—by Yvette Cardozo, RFT Contributor
Once upon a time, ski food, even at major resorts, meant chili and greasy $3 hamburgers. Well, the hamburgers and chili are still there, but these days they’re made of Kobe beef and cost upwards of $15.
And it’s not only gourmet, $20 a plate restaurants that are dishing out decent food. Just about every eatery has its own hook … and some pretty yummy fare.
I was recently at The Mill Cafe, one of the on-slope restaurants at California’s Mammoth Mountain when a guy, maybe 22, well over six feet and hardly 180 pounds pointed excitedly to dishes in the cafeteria line.
“I want that,” he said, his eyes gleaming. “And that, and that, and that.” You could practically hear his drool drip.
He’d added grilled chicken breasts and salad and potatoes to the mix, the star on his plate was the smoked tri-tip beef.
I ordered it too and it turned out to be the best single meal I’ve ever had on a ski hill without having to pay big bucks at a waiter served place. The juicy, tender slices of beef had just enough smoke to give them flavor; they melted in my mouth and came with a killer dipping sauce.
Be still my growling stomach.
But, there’s more. On busy days and weekends, Mammoth hauls out its burrito cat.
It’s a food truck on snow treads, painted bright orange, and serving up four flavors of burrito for a quick, on-slope snack. The thing has been so popular, Mammoth is planning to add a second cat, this one devoted to calzones.
For the more gourmet-minded, there’s the snowcat dinner. Picture a bus on snow treads and you’ve got a passenger snowcat. It takes folks up to Mammoth’s ultra gourmet Parallax restaurant, which is usually reserved for Black Pass owners.
Black Pass? A paltry $10,000 for membership gets you favored parking, permission to cut lift lines, concierge service, and lunch at Parallax. But for the rest of us, a typical $89 snowcat dinner serves up wild arugula salad with goat cheese, maple and peppercorn crested duck breast or rack of lamb followed by chocolate soup … yes soup.
Why is all this good food available? Perhaps you can credit Deer Valley in Utah.
This is the place that invented ski luxe. In the early 1980s, there were telephones on lift poles here so skiers could stay connected. That was well before folks could pull a cell phone out of their pockets. There were ski packages that included butlers. And of course, there were gourmet buffets with half a dozen kinds of wild mushrooms.
When the lodge opened with its brass bathroom fixtures, original oil paintings and gourmet ski food, people shook their heads. But it didn’t take long for other resorts to copy the ideas.
And now we get to the much sought-after, three-times-weekly Fireside Dining meals at Deer Valley’s Empire Lodge, which takes ski dining to unheard of levels.
Begin with the architecture … picture a 35,000 square foot lodge filled with what has become the prerequisite ski luxe decor of cedar planking, heavy beams, peeled logs and, of course, massive field stone fireplaces. It’s the fireplaces that are the centerpiece of the dining experience.
First, there’s cheese. Huge rounds of raclette sit on the fireplace hearth, slowly melting and dribbling onto plates. The fragrance is so sharp, it causes you to catch your breath while you drop boiled potatoes, pickles, tiny onions, bread and Swiss meats onto your plate. Take a plate of cheese, some homemade mustard and dig in. But not too much. Because this is just the appetizer.
Then it’s on to the next fireplace … steaming bowls of stews, thick with tender chunks of lamb, chicken or veal that swim alongside mushrooms, leeks and roasted tomatoes.
And finally, sheesh, can there be room for more? Dessert. This is at the third fireplace, where pots of bubbling chocolate and caramel sit alongside strawberries nearly the size of plums, slices of apples, bananas and assorted dried fruit.
Daytime food at Deer Valley isn’t bare-bones either. At mid-mountain, Royal Street Cafe’s signature dungeness crab tower is something to behold. Six inches of crab layered with avocado, tomato, sprouts, wontons, ginger, soy. There’s also a maple bacon barbeque bison burger.
Park City’s Snow Hut at the base of Silverlode Lift serves Thanksgiving dinner for lunch daily … turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and, as one ski host put it, “The best smashed ‘taters you’ve ever had.”
