There are plenty of reasons to go skiing: the restorative benefits of a day spent in fresh mountain air, the satisfaction of a well-arced turn under the lift, and the freedom from gravity afforded by fresh powder, to name a few. However, for many, it’s the promise of post-shred snacks that draws them to the slopes. Aspen Snowmass offers an array of on-mountain dining destinations, and where you chose to dine may say something about what kind of skier you are, what kind of foodie you are, and what kind of person you are. Here, some insight into the crowds you may find dining and imbibing at some of our favorite on-mountain establishments.
You’ll find ski patrollers and ski gangs spilling secret stashes of pure maple syrup over oatmeal pancakes at this mid-mountain eatery, a favorite among the die-hards that work and play on Ajax everyday. The oatmeal pancakes are legendary and are also the draw for the healthy crowd of uphillers that skin Aspen most mornings before the lifts start turning as well. They stop flipping flapjacks at 10 a.m., but there are clear instructions on what to do if you miss breakfast on a sign at the entrance to the food line, “Desserts First, Life is Uncertain.” The pies and strudel—with a heavy dose of homemade whipped cream—are perfect if you are following the rules, while the white-bean chili is the call for those insisting on savory sustenance.
The scene at the Sundeck is about being seen, a chance to strip out of your ski gear, run a hand through your helmet hair and walk around with a tray looking for a seat like you’re in a high school cafeteria. If you thought it was awkward in high school, just wait until you have to look cool carrying a French dip across a crowded room in ski boots. Luckily, there are cocktails, and you will certainly see someone you know. The bar opens early, and you’ll find it full of sleepless skiers sipping Bloodies to battle last night’s hangover, beginner’s looking for liquid courage to conquer the expert’s mountain, and one half of a married couple watching the baby while the other one takes laps.
Sam’s is for those whose ski-to-snack balance tips heavily toward the snack side of the scale. They provide furry slippers at this slopeside sanctuary on Snowmass, so slip off your ski boots and plan on settling into “pranzo in famiglia” (translation: a family-style lunch). The fare is delicious—especially the Pizza a la Nonna, a nod to Sicilian grandmas that comes with shears to cut your own slices—but it’s more conducive to an afternoon nap than after-lunch laps. The whole experience is perfect for Alberto Tomba impersonators—the Italian Olympian known for gold medals and a voracious appetite—who want to claim they spent the day skiing but were actually stuffing their faces. The Café Alpino, Sam’s signature caffeinated cocktail, is designed to perk up patrons just enough to buckle their boots and put a smile on their face for another run.
You’ll find financiers and influencers wielding Champagne guns at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro on Aspen Highlands, getting shots for the ’gram and helping this European-style warming hut maintain its status as the No. 1 seller of Veuve Clicquot worldwide. Most of those bubbles are blasted into the air by revelers like Formula 1 drivers celebrating on the podium, so be prepared to get a bit wet—particularly at the notoriously raucous second seating. The food is excellent (especially the traditional raclette you cook yourself on a table-top grill), but you’ll need to eat fast as the dancing on tables ensues rather quickly.
Up 4 Pizza
Located in a former ski patrol hut on Snowmass, this joint is named for pizza but reknowned for another amazing circular snack: chocolate-chip cookies. It’s family friendly and a favorite among parents looking for a quick bite for the kids to maximize time on the hill. The line is often out the door because the smell of fresh-baked cookies at 11,000 feet is irresistible. To everyone.
As home to ESPN’s Winter X Games and the easiest slopes of all four local mountains, Buttermilk is simultaneously home to the best and worst skiers in Aspen. As a result, Bumps— the lodge at the base—attracts a hodgepodge of determined thrill-seekers, from AVSC (Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club) groms waiting with their Olympian coaches for their heat in the Superpipe to flatlanders cradling their skis and putting on boots for the first time. It is the least resort-like place in town, reminiscent of a lodge you might find in New England, complete with a push-button hot-chocolate machine and individually wrapped cookies of indeterminate provenance. It’s the kind of place where you park your car in the lot, plant your gear at a table and head for the quad. This is where so many ski journeys begin, and the frustration and the joy you see on people’s faces as they walk stiff-legged into the lodge reminds you of why we slide down mountains in the first place—for the snacks.