Story by Laurel Miller
On-mountain eateries aren’t generally known for their stellar food, prices or sourcing. Lucky us, then, because for over 10 years, Aspen Skiing Company (Skico) has worked to develop relationships with local and regional growers and Colorado food and drink producers. It’s an ethos largely started by former Little Nell chef Ryan Hardy, now co-owner/executive chef of Manhattan’s Charlie Bird. It’s gained traction under his former chef de cuisine, Andrew Helsley (current executive chef of Skico’s Mountain Division) and Skico culinary director Jim Butchart (he’s also the general manager at Lynn Britt Cabin at Snowmass).
Butchart and Helsley make a progressive, powerful team when it comes to sourcing from the Western Slope foodshed. They rely upon Farm Runners, a Paonia-based distributor that direct sources from family farms to obtain seasonal produce, cheese and meat from Avalanche Cheese Company, Crystal River Meats, Rock Bottom Ranch, Raincrow Farm, Thistle Whistle Farm, Delicious Orchards, as well as bread and pastry from Louis’ Swiss Bakery, honey from Colby Farms and hybrid striped bass that’s sustainably farmed in Alamosa. Even this time of year, local product like apples, root vegetables, beef and lamb find their way onto the menus at Elk Camp, Lynn Britt Cabin and Cliffhouse.
As for why a major corporate entity like Skico chooses to source local product, Helsley says it’s part of the company’s “core value of sustainability.” In addition to composting and constructing using solar and microhydro power, Skico helps support local growers and food artisans, and celebrates them with special dinners and events like Lynn Britt’s Snowcat Dinners (held every Tuesday and Thursday night in winter through March 24, reservations required). There are also one-off wine and pairing dinners, featuring folks like Aspenite/cheese expert Laura Werlin. The cabin also launched its Friday-Sunday Happy Hour on February 12; fans of après ski can now get their groove on to DJ Naka from 2 pm on and indulge in food and drink specials like Woody Creek Distillers “Gin & Juice” cocktails.
Also new this season are the Cliffhouse Full Moon Dinners at Buttermilk (located at the top of the Summit Express Lift; March 23 will be the last of the season). Skin, hike or snowshoe up a designated route on Tiehack and enjoy free hot chocolate or the cash bar, then dine on Asian snacks like dim sum and entrees including pho and Mongolian barbecue. Note that you’ll need to descend on your own, so bring a headlamp and dress accordingly. Reservations not required.
This summer, Elk Camp at Snowmass will hold Farm to Table Tuesdays through August. Meet local farmers, ranchers, brewers, distillers and food artisans and enjoy live music, outdoor activities and a la carte items like Rock Bottom Ranch pork chops with Palisade peach-rosemary salsa, Crystal River Meat burgers and seasonal produce.
Backcountry Date-Nut Bars
I added dates to these decadent bars for added energy and a bit of nutrients. They hold up well in a pocket or pack, and are ideal for when you’re in need of a boost on the slopes.
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts
Makes approximately 24 bars
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 pound (2 cups) pitted dates, preferably a meaty variety, such as Medjool, cut into large pieces
1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with baking parchment and brush with just enough melted butter to lightly coat the surface.
2. Sift together dry ingredients. In an electric mixer (see *Note), beat melted butter and sugar together, then add eggs and beat for one minute on lowest speed.
3. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat until just incorporated. Add dates, nuts and chocolate chips, and stir to just combine. Spread batter into prepared backing dish and gently press down.
4. Bake 35 minutes or until golden. Cool before cutting into squares. Store in a lidded tin or plastic container.
*Note: If you don’t have a mixer, melt butter in small saucepan, remove from heat, and stir in sugar. Remove from heat. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and slowly incorporate into butter mixture. Add dried ingredients, stir until smooth, and then add remaining ingredients.
Laurel Miller is a Basalt-based food and travel writer, cheese consultant and the editor of Edible Aspen. Find out more about Laurel at SustainableKitchen.com.