Admit it. There's not much enticing about a crowded base lodge cafeteria. You know the drill - squealing, cold kids, hassled moms, cold hamburgers, and inflated prices. That can be the norm, but not the rule. There's a better way.
We asked around to ski people who know the places to go for good lunches, sometimes away from the crowds. Some of these places even mean relaxing during your ski day for an hour or so. The Europeans have us beat in that regard, with those sun-baked deck chairs and "what's the hurry" attitude. A trick savvy skiers and riders know is to dine early or late and avoid the high noon crowd.
But, here some suggestions in North America.
Pacific Northwest: Dave Rathbun is President and General Manager of Mt. Bachelor, one of the top destinations in the Pacific Northwest. His choice for lunch is Scapolos in the Pine Marten Lodge on Mt. Bachelor. Scapolos, by the way, is Italian for bachelor.
"It's great for fresh salads, honey crust brick oven pizza, and the executive chef's made-from-scratch soups - my favorite is the roasted red pepper. The views from 7,800 feet of the Three Sisters Wilderness, Broken Top, and the Cascade Lakes are spectacular on a sunny day," he says.
Western Canada: Amber Turneau is on the staff at Whistler Mountain in BC. She likes to enjoy lunch at Steeps in the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler, a full-service restaurant at 6,000 feet. "The cuisine is locally grown and sustainable and the wines are from the British Columbia region. Much of the produce is grown at the ski area's own farm about 20 minutes north in Pemberton. The seafood is Ocean Wise certified, meaning it is sustainably sourced," she says.
Cross over to Alberta and Banff where local Liz Robins has some ideas. Try the World Cup Alpine Room at the Lake Louise Ski Area for an upscale lunch break. It's in the Whiskeyjack Lodge. Don't be in too much of a hurry. She also suggests Eagle's Nest at Sunshine Village in the Sunshine Mountain Lodge, offering nouveau continental cuisine paired with fine wines.
Utah: Jill Adler lives in Park City, Utah, and covers the Southwest for OnTheSnow.com. Red Pine at The Canyons Resort tops her list of favorite on mountain restaurants. You'll find it mid-mountain at the top of the gondola. "It's good hearty food with a romantic breeze that kisses you from the patio," she says. Look for pizza, soups, sandwiches, burgers, grilled entrees, and a carving station.
Joan Christensen, who spends much of her time in Colorado, but has a Wasatch Mountain favorite for lunch, too. It's the Needles Lodge Dining Room at 8,710 feet just below the summit at Snowbasin, Utah. "It's like dining in a private, plush club, but the prices are typical of any mid-mountain restaurant. The giant fireplace is great for warming up and, though it's self-service, there are European specialties and soups that are really tasty."
She doesn't stop there but moves over to classic Alta, where Watson's Shelter always gets her lunchtime attention. Find it near the Collins Lift angle station and below the top of Wildcat Lift. "I loved the old retro shelter, but admit the relatively new Watson's is pretty great, too. I'm partial to the cheeseburgers and the views are sensational down Little Cottonwood Canyon from just about every seat," she says.
Mike Terrell skis all over the Midwest covering those resorts for OnTheSnow.com. He recommends several on-mountain lunch places as his favorites.
Minnesota: Terrell says head to Lutsen Mountains and enjoy lunch at the Summit Chalet atop Moose Mountain. Not only is the lunch satisfying, but "the views of Lake Superior are fantastic. It seats 300 indoors and has a massive sun deck."
Wisconsin: Visit the Sky Bar at Indianhead's Summit Center for an on-mountain lunch that is made to order, says Terrell. "The views of the Ottawa National Forest stretch out far below, with Lake Superior in the distance."
New Mexico: Chris Stagg has been a member of the staff team at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico for many years. His favorite lunch stop at the resort is the Bavarian Restaurant at the base of Kachina Park, Lift 4 in the Bavarian Lodge. Gemütlichkeit is what you'll find, with waiters and waitresses clad in lederhosen and dirndls. The food? German specialties, of course.
Colorado: Back home in Colorado nets even more good advice from Christensen. She loves lunch at the Lodge at Sunspot at Winter Park. "The views are great from both sides of the restaurant - the sit-down waiter side and the more casual cafeteria side," she says.
A little ways up the road from Winter Park in Granby is the smaller Sol Vista Resort. Christensen recommends stopping for lunch at Seven Trails Grille. It's on the ground level of the Base Camp Lodge at Granby Ranch. "This sit down dining is really pleasant, has nice views of the slopes, and I always order the pizza. But, it's a surprisingly good menu for a smaller mountain."
Christensen's pick of a cafeteria well worth checking out is at Echo Mountain, the closest skiing and riding to Denver, Colo. "The dynamite views and wonderful comfort food, like really cheesy mac and cheese, are the anchors for the small but appealing cafeteria."
Shannon Luthy, OnTheSnow.com's Colorado editor is based in Steamboat Springs. She likes to grab a Panini at Gondola Joe's in the gondola building at the base of the mountain. "You'll be in line with ski patrollers, instructors, and lifties because the sandwich choices are so good." Luthy also goes for Hazie's on the top floor of the gondola building. It's a bit more gourmet-like, she says, with white tablecloths and good china "while you are enjoying lunch in ski clothes and boots."
Several of my ski instructor friends at (R482R, Vail] rave about the burgers offered at all the resorts on-mountain stops. It's a quarter pound of Angus inside a freshly baked bun from Denver's Harvest Moon Bakery. Really hungry? They say scoff down the two-patty Epic Burger.
California: Getting hungry while skiing at Lake Tahoe's resorts? Dan Pistorini, who works for Ski Lake Tahoe, has some picks. Go for the Poolside Cafe at Squaw Valley, situated at High Camp. "It's a one-of-a-kind experience with poolside service available mid-mountain with sweeping panorama views of Lake Tahoe." The 360 Degree Smokehouse BBQ, atop [R362, Sierra-at-Tahoe's] Grandview Chair offers just that --grand views of Lake Tahoe and the nearby Desolation Wilderness, along with mouth-watering BBQ. Another great option is to make Corona laps at the Baja Grill, situated at the bottom of West Bowl.
New England: Lunchtime at Sunday River's on-mountain Peak Lodge in Maine always lures Roger Leo, who covers the New England region for OnTheSnow. "There's always quiche on the menu and lots of unusual foods," he says.
OK, you skeptics who scoff at cafeterias in ski area base lodges, lighten up. Here are two that defy the stereotype:
Dick Healy, the long-time ski editor of the Troy, N.Y. Record, confirms that, after all these many years, the offerings at the Marketplace Food Court at Hunter Mt. in the New York Catskills continue to amaze. "The still make that terrific soup of the day, and the apple strudel desert is a must. The portions are much larger than most base cafeterias, too."
We couldn't go everywhere to have lunch, so we welcome your suggestions about other restaurants you would recommend to vacationing skiers and riders.