Ski Towns for Foodies
The après-ski has long been embedded into the culture of ski towns, where people gather together for food and drinks after a long day spent swooshing down powdery slopes. Now, the cafeteria-style burgers and brewskies fare that accompany such moments are getting a makeover. These days, celebrity chefs are taking advantage of the surrounding nature’s bounty. On the menu are creative dishes that use local game such as elk and fish, from nearby mountain streams. You’ll also find hearty stews made with farm-fresh root vegetables, as well as innovative cocktails mixed with spirits from the town’s own distillery. Check out these 3 resort towns that are serving up sustainable eats and local spirits whose quality rises far above your typical ski-lodge and bar-food fare.
Whistler, British Columbia
Previously home to the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is now center stage for more than 100 restaurants; it’s also just minutes away from Pemberton Valley’s abundant farmland. Many chefs are partnering with area farmers to incorporate locally sourced produce, fish and meat into their seasonal menus. These fresh dishes are paired with regional wine from boutique winery offerings from nearby Okanagan Valley. Diners also enjoy drinks mixed with organic spirits from Pemberton Distillery (think: potato vodka or aged apple brandy). For more dining options, check out our Whistler Foodie Guide.
Don’t miss: Whistler Cornucopia. Dubbed, “horn of the plenty,” this fall festival will make you want to wear your stretchy pants to hit up its food and wine items. With more than a dozen restaurants showcasing their own unique foodie concepts, this is the ultimate taste test for the local culinary scene. The Butcher & the Brewmaster event lets you sample award-winning Oyama meats paired with Granville Island Brewery craft beers, in a street-market setting with live music. The event’s Big Guns winemaker’s dinner features 7 top wines paired with a 7-course menu created by one of the chefs who pioneered Whistler’s eat-local movement, James Walt of Araxi restaurant. Walt uses Canadian meat and produce in creations such as wild mushroom and local beef cheek ravioli topped with white Alba truffles. Foodies will literally be able to eat their way through Whistler by sampling everything from tastings to pairings to cooking demonstrations.
Utah won the bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics Games, and residents are so proud of the renowned ski conditions that led to such a world-class event that some state license plates display the motto, “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Still, there’s more to this city than powder: Now that the strict liquor laws have loosened up, Park City is fast becoming a hot destination for sampling locally made spirits. In fact, in 2007 the town’s High West Distillery & Saloon became Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870! Located right at the base of Town Lift, High West is also the world’s only ski-in gastro distillery.
Even though Utah lacks abundant farmland (much of it is desert and mountains, and the valleys are used for grazing livestock), a crop of young chefs -- such as 33-year-old executive chef Zeke Wray of Talisker (voted the “Best Restaurant in Park City” by Salt Lake magazine) -- are finding innovative ways to incorporate the region’s plentiful fish, game and root vegetables into their menus. In fact, you’ll find no shortage of trout, red meat and beet options in this restaurant!
Don’t miss: High West Distillery was originally a livery stable that housed the horses that pulled ore carts from nearby mines. The gastro-distillery is modeled after an Old West saloon, and chef James Dumas uses seasonal ingredients from local suppliers, such as produce from Park City’s Copper Moose Farm. Try pairing the restaurant’s home-brewed whiskey or rye with small plates, such as the Utah Ballard Farms Pulled Pork or Whiskey Cider Braised Short Rib.
For a slightly more upscale but still cozy ambience, check out the mountain cuisine at the Canyons Resort’s new farm-to-fork restaurant, The Farm, located across from the base of the Red Pine Gondola. The restaurant features local cuisine sourced from growers and ranchers within 200 miles of Park City, and the eatery was voted “Best New Restaurant” in Utah in 2012 by Salt Lake magazine. The menu changes depending on what’s in season; you might be able to sample starters such as salt-roasted beets with pistachios, fennel, farm cheese and aged ham; or mains such as rainbow trout with sweet potato gnudi, greens, pumpkin seeds and apple cider.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Nestled in the majestic Rocky Mountains and at the doorstep of Grand Tetons and Yellowstone national parks, Jackson Hole is blanketed in deep snow come winter (it’s gotten more than 17 feet so far in 2013). Celebrity chef Michael Mina, of the eponymous Michelin-star restaurant in San Francisco, was so attracted to the area’s stunning natural setting and rustic Wild West vibe that he opened his latest venture here. Meat lovers can sink their teeth into dishes, with deliveries from the family-run Snake River Farms supplying American Kobe beef and all-natural Berkshire pork, and the Jackson Hole Buffalo Meat Co., grass-fed buffalo and elk.
Don’t miss: The latest on the dining scene is Michael Mina’s The Handle Bar, an American pub and beer hall, located within the Four Seasons Jackson Hole resort, with sweeping views of Rendezvous Mountain just beyond. Amid decor modeled after a 19th-century American tavern, the casual menu showcases playful comfort food such as burgers (think: Crunchy Peanut Butter & Bacon Jam Burger with pimento cheese), sides (sweet potato tots with buttermilk ranch dressing) and adult milkshakes (bourbon malt).
Another great dining option is the Snake River Grill in town. A blazing stone fireplace and high, wood-beamed ceilings both lend themselves to an intimate and romantic vibe. But it’s the menu that really keeps locals and visitors alike coming back. The eatery has plenty of accolades to prove it: Executive chef Jeff Drew was nominated "Best Chef: Northwest" at the 2012 James Beard Awards; Giada De Laurentiis deemed the restaurant worthy of a visit for the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate; and Wine Spectator magazine gave the Snake River Grill its 2012 Award of Excellence. Taste buds need proof? Try the Elk Tenderloin Medallions with celery root mash, washed down with a Snake River Pale Ale.