DAY 3 — Ready for a walk in the woods?
Of course it is dumping snow and we’re at 9,400 feet.
No worries. We’ve got snowshoes strapped to our boots, the right waterproof clothes and we’re still smiling from the amazing lunch we devoured after our trek up about two miles to the Pine Creek Cook House in the middle of the White River National Forest about 11 miles outside of Aspen, Co.
“Weekends this place is packed with kids,” said Christopher Keating, himself the dad of a nine year old son, the general manager and executive chef.
You can snowshoe as we did or cross country ski (there are over 30 km of groomed trails for all levels and a place to rent gear) or take a sleigh ride led by giant Clydesdale horses. You can come for lunch or dinner, wearing a headlamp on the trail. In winter kids can sled outside; in summer, they can fish in the stocked fish pound out front.
But the highlight—after the snowshoe in the wilderness–is the food—Pine Creek Smoked trout, wild game Momos (Nepalese dumplings), grilled hearts of romaine Caesar, grilled Quail salad, wild mushroom and spinach crepes… Colorado elk bratwurst, a smoked trout melt on sourdough and buffalo tenderloin..
Honestly, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in ski country–all the better because I had to “earn my lunch” as my daughters would say, snowshoeing up to the beautiful restaurant with the giant picture windows. There are two seatings for lunch at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. and one for dinner—you leave to snowshoe/xc ski/ sleigh ride at 6:30 p.m. (well worth the $75 for kids and $90 for adults, slightly more for the sleigh ride; lunch is an ala carte menu).
In the summer, Keating says, 5 p.m. is the “magic hour” when the sun sets and guests and staff alike gather outside on the giant deck to watch the astonishing sunset. “It is such special experience to be here for everyone,” he said.
The 10th Mountain Division, Keating tells us, trained here before they went to Italy in World War II and after the war, some of the vets came back hoping to make this area the ski area they envision but some others beat them to it, planning the ski area where it is today. There are still huts in the national forest where you can spend the night.
Did I mention the bonafide ghost town? In the mid 1800s there were some 2000 people here living and mining here in the town of Ashcroft. Today, we snowshoe past about a half dozen wooden buildings still standing from that era.
We snowshoe along pristine snow covered Castle Creek, past quivering Aspens and giant Blue Spruce and Douglas Fir covered with the fresh snow.
All that and locally sourced food might encourage the kids to try something new. Keating tells us he’s on the board of the local Children’s Health Foundation dedicated to providing better food at local schools. He tries to do that at the restaurant as well, whether it is offering mac and cheese with fresh cheese, fresh tomato soup and butternut ravioli. Many kids, he adds, prefer a smaller adult portion—like buffalo tenderloin.
“I think families want it,” he says.
Let’s hope so,
On our snowshoe back, I couldn’t stop thinking about the deserts we’d just sampled–brownie pie, bourbon pecan pie and apple crisp…topped with ice cream Yum!
No guilt either because of the snowshoe trek.
No wonder we smiled all the way back.