Ski Resort Dining Reaches New Summits

by Allen Cox | Photo © Sun Valley Resort

When it comes to ski vacations, the Northwest offers top-notch resorts complete with culinary scenes you’d typically expect in large urban centers. Savvy resort operators deliver what hungry guests want after a day on the slopes, and it just keeps getting better every season. Sure, they serve burgers, hot dogs, pizza and nachos (and there’s nothing wrong with those), but we’re talking well-schooled chefs who are turning up the heat in ski-resort kitchens and serving elevated cuisine that’s achieving new heights. Here are our top picks.

  • Sun Valley, ID

Venerable doesn’t begin to describe Sun Valley Resort’s reputation. It’s steeped in the history of the sport. It’s been the subject of movies. It’s frequented by celebrities. What else would you expect après ski but an excellent dining experience? Culinary director John Murcko has achieved what few U.S. ski resorts have achieved. In fact, a 2015 SKI magazine reader poll ranked Sun Valley’s dining scene as second in the nation among ski resort dining.

A meal at Sun Valley’s historic Roundhouse is a must. You’ll ride a gondola to an altitude of 8,000 feet. Perched on the side of Bald Mountain, this lodge-style restaurant with central fireplace has been serving Sun Valley guests since 1939 and is still going strong. Order their famous fondue while pondering the menu for your main course.

The Ram is Sun Valley’s gourmet steakhouse, serving imaginative fare made with Idaho-sourced ingredients. Atmosphere, including live piano, and the convenient location in the Sun Valley Inn make this a resort favorite. Here, take advantage of the chef’s interpretations of the classics to craft a course combination that can compete with the world’s best steakhouses. While you won’t go wrong with any menu choice, most people come here for the beef.

Schnitzel with house-made sauerkraut, anyone? Austrian-inspired Konditorei serves old-world dishes and new American twists on the old classics. For just the right culture combo, try the irresistible Austrian Mac & Cheese, made with spätzle. And save room for your choice of beautifully crafted Austrian sweets from the pastry chef. Konditorei is also a popular spot for breakfast.

Don’t leave Sun Valley without a brisk horse-drawn sleigh ride to Trail Creek Cabin for dinner. You’ll dine in a rustic 1937 cabin on cuisine that’s best described as cowboy gourmet. Guests dine here for the experience as much as the food. At Trail Creek Cabin, meat-eaters swear by the Idaho-raised Teton Waters Ranch grass-fed ribeye.

  • Whitefish Mountain Resort & The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, MT

Whitefish is a charming town that’s the western gateway to Glacier National Park. Nearby, two fine dining venues dominate the culinary scene: Cafe Kandahar at Whitefish Mountain Resort and Boat Club at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

Cafe Kandahar claims its place among Montana’s best dining establishments. Classically trained executive chef and restaurant owner Andy Blanton’s mission is to serve guests thoughtfully crafted dishes using what’s in season. In winter, he masters that challenge with creativity and panache. While every item on the menu is a temptation, opt for that evening’s Chef’s Tasting Menu paired with wine selections from the restaurant’s extensive cellar.

On January 23 and February 20, 2016, Whitefish Mountain Resort hosts a Moonlight Dine & Ski evening, including a chair lift ride to the summit of Big Mountain, dinner at the top with a view of the lights of Flathead Valley below, and an optional ski or ride down to the base.

Under the leadership of culinary director and executive chef Jorge Morales, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake’s Boat Club has become one of the best dining options in Montana. The lodge offers both casual and fine dining, and the lakeside setting is magical. In the upscale Boat Club Dining Room, beef eaters often opt for their preferred cut of beef from the Montana Wagyu Cattle Company, a crossbreed of hearty Black Angus with the Japanese Wagyu beef. The result is beef with a deep flavor and remarkably buttery texture.

  • Big White, B.C.

The expansive village at Big White, located one hour above the city of Kelowna, is spread across a hillside with gondolas continuously running from top to bottom and back again, making getting around easy. This is important for foodies since the best restaurants are located at both ends of the gondola. The resort is home to about two dozen eateries, so the culinary scene at Big White is a big deal. Some serious chefs run the kitchens with exceptional results.

