Anyone who has ever skied in Europe knows that nabbing a good lunch reservation is just as important as scoring first tracks. And we’re not talking about grab-and-go chili and pizza. A European ski lunch often entails several hours of wine-soaked dining, shaken off with an espresso taken on the sun deck. The restaurants aren’t fancy—often nothing more than tiny huts—but the food is exceptional and the meal isn’t just fuel, it’s a bucket-list experience. Ski resorts in the U.S. have slowly caught on to the gourmet on-mountain dining trend, swapping cafeteria-style fast food for sit-down, locavore cooking that often requires a bit of physical effort to access. And earning your meal is all part of the fun.
Alpino Vino in Telluride has been a pioneer in elevating winter dining in the U.S. At 11,966 feet, it owns bragging rights as North America’s second highest elevation fine dining restaurant. Modeled after the huts scattered across the Alps, there are just 28 seats inside, plus a heated deck that overlooks the Wilson Range. The food also takes inspiration from Europe, specifically northern Italy.
Chef Nico Peccedi grew up in the small ski village of Bormeo in the Italian Alps, close to the Swiss border. His ingredient-driven food is rustic, simple, and utterly delicious. “Alpine nature is wild and unpredictable,” he says. “You never know what you’re in for. My cooking is like that.” Peccedi has learned to cope with unpredictability. Each morning, he loads his ingredients on the back of a snowmobile and drives up to the restaurant. “Once, I got stuck driving the snowmobile when I was trying to bring up cheeses, prosciutto, and assorted salami to Alpino Vino,” he recalls. “It’s just part of working at a restaurant with only ski-in/ski-out access.”
Cooking at nearly 12,000 feet has other challenges. Pedecci and his team must cook on a portable induction burner because the restaurant does not have gas, and a magnum of champagne becomes a live grenade at extreme altitude. Even on a powder day, a line of hungry skiers waiting to order Pedecci’s tomato bisque and grilled cheese and pesto stretches down the See Forever trail. In the evenings, guests journey up the mountain by heated snow cat for a five-course dinner of dishes like elk ribs and polenta paired with wine from Alpino Vino’s exceptional cellar. With just two seatings per night, dinner at Alpino Vino has become just as boast-worthy as tackling Telluride’s famous bump run, Mak-M-Stairs-Plunge. “For some people, adventure is super steep chutes,” says Pedecci. “For others, it’s a starlit ride up the mountain for a great dinner. In Telluride, you can do both.”