When Tommy Tollesson took over as manager of Cloud Nine a couple of winters ago, he made two changes to the restaurant atop Aspen Highlands: he upgraded the sound system and removed the $40 bottles of prosecco and cava from the wine list. Both moves came in response to a party atmosphere that was regularly spinning off the hook, particularly in late February and March. The enhanced thumplitude of the music achieved its intended effect: Cloud Nine’s late-afternoon disco inferno vibe was made even more incendiary. But banishing the cheapest bottles of bubbly did not.
In the preceding years, spraying Champagne had become an increasingly frequent (and, to some, annoying) feature of Cloud Nine’s merriment. Tollesson figured that by making a $125 Veuve Clicquot the cheapest bottle on the menu, he would discourage it. Instead, the likelihood of getting caught in sparkling showers almost doubled.
“The biggest day might see sixty to eighty bottles sprayed—people get into wars on the patio,” Tollesson says, speaking of last winter’s revelry. “We’ve had people spraying Cristal. We’ve had a group of three spray $10,000 into the ceiling.”
To the decorous skier, such exuberance may sound excessive, even vulgar. But Tollesson insists that an act typically associated with World Series and Tour de France victory celebrations somehow feels appropriate in context. “Cloud Nine is such a beautiful spot. There’s an energy. People are feeling amazing, and they get a little crazier than normal,” he says. “It’s like being on a boat or an airplane. When it takes off, everyone is in it together. Sometimes people get offended outside, but not very often.”
Anyone who climbs aboard Cloud Nine this winter will encounter a spruced-up space. The Aspen Skiing Company spent more than $1 million remodeling the restaurant this summer; more smartly located bathrooms, windows that better capture the views, a second fireplace, and a second dining room should all add to the experience without changing its essence.
If such additions seem genteel in comparison to subwoofers, Cloud Nine’s principal function, as Tollesson points out, is as a high-end, on-mountain restaurant. At the first of its two lunch seatings, at noon, guests typically eat their food, drink a glass of wine, soak up some ambience, and head back out to ski, all without having taken any adult beverage to the face. The skiers and snowboarders who show up for the two o’clock seating often plan to stay until the four o’clock close. They’re the more festive crowd.
How festive? Tollesson says he has looked down to see someone standing on the deck outside in street shoes, having snuck onto the Cloud Nine chairlift with seemingly no plan for how to get back to the bottom of the ski area. (The Aspen Skiing Company says that getting past a liftie in street shoes this year will be impossible—they’re on the lookout.)
Still, that burning desire to be a part of the scene gives Tollesson a warm chuckle—and suggests Cloud Nine will maintain its party role. As an example, he cites the case of a woman he met who learned to ski expressly to make her way to the restaurant.
“She did a full-day private at Buttermilk, then a full-day private at Snowmass. The next day she told me, ‘It’s my third day on skis. I learned to ski only so I could have lunch at Cloud Nine,’” he recalls. “An hour after we closed, I skied down and passed the woman with her instructor. She was probably $3,000 into it at that point.”