Written by Bonnie Graves
For some that ski, the slopes and the snow are enough; what you eat afterwards (or, before, in the case of Sundance’s award-winning brunch) is an afterthought. Increasingly though, ski resorts across the American West are realizing that their success is as much about amenities like fine dining as it is about pure powder. While there will always be those skiers who are happy enough with a quick tuna sandwich or a burger, perhaps wolfed down with some lukewarm hot chocolate or bad beer, many others now expect better food and then some.
Voted the #1 Ski Resort in North America in Conde Nast’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, Sundance may not be such a secret anymore. When Redford bought the land surrounding Utah’s majestic Mount Timpanogos in 1969, he envisioned a place where art, nature and community could coexist. He may not have imagined the juggernaut that has become the Sundance Film Festival. Much of that January glamour actually happens across the hill in Park City, where resorts like Deer Valley have dominated Utah’s ski industry. Quietly, the original Sundance Mountain Resort remains nestled at the base of the ‘sleeping maiden Utahna’ and its winning combination of culture and cuisine makes it a standout.
For wine enthusiasts, the list at the Tree Room restaurant – named for the belovedly stubborn tree that has grown in the center of the dining room for nearly 50 years – offers Utah’s best selections. While Mormon prohibitions against alcohol remain an issue in nearby Provo, Sundance is a welcome haven of fermented grape juice. Sundance’s proprietary label series has attracted fine wineries like Honig, Sokol-Blosser, Altamura, Selby and others. And no visit to Sundance is complete without a post-ski cocktail at the famous Owl Bar, where the bullet-riddled bar and the “Butch Cassidy” memorabilia bring an authentic cowboy vibe. Lastly, Sundance’s more casual restaurant, The Foundry Grill, offers a Sunday Brunch that is without compare. Be sure to make a reservation and to starve yourselves the night before, or you’ll fail to do justice to its jaw- dropping array of both savory and sweet brunch options.
Heading north to Montana, another ski area is fast becoming a dining destination. Located halfway between West Yellowstone and Bozeman, Rainbow Ranch Lodge and the Big Sky Resort ski area have steadily drawn attention and celebrity investment.
Whether the likes of Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Tom Brady genuinely appreciate the world-class ski runs or merely enjoy the solitude remains to be seen. Rainbow Ranch Lodge is kind of a next-gen Sun Valley. It’s still small enough to feel personal yet, like Sundance, it offers extraordinary food and wine experiences for its guests. A new winter menu greets skiers with appetizers like venison tartare with fermented Japanese plums and a curried squash tart made with local Montana honey. Entrées include seasonally appropriate game like elk made into a savory ragoût or fresh, wild-caught halibut that is flown in from Alaska twice weekly. And don’t miss the opportunity for an intimate wine dinner in Rainbow Lodge’s Bacchus Room, where a best-in- state collection of over 5000 selections is available for every palate.
While not an unknown brand by any means, the Ritz-Carlton on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore is taking luxurious cuisine to the next level. Blessed with a mid-mountain location that offers unparalleled ski-in / ski-out access to the Northstar slopes, the Ritz at Lake Tahoe offers multiple dining outlets for everything from high-end business dinners to family-friendly dining. A favorite is Manzanita Restaurant, its flagship at the resort; Manzanita’s “California Mountain Cuisine” weaves seasonal produce and meats with alpine aesthetics into a restaurant that helped the Ritz earn the first ever AAA 5-Star rating in the Tahoe area. It sets the standard for fine dining in the region. More casual options include Café Blue and the comfy Living Room Lounge. Family members of all ages can enjoy either s’mores or Champagne by the numerous fire pits and, the in-room dining – while not inexpensive – echoes the Ritz’ commitment to being the best-in-class among California ski resorts.
Whether one chooses to load up with a luxury brunch before hitting the slopes or instead opts for a hot shower followed by an epic dinner, these three ski resorts and others are acknowledging the industry’s need for better food and wine options. Each of these three resorts is now again open for business and has taken extraordinary steps to safeguard their guests during the pandemic, e.g., enhanced cleaning protocols, socially distant dining and mask mandates. And, after a long period of pandemic dormancy, we all could certainly use a little something luxurious to look forward to on our winter calendars.