Image: Hemingway Restaurant
Jon Gilbert Foy
In the old days, stagecoaches used to call in at the site of this classy Killington restaurant, considered among New England’s finest. In keeping with Vermont’s timeless appeal, Hemingway’s puts tradition over trendiness.
updated 2/13/2009 11:17:27 AM ET 2009-02-13T16:17:27

Apart from a bubbling hot tub with a champagne bucket chilling in the snow, few things can coax winter weary bones into another day on the mountain like a soul-warming feed.

In North America, ski food has long meant comfort food: steaming bowls of chili. Platters heaped with pasta meant to load you with carbs for the afternoon’s runs. And plates of messy nacho goodness enjoyed après-ski.

Over the past decade, however, ski towns across the country — from Killington to Lake Tahoe — have seen a food revolution with an eye on bringing classier fare to the slopes that’s evocative of the region while drawing on a European sense of refinement.

All that creativity in the kitchen is really upping the mountain-town ante. Forbes.com recently named Salt Lake City an up-and-coming culinary capital, putting the spotlight on the city’s local farmers and artisan cheese makers, bakers and chefs for “remaking the city’s culinary image.”

Not surprisingly, the trend toward innovation paired with homegrown goodness has spread to Utah’s ski towns, too, with some of the state’s top restaurants found at the Park City-area resorts.

“We do things a little bit differently in that we combine a classic ski town sense of taste with a bit of whimsy that still has the fine dining element,” said Zane Holmquist, Executive Chef at the Glitretind Restaurant at Deer Valley’s posh Stein Eriksen Lodge. “We want to make that link between the people’s memories of ski food from childhood.”

Comfort food
The Glitretind draws a stylish après-ski crowd for feel-good comfort food such as hand-cut garlic French fries, and fondue made to the classic recipe (kirsch and Swiss cheese) or with a Wasatch slant, combining white cheddar with local Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout. Dinner’s offerings, further refined, might be Rocky Mountain lamb T-bones or squash blossom risotto with Utah goat cheese.

And while chili is on Holmquist’s menu too, his version is far from classic. “Our wild game chili has no beans,” he said, “It’s all buffalo, elk and boar meat — there’s even some coffee in there.” Tying in Western elements such as game and local wild mushrooms, said Holmquist, gives the food a sense of place.

In Telluride, Colo., sense of place is wrought from several worldly sources at Honga’s Lotus Petal, a Pan-Asian restaurant in the historic part of town that’s home to the clean, fragrant cuisine of Korean-American chef, Honga Im Hopgood.

“Typically, when I think of ski towns, I think elk, and more heartier fare. If there’s fish, it tends to be trout,” said Hopgood, “So it’s a definite balance having an Asian restaurant here at 8,750 feet, and trying to be conscious about the food I provide — trying to source things locally, where they’re available, and working with high altitude farmers.”

Image: Giltretind Restaurant
Stein Eriksen Lodge
Upscale comfort food in an uber-cozy European lodge setting will put a glow on your cheeks faster than a cup of gluhwein at this Deer Valley restaurant inside the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, Utah.
There’s a traditional sushi aspect to Hopgood’s menu, with the raw stuff served at a sushi bar, converted from the building’s original 1800s gold rush saloon bar top. And if you think chili lights a fire in your belly, wait till you see what curries and soups can do for chasing out the chill.

“Everything’s got a yin yang element. And I think especially after skiing you crave more yang foods — more hearty foods that are going to warm you and sustain you,” said Hopgood, citing her Vietnamese pho, lemongrass shrimp soup and coconut chicken curries as perennial favorites. “Your body needs to rejuvenate,” she said, “And at the same time that these foods are hearty and satisfying, they’re also clean and will leave you feeling good so you can sleep well at 9,000 feet.”

Another high-altitude restaurant in Colorado where the food rivals the views can be found at 11,444 feet on Keystone Mountain at the Alpenglow Stube. Touted as America’s highest AAA Four Diamond dining destination, the restaurant, accessed via a gondola, manages to draw skiers and non-skiers in equal measure. Stube is the German word for a cozy comfortable place, and it’s hard to feel anything but warm and fuzzy as you slip out of your ski boots and into suede slippers to dine fireside on elk chops and pheasant.

Lake Tahoe is another mountain outpost that has arrived on the global scene, gastronomically speaking. At Moody’s Bistro & Lounge in the small town of Truckee (20 minutes from Northstar Resort), Executive Chef Mark Estee and his crew bring San Francisco-caliber dining to the city by the lake.

“It used to be, with skiing, you’d get a bread bowl of chili or clam chowder,” said Estee. “You still have that element, and it’s still needed, but there are more and more people who would rather have white truffles and caviar for lunch.”

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“What we do out here is really focus on the ingredients,” said Estee, adding that regular deliveries of surprise produce selections from Community Farm Alliance members in the area get incorporated into an ever-changing menu heavy on sustainable seafood and Niman Ranch meats.

Fit for a Beatle
Live music and a loyal local crowd keep the restaurant among Tahoe’s best après-ski scenes, too, and Paul McCartney has taken to the stage more than once while dining here. In fact, so enamored was the Sir by Estee’s California cuisine, he requested the chef’s personal services during his vacation in Tahoe.

Heading north, segue from California cuisine to Canadian cuisine at Bearfoot Bistro in the village at Whistler, where young gun Executive Chef Melissa Craig, 29, says her country’s fare takes its cue from a mix of European, Asian and homegrown Western influences.

“Up here, the trend is a lot of game in the winter, and I serve caribou,” said Craig, who was named Canada’s top chef in 2008. “But I also recently got back from China and Japan the year before, so I serve a lot of raw fish (sashimi plates) and wild sockeye salmon.” European influences show up in Craig’s masterful wine pairing meals, honed during her travels in France.

And speaking of the république, it’s no surprise that France — revered nearly as much for its world-class ski terrain as for its gastronomy — is home to Europe’s most refined high altitude cuisine. In tony Courchevel in the Savoie region, Le Bateau Ivre (the drunken ship) lures Russian millionaires and Parisians in pelts for flan of sea urchin tongues and Bresse chicken with foie gras and truffles — just a sample of the menu items that helped Chef Jean Pierre Jacob earn his two coveted Michelin stars.

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