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Food In High Places


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


SOMEWHERE IN COLORADO SKI COUNTRY USA – Growing up in Aspen, my provided ski-school lunch consisted of a very sad hot dog and a small soda on a tray. (Of course, I always bolstered this with a pocket roll of Mentos for chairlift snacks.) Hot dogs might still make an appearance on the occasional resort menu, but on-mountain dining has evolved to include more finely crafted options. See below for some of CSCUSA’s top picks, plus an uphill bonus.

Not only does Arapahoe Basin’s Il Rifugio sit at 12,456 feet and carry the distinction of the highest restaurant in North America, the bistro also serves excellent antipasto and charcuterie boards along with panini and salads. For stunning views of the Continental Divide, dine on a bluebird day and see if you can nab a table by the window or sit on the deck. The vistas pair perfectly with a glass of bubbly. Open for pastries and coffee at 9:00 am and lunch starting at 10:30 am; no reservations.

Fun fact: Before Il Rifugio opened in 2019, Telluride’s Alpino Vino (at 11,966 feet) boasted the title of North America’s highest restaurant. But don’t let the difference of 490 feet discourage you from dining at this gorgeous chalet. Perched on the side of the aptly-named See Forever run, you really can see for-evah! The views only enhance the already terrific menu of pastas, antipasti, and panini. Swirling a glass of Italian wine by the fireplace, you might momentarily think you’re in the Dolomites. Open for lunch and dinner; reservations strongly recommended.

Over the years, the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, a yurt with nightly dinner service, has become a destination. The structure, which sits at 1,080 feet and is accessed from Ski Cooper’s nordic center, is only reachable by snowshoeing, skinning, or (for an upcharge) snowmobile. The ongoing popularity of that experience led the resort to create yet another dining opportunity: Yurt dinners at Ridgeview Cafe. For these evenings, a snowcat delivers guests to the mountaintop yurt, and after a dinner of prime rib, shrimp scampi, and other fancy dishes (plus tiramisu!), folks either pile back into the snowcat or ski down via headlamp. Reservations required. Cooper’s yurt dinners are sold out for the rest of the 2023–24 season, but Tennessee Pass Cookhouse will soon transition to its summer schedule. 

Skiers and riders take note: Loveland Ski Area is doing something all its own. Thanks to its secret weapon, kitchen supervisor and head baker Audra Alviso, the mountain has established a fantastic pastry program. Alviso, a Denver native who worked as head baker at Whole Foods for six years and as a chocolatier in Idaho Springs, has taken Loveland’s morning nosh up a serious notch. She specializes in doughnuts, French pastries, and petit fours, and even if you’re not hitting the hill (ummm, whyever not?!), Alviso’s treats are worth pulling off I-70 for.

This season, Aspen Snowmass set out with a mission to bring the best of the best in burgers to its on-mountain guests. The resort rolled out seven signature burgers across its four mountains. From classic to seriously over-the-top, each $21 sandwich features local, grass-fed beef patties from Nieslanik Ranch in Carbondale. The chosen restaurants—Sundeck at Aspen Mountain; Elk Camp, High Alpine, and Ullrhof at Snowmass; Buttermilk Mountain Lodge and Cliffhouse at Buttermilk Mountain; and Merry-Go-Round at Aspen Highlands—all added their own flair. For example, in keeping with High Alpine’s Bavarian spin, the burger is topped with pastrami and kraut and bookended by a pretzel bun. Over at Merry-Go-Round at Highlands, the mountain’s come-as-you-are vibe translated to a burger with a little bit of everything: pastrami bacon, onion rings, pepper jack, barbecue sauce, lettuce, onion, tomato, and grilled cheese sandwiches standing in for a bun. If only there were a burger passport, where you could get a stamp for trying each—and a prize (a shot of Pepto? A free beer?) at the end!

And speaking of Aspen…With small exception, most every CSCUSA resort permits uphilling with an arm band and mindful awareness of the rules. But Buttermilk takes the experience to the next level with the Friday Morning Uphill Breakfast Club. On Friday mornings throughout the season, Cliffhouse, the restaurant at the summit, opens early for those earning their turns. For the 2023–2024 season, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association sponsored the breakfasts, meaning that uphillers could nosh on items from a DIY yogurt and oatmeal station or breakfast fried rice with a farm egg for just $7.50 per person.




Photo courtesy of Arapahoe Basin