-year-old lodge focuses on fine food to keep skiers going but not weigh them down. Dishes favored by 70% repeat guests include Piedmontese Petite Tenderloin with Grilled Cipollina, Vegetarian Gnocchi in a Reggiano Alfredo Sauce with Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes and a Balsamic Drizzle and Kurobuta Pork Osso Buco.
“The option to dine with others is preferred by many guests as a way to meet other skiers, learn about snow conditions if they have just arrived and to make new friends,” says Dykstra. “And it’s great for guests traveling solo as they don’t dine alone.”
As in Europe, breakfast and dinner is packaged in the vacation price and there’s also daily afternoon tea – a must after a full day of powder skiing at Alta.
Reacting to seasonal, fresh ingredients, Chef Sam Wolfe offers three choices of main course for dinner as well as a soup, a starter and several dessert options. Cooking at altitude is not problematic for Wolfe, who was sous chef for 20 years before being promoted this season.
Island Lake Lodge in British Columbia is well known to both powder skiers and wedding parties but it reaches an even wider audience with its cookbook celebrating the culinary creations of seven of its chefs. The philosophy at the remote Cedar Valley cat-skiing lodge encompasses hearty but distinctive dishes using local and organic ingredients.
“Complexity without complication” is Head Chef Keith Farkas’s mandate. As well as flavor and flair, Farkas says he strives for “strong connections between plate, planet, people and culture.” Products are ethically raised, enviro-wise and healthily balanced. But some ingredients can be difficult to source during harsh winters.
“Availability is minimal at times, and shipping and delivery is expensive and can be slow,” says Farkas. “During transport, the cold weather can freeze delicate items like lettuces and fresh herbs. The snow cat ride can be rough every once in a while and eggs don’t always make it to the lodge in one piece.”
Despite these difficulties, Farkas and his team make sure finished products are not affected: “Training and experience go a long way when writing out the day’s menus.”
Through demand, slow braised bison shortribs with truffle cheddar polenta and roasted vegetables has become one of Island Lake’s signatures dishes. Other top raves at Island Lake are: Belgian endive and apple salad with oka cheese and grapefruit vinaigrette for appetizer; and flourless chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache.
As well as all-inclusive cat-skiing vacations, Island Lake offers lunch to ‘foot traffic’ on Fridays and Saturdays, complete with snowcat rides and spa treatments. They run hiking holidays during summer and weddings year round.
4. Lynn Britt Cabin (Aspen Snowmass, Colorado)
You can’t beat the Lynn Britt Cabin for cuteness. Perched in the middle of the 3,332-acre ski area, the gorgeous log cabin has elegant table service for deluxe lunches and decadent dinners. Rustic Colorado is the culinary and décor theme and favorites include Crispy Skin Chicken with green chili macaroni & cheese.
“Our current chef, Robert McConnel has introduced his duck and risotto dish that many come back for,” says Executive Chef and snowboarder, Jim Butchart, who oversees operations for all Aspen Snowmass restaurants.
Views over the Snowmass Valley are spectacular and there’s a sunny south-facing terrace with cozy fire-pit and deckchairs. Indoors, the quaint cabin seats 60 – although it can accommodate up to 200 for private parties and weddings year round. The menu and service is flexible to incorporate the needs of speedy skiers grabbing a quick bite and more laid-back holidaymakers who want to linger over lunch. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, snowcats bring evening crowds from the village for a four-course feast of charcuterie, soup, pheasant, sirloin and dessert.
Fresh food has to be delivered by snowcat before it has time to freeze. “This is a challenge especially when dealing with delicate herbs and lettuces,” says Butchart. In order to circumvent freezing, he has known chefs tuck packages into their coat and snowmobile the very delicate items up. Menus are adapted to the seasons but Butchart says it can be difficult in the winter when fresh vegetables are less available.
“You learn to get creative with what you menu in the first place,” he says. “Bananas for instance do not travel up the hill very well, nor do micro greens.”
Weather shuts down the highway from time to time and staff sometimes get stuck on the gondola due to high winds.
“You can only prepare for so much,” says Butchart. “It’s better to have a good attitude and ability to overcome whatever Mother Nature throws your way.”