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Eating at Elevation Is Twice as Tasty

by Amanda Faison
skier, ski mom, lover of slopeside cuisine


SOMEWHERE IN COLORADO SKI COUNTRY USA – Maybe there’s something in the water? Maybe it’s the crisp mountain air? Maybe it’s both? Whatever it is, we’re convinced that food on the slopes just tastes better.

Think about it: how often do you order a sky-high pile of nachos and finish every chip on the platter? Or destroy a massive, smothered breakfast burrito? Instead of getting all science-y on you, we tapped Purgatory‘s Executive Chef John Feeley, CSCUSA’s 2023 Double Diamond Award winner for food and beverage, to give us his thoughts on the high-altitude phenomenon.


CSCUSA: Why does food taste better after a day on the slopes?
John Feeley: I’ve never thought of it like that, but a lot of it has to do with working up an appetite and not just that it’s lunch time. The fresh air, all that exercise, it makes you extra hungry. Does that draw you to particular foods? I think so, especially chilis and soups when it’s cold out. Chicken tenders are a best seller at every resort in the U.S. They’re a safe choice versus getting something like a pulled pork sandwich and wondering if it might be dry.

CSCUSA: What are some of Purgatory’s biggest sellers?
JF: Chicken fingers, burgers, the chilis. At The Powderhouse, which is more of our local spot, there’s comfort food like chicken pot pie, homemade lasagna, and something we call Purg Pockets, which are like Hot Pockets. We do a Cuban one, a pizza one, and other flavors.

CSCUSA: How about for those folks who are looking for higher-end items?
JF: We just did a snowcat dinner on the full moon. It was a five-course wine dinner. You ride to the top of the mountain and stop to get pictures of the alpenglow on the Needle Mountains—I haven’t been everywhere, but I think it’s one of the best views in Colorado. The experience is so quiet, and it’s such a different vibe at night. It’s special and unique, and we stuff guests full of gourmet food and really good wine.

We also have the Bistro at Dante’s, which this year has a traditional alpine menu. There are charcuterie boards, wiener schnitzel, a sausage sampler plate (we work with a meat provider to get fresh sausages), different smoked salmons, French onion soup, jäger schnitzel, and alpine sides like sautéed apples and cabbage. It’s not traditional American comfort food, but it’s still comfort food, and it’s caught on. We just did the mid-season financial analysis of what’s selling and what’s not. The building upstairs is fine dining (Dante’s), and the cafeteria is downstairs. We learned that fine dining is doing more volume, which is mind blowing.

CSCUSA: What do you attribute that to?
JF: When I started five years ago, everything was pre-cooked and pre-prepared—just heated up. I looked at the head chef, who had also just started, and said, We need to talk. Within a year, we had moved to a scratch kitchen with fresh ingredients. We truly cook. We were smoking brisket, making pulled pork in house instead of buying product, and we got immediate, positive feedback. Guest satisfaction has gone through the roof.


Skiing or riding this weekend?
Seek out these Colorado eats

Nachos at Sixth Alley Bar & Grill, Arapahoe Basin
This cheesy pile of layered goodness starts with a tangle of Colorado’s own Raquelitas tortilla chips. From there, you choose shredded chicken, beef, or plant-based chorizo, along with black bean and corn salsa, scallions, cheddar jack cheese, pickled jalapeños, olives, and sides of sour cream and salsa. These nachos feed a crowd, so don’t go at it alone. Bonus: if you’re part of the Mug Club (there are only 473 available each season), you get $1 off of draft beer, Bloody Marys, and Moscow mules all season long.

Lifty Chili at The Lookout, Eldora Mountain
In addition to serving up views of the Continental Divide and James Peak Wilderness, The Lookout dishes up its Lifty Chili, which is a favorite of—you guessed it—Eldora’s lift operators. The bison chili is hearty and filling, and it comes with a story: the recipe originates from Tocabe, a restaurant in Denver specializing in contemporary American Indian cuisine. The ingredients are carefully sourced and inspired by Osage family recipes.

Waffle Fries at Brother’s Grille, Echo Mountain
Why order regular fries when you can have waffle fries! Echo Mountain’s signature snack has more surface area, more crunch, more everything. The fries are so popular, they’ve even been called “life changing” on the customer feedback survey. If you really want to take it up a notch, pair the fries with a bowl of tomato soup. It might become your new favorite combo.

Whatever’s on draft at Todd’s Tavern, Sunlight Mountain Resort
It’s not just food that tastes better on the slopes, it’s a frosty microbrew too. And how better to enjoy it than at Sunlight’s creaky floored, dollar-bill decorated Todd’s Tavern? This season, Todd’s collaborated with Glenwood Canyon Brewpub to create an easy-drinking, crushable lager. If you’ve got a mug, save $1, but even without, you’ll be saying cheers!




Photo courtesy of Purgatory