Telluride Ski Resort’s elevated dining options lure skiers to a leisurely lunch
Mid-afternoon at Telluride Ski Resort and after a morning of hard skiing I was about ready for lunch.
Longtime friend (and resort spokesperson) Tom Watkinson and I had been making non-stop runs across the resort’s expert terrain and my legs were burning, adding to the hole growing in my empty stomach.
Finally, standing at the top of the Revelation Bowl lift, Watkinson paused long enough to ask, “Aren’t you hungry yet?”
I only could make subhuman noises and he laughed.
“Let’s go to Bon Vivant, I want you to try it,” he said, and took off, with me in semi-hot pursuit, toward the Polar Queen Express lift.
Bon Vivant, perched at the top of the Polar Queen Express, is the newest (opened in 2012) of Telluride’s upscale, on-mountain dining destinations, and it’s quite unlike any other restaurant you’ll find at 11,000 feet.
The “roof” of the 1,500-square foot deck is a 39-foot motorized umbrella with heat lamps, open to the ultramarine Colorado sky when the sun shines and unfurled to shield the snow when it doesn’t.
Shoulder-high glass walls block the chill but don’t hinder the view of 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak, seemingly close enough to touch.
The menu is decidedly country French, with winter-hearty fare such as custom-made crepes, duck confit, sausage cassoulet and lobster gnocchi along with what’s called the world’s best hot chocolate.
We had a choice of seats but Watkinson said on sunny days and during the holiday seasons, this 75-seat restaurant is a popular spot for leisurely lunches.
When we arrived, Stephen Roth, the resort’s executive director of culinary services, was pushing back from a table.
“It’s a new crepe we’re thinking of adding,” said Roth, nodding toward what was left in the dish before him. “I’m always looking for something new, something our clients will enjoy.”
Watkinson said something and Roth laughed.
“Hey, this is work,” Roth said, grinning and looking around at his surroundings. “This is what I do, so to me, this is work.”
“Me, too,” laughed Watkinson, a Telluride native whose dad moved to Telluride in the early 1950s to run the Pandora mine.
Almost immediately a waiter appeared, took our order and left.
As Watkinson greeted nearby guests, we talked about the restaurant and the people at the tables around us, most of whom Watkinson seemed to know personally.
“Most Americans don’t appreciate the European style of on-mountain dining,” he remarked. “Americans eat to ski, while in Europe they ski to eat.”
He nodded toward the folks around us.
“Many of the guests we see here and at Alpino Vino feel the same way,” he said, “And we’re trying to foster that by offering choices such as here, Alpino Vino and Allred’s.”
It’s that sense of discovery, venturing away from the commonplace, that also attracts to Telluride a clientele that reads Condé Nast Traveler, the high-end globe-trotting magazine whose readers — there are 20,000 of them, in fact — last year voted Telluride Ski Resort the No. 1 ski area in the United States and Canada for the second year in a row.
Ratings were based on terrain, lifts, nightlife, lodging and restaurants, which brings us back to the resort’s growing attraction for people as interested in verticals of wine as they are in vertical feet.
“About six years ago, we at Telluride Ski Resort recognized there was huge potential to change the mountain dining scene as the industry knew it,” Roth said. “There was a large segment of high-end travelers visiting Telluride but no high-end lunch options available to them. We decided to follow a European model for the development of our restaurants, which is to say many small high-quality venues versus the traditional American model of large cafeteria-style eateries.”
Just a quick ride up the Gold Hill Lift from Bon Vivant is Alpino Vino.
At 11,966 feet, it is North America’s highest wine bar and restaurant, with 150 wines on the list, while Allred’s, at the top of the free public gondola, is the resort’s flagship restaurant.
“Alpino Vino was the first concept we opened and its success led to the creation of Bon Vivant three years later,” Roth said. “Nowhere in America will you find mountain dining restaurants like these and the response has been incredible. Of course, we didn’t just focus on these two restaurants, we invested (in) our eight others as well.”
If you’re counting pennies, not to worry: Whether you are craving a gourmet crepe or a cheeseburger in paradise, the multitude of choices at Telluride and other resorts reflect the demands of the guests slipping down the slopes.
For a moment I dropped my eyes from the world-class scenery, looking around at the array of high-fashion jackets and Princess-cut diamonds flashing in the sun and saw something only an ex-ski patroller might notice: The tall metal vases, glinting burnished gold and brass in the late-afternoon sun, are shells from a 105-mm howitzer.
“Yeah, howitzer shells,” said Watkinson noticing the path my eye took. “We use them for avalanche control.”
Once fired, there are limited uses for the casings and it’s no surprise that some enterprising employee realized those second-life shells would fit into the casual Telluride vibe.
They subtly underscore the realization that beyond our small, umbrella-covered world of relaxed and leisurely lunches is a hard-working ski resort where the high life meets the high country.