And there’s High West Distillery … certainly the world’s only ski in/ski out saloon that makes vodka and whiskey on the side. Yes, you can ski or ride to the place. Both Quit ‘N Time and Creole trails at Park City Mountain Resort funnel you into town where you come over a bridge (still on skis or board), then click out and cross a narrow street which dumps you at the distillery’s front door.
There’s food. There’s booze. There are tours at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm daily. You go back stage, so to speak, and get to see the copper pot still and learn just how whiskey and vodka are made. If you’re hungry, there are, among other tasties, bourbon and black coffee glazed cod or whiskey cider braised short ribs. And for $20, there’s a whiskey tasting which gets you a sampling of High West’s unique blends. Some spicy. Some smooth. All intriguing.
Okay, we know this is a story about food you can ski to. But we have to include one in-town restaurant because the experience was so special.
Talisker on Main in Park City is beyond gourmet. Food here is an art. “You really have to try the fried egg and bacon appetizer,” our server said.
Well, this was no truckstop dish. First, a single egg is pressure cooked, then encrusted with a bread crumb/cheese mix and flash fried for a second. It is served with a square of local pork belly bacon that has been braised for 24 hours and topped with pepper and gremolata spices, served over a chick pea and arugula puree. It is a ballet of tastes … some sharp, some spicy, some mild, all managing to play on your tongue just right.
And this was just the start. The brussel sprout salad was actually brussel sprout leaves pan seared in sherry vinaigrette. There was a bone dripping with fragrant marrow and then the lamb rack served with a spicy house made sausage.
What made all this even more special was the setting. Out front is a large room for groups. But you leave that and enter an alcove with two overstuffed chairs on one side, two more on the other. It practically begs you to meet the couple on the other side. A private, intimate nook shared with new friends.
There was, of course, so much more to be tasted on our ski trip … the Kobe beef burger at Park City, the lamb stew at The Canyons, the full page of flowering teas at, of all places, Ghiddoti’s, an Italian restaurant.
And best, it was all guilt free. We had skied all day.
We deserved to eat all night.
If You Go
Parallax Snowcat Dinners – Mammoth Mountain Resort, www.mammothmountain.com. Look under the dining & nightlife/fine dining tab. The dinners run Friday, Saturday and holidays at $89 pp ($49 for children) plus tax.
Deer Valley Fireside Dining – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. $54 pp ($28 pp for children) plus tax. Another $30 (total, not pp) gets you a 15 minute sleigh ride for up to six people. www.deervalley.com
High West Distillery – www.highwest.com
Talisker On Main – www.taliskeronmain.com
Park City – www.parkcityinfo.com
The Ski Resorts
What Utah does best in the skiing world is variety. Less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, there are seven resorts, three of them in Park City alone. And each of the Park City areas has its own personality.
Deer Valley is, of course, still tops at ski deluxe. The cruising runs are groomed to perfection. And while it has the most beginner terrain, the days when it had only hero snow for CEOs who ski a week a year are long gone. There are now six mountains, 21 lifts, 100 runs and a couple of expert bowls that will curl the hair on your chest. Deer Valley still doesn’t allow snowboarders, however. www.deervalley.com
Park City Mountain Resort is the original, with the most wide open intermediate terrain but also a bit of everything for everybody in seven “mountain zones,” each with its own feel. Sixteen lifts and 114 trails serve 3,300 acres. But what makes this place stand out is the history. Old mining equipment, huge ore bins and mine shaft entries still dot the runs and you can take a history tour that explains it all. Then, at the end of the day, you can ski right into the heart of Park City’s old town. www.parkcitymountain.com/winter
Canyons has grown the most, from barely more than a local hill to Utah’s largest ski resort with 4,000 acres, 19 lifts, 182 trails and some of the widest variety of expert terrain in the area. When the rest of Park City teems with bodies, the new Iron Mountain area is practically deserted and has a variety from intermediate to bouncing bump runs through the trees. www.thecanyons.com
In California, there’s a reason Mammoth Mountain is called, well, mammoth. It’s got 3,500 skiable acres, 150 trails and 28 lifts and these days, you can fly into the local airport, avoiding the 250 mile drive from Los Angeles. There’s just about every kind of terrain here from super expert to first day novice. In the past, you really needed a car here but now that there is a real base village with condos, restaurants and shops plus a gondola to the snow, you can truly leave the car at home. www.mammothmountain.com