Many moons ago, the idea of on-mountain cuisine called to mind overpriced foil-wrapped hamburgers and bowls of chili. Luckily, though, this has changed over the past few years, thanks to a movement toward high-quality food on the mountains, and especially for dinner, after the ski slopes close. Added bonus? The appealing mode of transportation: Most of the restaurants are reached by gondolas, snowcats, and even open-air sleighs. In our opinion, no matter how good the skiing is, a visit to Vail without eating at the Game Creek Club, or a weekend spent in Beaver Creek without experiencing a sleigh-ride dinner at Zach's Cabin, is a trip wasted.
By Larry Olmsted
The United States ski industry only recently realized that a gondola or a horse-drawn-sleigh ride is a nice gimmick but not enough to compete with the many fine-dining options in today's ski towns. Suddenly the emphasis is on a high-quality high-altitude experience at restaurants such as Parallax (760-934-2571), now in its third winter of offering Friday and Saturday snowcat dinners midway up California's Mammoth Mountain (www.mammothmountain.com). They even pour a glass of Champagne for the ride, which is followed by a five-course wine-pairing dinner.
When it comes to peak dining experiences, Colorado has a veritable gold rush. Swank Beaver Creek offers two choices, Zach's Cabin (970-845-6575) and Beano's Cabin (970-949-9090; begins serving dinner December 1). Both are private clubs by day and public by night, with motorized sled rides available to all diners. Along with an à la carte menu and white-glove service, Zach's has a 2007 Wine Spectator "Best Of" Award of Excellence (the magazine's top honor). Nearby Vail has a similar mountaintop private-club-cum-gourmet restaurant, the fabulous Game Creek Club (970-479-4275), which you reach via gondola and a customized snowcat limo. A bit of Switzerland comes to Aspen Highlands every Thursday night, when the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro (970-923-8715), a European alpine-style hut, offers snowcat dinners, serving classic gourmet dishes at nearly 11,000 feet.
For some real Swiss mountaintop dining, visit the classic Refuge de Frience, above the Swiss ski resort of Villars (www.villars.ch/en/gastro_altitude.cfm). Reached via a cog railway, the restaurant serves local wines and regional dishes such as fondue and raclette.
A world-class ski resort, Jackson Hole has long been famous for just about everything — its steep runs, deep snowfalls, classic Wild West town — except food. That changes this Christmas, with the opening of the $10 million Bridger Restaurant complex (www.jacksonhole.com). The stone-and-wood building fits the mountain’s frontier image and houses multiple eateries, most notably the gourmet deli Couloir, Jackson’s first on-mountain restaurant open for dinner. (Complimentary gondola rides are included.) The focus is regional fine dining — think porcini-and-cornmeal-dusted Snake River trout or slow-roasted prime rib of buffalo.