By Larry Olmsted
In Colorado’s best ski towns, some visitors downhill ski, others snowboard and some prefer cross-country. But everyone eats, and while ski towns are famously full of pizzerias, après hot wings and dive bars, some of the best dining options are not in town at all, but rather on the slopes above them.
Whether it’s a well-earned lunch break during an active day on the snow, a romantic dinner for two or a family dinner compete with a sleigh ride beneath the stars, Colorado’s ski resorts offer a wealth of varied on-mountain epicurean experiences for every taste and budget. These are some of the best restaurants:
Game Creek Club, Vail
A private members club by day, this posh mountaintop retreat opens to the public for dinner (Tuesday – Saturday), and just getting to the restaurant is an adventure. Diners ride a gondola up, then shuttle over in a customized snowcat - a sort of chauffeured limo on treads. The menu features three-, four- and five-course prix-fixe menus showcasing local Rocky Mountain ingredients with classic Continental preparations in a romantic setting. Try Colorado lamb Mediterranean-style with yogurt and olives or elk with sweet potato and local wild mushrooms. Check out Vail vacation homes for a place to stay before hitting the slopes
The 10th, Vail
Named for the Tenth Mountain Division Army ski troops, who trained nearby, this popular luxe lunch spot encourages relaxation as guests trade ski boots for slippers and order upscale comfort food while enjoying incredible panoramic views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The Colorado lamb meatballs with spaetzle dumplings are a solid choice and many feel the 10th serves the best burger in Vail, using locally raised, grass-fed 7x domestic wagyu beef. Stay in a Vail rental and make sure you hit this local spot.
Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Aspen Highlands
A touch of the Swiss Alps in Aspen, this rustic chalet is a local favorite and serves fondue, raclette and apple strudel for lunch on white tablecloths, indoors or on the sunny deck, with a healthy wine list (reservations are highly recommended). There are also snowcat dinners on Wednesday and Thursday nights that start with a snowcat ride to the restaurant. Stay in an Aspen vacation rental to taste some of these great eats.
Beano’s Cabin, Beaver Creek
This perennial family favorite is the highlight of many an annual ski trip. The classic Old West log cabin with lots of glass framing spectacular views is reached by a 20-minute, open-air (blankets provided!) sleigh ride. Five-course menus for adults and three for children feature Colorado cuisine with local and game options, in front of a roaring fireplace and under elk antler chandeliers, accompanied by live music. Try the trout sausage or braised venison. Check out some of these top choices to stay in a Beaver Creek vacation rental.
Talons, Beaver Creek
Built for the Alpine World Championships hosted here, the newer Talons sits near the Men’s and Women’s World Cup Downhill courses –- both open to visiting skiers. This restaurant serves an eclectic mix of Austrian alpine specialties like smoked pork loin, cabbage and apple casserole and Colorado comfort foods like grilled-to-order lamb burgers. While visiting, consider staying in a Beaver Creek vacation home.
Ragnar’s, Steamboat Springs
A 2015 Open Table Diner’s Choice winner, this longtime classic serves fixed-price, five-course Scandinavian dinners on weekends – after a gondola ascent and sleigh ride transfer. It is also open to skiers and snowboarders for lunch daily. Dinner includes smorgasbord appetizers and entrees like seafood in pastry and duck two ways with lingonberries. A la carte lunch has offerings such as Swedish meatballs and cured salmon, gravlax style. Here's some places to stay in a Steamboat Springs vacation home.
Western BBQ, Steamboat Springs
A family fave, this all-you-can-eat Old West style dinner with dancing and live entertainment is held nightly in the top terminal of the gondola. It features BBQ ribs and chicken, hand-carved prime rib and turkey, cedar plank-grilled salmon, and a kids’ favorite: the sundae and dessert bar. Stay in a Steamboat Spring rental and tuck in some of this grub.
The Overlook on Peak 9, Breckenridge
Breck boasts the highest lift-served skiing in the country, and fittingly this is the highest restaurant in town, serving an “elevated” take on traditional ski resort cafeterias. Choices include a made-to-order ramen station, standout turkey pot pie, and the resort’s signature focus on local cuisine with its beloved bison short rib sandwich and elk bratwurst. It is also a local favorite for breakfast, open daily from lift start-up until 3 p.m. Taste some of these offerings by staying in Breckenridge vacation rental.
Alpenglow Stube, Keystone
The highest AAA Four-Diamond eatery in the nation, at 11,444 feet, Alpenglow Stube requires you to ride two gondolas to get there, but it is worth the trip. European takes on regional classics include porcini-dusted elk and roasted pheasant roulade. During the day, you can just ski in for a two- or three-course, fixed-price lunch with choices like wild mushroom ravioli or green chili pork stew. Stay in a Keystone vacation home.
Larry Olmsted has written regularly on both skiing and food for two decades. He is the regional cuisine columnist for USAToday.com and holds the Guinness World Record for Most Different Trails Skied in Their Entirety in 8 Hours (64).