For uber-contemporary fine dining paired with B.C. wines, go to intimate 6° Bistro, located in Stonebridge Lodge in the main section of the village (top terminus of the gondola). Executive chef Jeremy Keogh (a talented young chef with a big future) leads the intimate restaurant’s culinary team in crafting cutting-edge food with artful presentations unlike anything else at Big White. Dishes from an elaborate Trio of Duck (prepared confit, tea-smoked and rillettes) to slowly braised Short Ribs demonstrate Keogh’s versatility and skill. For the best sampling, reserve your table at the weekly single-seating degustation dinner, and prepare to be impressed.

At the bottom of the gondola in Happy Valley Lodge, you’ll find Kettle Valley Steakhouse. It’s best to get in a lot of skiing before dinner here to work up a serious appetite. At Kettle Valley Steakhouse, Canadian certified-Angus aged beef is the specialty. The menu holds such tempting creations that it’s easy to overdo it; that’s why this is such a great place to share with friends. Start with the charcuterie plate, featuring house-made pâtés, or indulge in a marrowbone cooked to perfection with a garlic-parsley crust. Move on to the kale Caesar and then indulge in the steak of your choice. Even though the plates comes fully loaded with sides, you have to try the Truffle Mac & Cheese.

Other Big White restaurants worth a try are The Woods, Globe Cafe & Tapas Bar and Gunbarrel Grill. If you’re in the mood for a server to pour flaming liquor down the barrel of a shotgun glass, you’re in luck at the latter; just order the Gunbarrel Coffee.

  • Sun Peaks, B.C.

Sun Peaks is a family-friendly resort in British Columbia’s interior. It has plenty of casual eateries geared to family dining, while those hungry for something a bit more upscale still have options.

Perfect steak, professional service and a serious steakhouse atmosphere are what the Steakhouse at Sun Peaks Lodge are all about. You won’t misstep with any cut of Canadian beef on the menu. The ribeye and tenderloin are two of the most popular.

Canadian all the way, Voyageur Bistro serves heritage-inspired meals, best characterized as homemade Canadian comfort food. National classics, such as poutine, bannock, tourtière and Alberta-raised beef are guest favorites and share the menu with braised rabbit, bison pot pie and varieties of fresh fish. Real Canadian memorabilia add authenticity to the experience.

Any evening, by reservations, skiers can enjoy a cozy fondue dinner at Sunburst Mid Mountain Restaurant followed by a guided lantern-lit descent down the mountain on skis.

  • Whistler, B.C. 

The pedestrian-only village at Whistler is one of North America’s most sophisticated ski villages. It has earned that reputation, in part, because of its dining venues and the culinary talent they attract. While, like other ski villages, it offers something for everyone, a handful of Whistler restaurants rise to the top for their creative cuisine.

Araxi, under the leadership of Chef James Walt, has built a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in Canada. Walt is a farm-to-table pioneer and makes it part of his mission to use local quality purveyors, whether farmers, ranchers or fishers. Besides Walt’s sumptuous treatment of ingredients, the restaurant is a favorite for its fresh oyster selection.

Chef Rolf Gunther leads the culinary team at Rim Rock Cafe & Oyster Bar, known for excellent game and seafood. The intimate lodge-like atmosphere is perfect for an evening of relaxing over fine food and wine. The pan-fried venison with foie gras is a hit.

At Red Door Bistro, Chef R. D. Stewart brings the marriage of French and Canadian West Coast cuisines to the plate. And what a delectable couple they make. A dish that tells this story perhaps better than any other is Chef Stewart’s West Coast Bouillabaisse.

There are so many great restaurants in Whistler, if one more must be mentioned let it be Peaked Pies. It may not be a high-end bistro, but it is Whistler’s only Australian-inspired meat pie cafe, which makes it a must. What makes the pies peaked? Your choice of add-on toppings. Delicious, fresh ingredients and creative presentations rank this little pie shop among the best eateries in Whistler.