Geographically, the 12,500-foot Aspen Highlands ski area is tucked into the heavenly clouds of the Elk Mountain Range. With a 3,635-foot vertical drop, over a thousand ski-able acres, five lifts, and one of the most pristine powder bowls in the country, Highlands is an almost mythical Xanadu, particularly to the scores of locals who love and frequent these expert slopes on a daily basis. While whisking down Highlands, take a minute to bask in the sweeping vistas of the 14,000 foot Maroon Bells, one of the most majestic peaks in Colorado. Maroon Bells is the Western Slope’s Mont Blanc, inspiring artists and photographers around the country.
The dizzying heights, moguls, and altitude of skiing Aspen Highlands will surely leave adventurers with the appetite of an athlete. However, lunching and dining options can be somewhat limited when surrounded by snow pack at 10,740 feet.
Just beneath the summit of the Cloud Nine Highspeed Quad lies a warm and enticing high alpine retreat. The Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro feels like dining in a rustic, backcountry 10 Mountain Division Huts redesigned by the Ritz Carlton. The service is world-class, the food is gourmet, and the views of Maroon Bells and the Elk Range from this elevation are spectacular. It is endearing to note this high alpine restaurant shares it’s space on the mountain with ski patrol.
Each meal at the Cloud Nine is meticulously prepared for a gastronome treat in the clouds, particularly if you’ve spent an exhausting morning earning your appetite by hiking and skiing the bowl. Skiers on a noontime break can feast on the 31-dollar prix fixe lunch menu between 11am and 3pm. The menu rotates according to the day, but guests can expect Rocky Mountain delicacies like Colorado lamb, venison, poussin, elk, trout, and pheasant. Reservations at the Cloud Nine Bistro are required at least one day in advance.
Thursday nights during ski season -weather permitting- Cloud Nine opens for an intimate only-in-Aspen dining experience. Guests are escorted up Aspen Highland’s slopes for the prix fixe feast via a powerful heated Sno Cat. In the evenings, romantic dining room is lit with candles and toasty wood fireplace. Upon arriving to the wooden alpine lodge, Chef Andreas Fischbacher prepares an elegant European-style meal of warm appetizers, strudels, Rocky Mountain wild game, and desserts. The dining experience – particularly in the longer daylight of early spring - includes magnificent views of the Roaring Fork Fall and the Elk Range illuminated by a brilliant twilight of auburns, purple, apricot, and tangerine hues and shadows against a pasty dark blue sky.
The Sno Cat prix fix dinner doesn’t come cheap, totally in at 125 dollars per head, excluding wine and gratuity. However, the delicious fare, high altitude rustic setting, and spectacular sunset with a view of Maroon Bells is an experience that will permanently etch its way onto the walls of the once-in-a-life time memory cavern. It may be hyperbolic to include the timeworn MasterCard-cliché, but this dining experience is truly priceless.
Photo credit: Aspen Ski Company