In Europe, they ski as a means to eat. That is, you arrive early to the chairlift not because you want fresh tracks, but because you want the best table at the restaurant. Having skied (OK, eaten) at a handful of Swiss and Austrian resorts recently, I can personally attest to the fact that one looks forward to opening the menu as much as they do the trail map.
Here in the States? We'll cram our jacket pockets full of PB&J's if it means another lap on a powder day. Lunch? Not if there's skiing to be done. For many, on-mountain dining carries about as much appeal and sophistication as the plastic tray on which it's served. But that is all changing, and the American "Ski to Eat" movement is now taking reservations at Telluride.
You know how recipes suggest special precautions for high-altitude cooking? Well the chefs at Alpino Vino must have these tips memorized because their kitchen sits at 12,000 feet elevation, making it the highest fine dining in North America. This Italian restaurant prides itself on an extensive wine selection and spot-on pairings. A couple I spoke with had recently visited Alpino Vino for a snowcat-served dinner. They fell in love with the place, and had enjoyed lunch there every day since.
After taking in the scene for a few minutes at Alpino Vino, I made a few laps on my way down to Bon Vivant, Telluride's French bistro. Bon Vivant may take the crown as best on-mountain ski patio around. Panoramic views, sun, great bar, aroma of fresh crepes wafting through the air. Yes, seriously. I tried the savory crepe, and if I didn't have another fine restaurant to visit that afternoon, I'd have sampled every single item on the menu. Yeah, life's tough as a Mountain Correspondent...
Bon Vivant means "good life", and according to the few late-lunchers I talked to, Bon Vivant is serving up the good life in generous portions. It's not a full on restaurant per se, more of a handmade crepe stand. Surrounded by the glorious San Juan Mountains. With a full bar. Have you booked your trip to T-ride yet?
About this time last year I was touring the Swiss and Austrian alps, and apart from the lack of accents, Telluride's mountains, atmosphere and the menus of Alpino Vino and Bon Vivant would be right at home in the alps. I expected to see the obligatory crusty old Frenchman on the patio, bronzing and sipping espresso. Instead, I bump in to the obligatory crusty young T-ride locals, who sum up their french onion soup in a word: "epic."
Any chef worth their salt will tell you that balance is key to any meal. If that's so, then Telluride balances its on-mountain European offerings with some domestic, semi-casual fare at Tomboy Tavern in Mountain Village. Tomboy Tavern is brand-spankin' new and offers a menu full of locally grown fare and a bar full of locally brewed beer. The atmosphere is laid-back. I'd call it mountain-chic with a JCrew twist, and a little bit of wild west as a garnish.
I'm lucky enough to be here on opening day. The propaganda machine's clearly been at work because the place is already packed. The Bronco's game is about 13 minutes in and each bigscreen has at least 20 eyeballs glued to it. I belly up to the bar where the friendly gal next to me informs me that one could, in theory, eat drink and be merry at Tomboy until midnight, and then catch the last free gondola ride in to town. I'm not sure if it's an invitation of merely a statement of fact, but I like this place already.
After skiing a full day, appetizing (yes, it's a verb) at Alpino Vino, enjoying crepes at Bon Vivant, and finishing out the day on the slopes, I'm hankering for a beer. Thank goodness I'm at Tomboy, where they've got about fifty on tap.
-John Trousdale, Mountain Correspondent, Colorado Ski Country USA