If you’re in Aspen during the winter, chances are good that you’re here to hit the slopes. But you also need to eat. Lucky for you, this ski town and its four mountains also happen to be a culinary playground. Follow along as we feast through town and up all four ski mountains, from a grab-and-go pain au chocolat with a cup of French roast en route to the Silver Queen to a sit-and-savor session of choucroute garnie and Champagne at the Alpin Room atop Snowmass. Then have a blast burning those calories on our list of post-dine recommended runs, because when the day is done, in a ski town, après is just beginning!

Before

Coffee, tea, or a Bloody Mary, we all have ski day go-tos. The same is true for the morning meal, be it a grab-and-go breakfast sandwich or a leisurely stack of pancakes. Whatever gets you out of bed, it’s time to rise, dine, and get a move on that powder

An almond croissant and latte at Bear Den

Image: Ryan Dearth

Bear Den
We will never pass up an opportunity to sip a cardamom latte under Bear Den’s peaked, Victorian roof. The house-made syrup blooms with the warming spice when mixed with rich espresso and steamed oat milk. (Tip: You can up the ante by asking very nicely for a half-and-half mix of rose and cardamom syrups.) The latte draws us but rarely do we walk out the door without also ordering the French toast board. It’s indulgent, yes, but it’s also fuel for the day. Golden slices of custard-dipped brioche arrive topped with a heavenly cheesecake sauce and dollops of berry coulis. There’s maple syrup too, but you hardly need it. Take a bite, take a sip, and rejoice in simple pleasures.  301 E. Hopkins Ave Unit #101, 970-922-9218; beardenaspen.com 

The Crêpe Shack
There’s no better place to plan your powder day than over sweet and savory crêpes at The Crêpe Shack at Snowmass’ base. Grab a trail map, spread it out, and study up between bites of Mawa’s Green—avocado slices, baby spinach, pesto, and fresh mozzarella folded inside a toasty, paper-thin pancake. (Choose from traditional batter or one made with matcha green tea, garbanzo flour, or buckwheat flour.) Depending on how hard you ski and how deep the snow, this meal might be enough to hold you until après, when you may want to return for the Suzette Butter Me Up with butter, sugar, and a boozy splash of Grand Mariner. 61 Wood Rd, Snowmass Village, 970-452-2137; thecrepeshack.com 

Fuel Cafe
There’s nothing fancy about Fuel Cafe on the Snowmass mall, but its name is apt: breakfast burritos, bagels thick with schmear, and overstuffed breakfast sandwiches await. For our money, we order the egg, cheese, bacon breakfast sammy or the No. 1, a bagel spread with sun-dried tomato cream cheese, mozzarella, tomato, and basil. In either case, breakfast costs less than $10, and it’s quick too. 45 Village Run Circle, Snowmass Village, 970-923-0091; facebook.com/fuel.snowmass

Gorsuch Ski Cafe
Located steps from the gondola, the well-heeled (high-performance ski and snowboard boots, included) sip on mugs of steaming coffee and munch on hot ham and cheese croissants while they wait for the lifts to start spinning. There’s also glühwein, German hot mulled wine, for those cold days when you need a little extra something. One option on the menu that’s totally out of keeping with the chic surroundings: Ovaltine. It’s worth hanging around just to see who orders the old-school drink. 555 E. Durant Ave, 970-429-0104; gorsuch.com/aspen-ski-cafe

Local Coffee House
Those with an affinity for Danish hygge (the pursuit of all things cozy and enjoyable), will do well to order breakfast at Local. Tucked in behind Mezzaluna on Cooper Ave, the coffee shop roasts its own beans and offers a menu that fortifies with healthy dishes such as the Mediterranean-inspired Pachamama Bowl with chickpeas, roasted red bell peppers, mushrooms, quinoa, arugula, and pesto. Our favorite fuel-up is the creamy forbidden black rice and coconut milk porridge topped with almonds, berries, and honey. A close second is the prosciutto toast (sourdough, sliced prosciutto, burrata, and a drizzle of honey), which hopefully becomes the new avocado toast. 614 E. Cooper Ave, 970-710-7855; localcoffeeaspen.com

The veggie Benedict at Mawa's Kitchen

Image: Ryan Dearth

 Mawa’s Kitchen
The great thing about Mawa’s Kitchen is that it’s located in the Airport Business Center, which means that if you’re in Aspen headed to Snowmass or vice versa, the cafe is on the way. Whichever direction you’re traveling, you’ll want to break for the French Shakshuka. With eggs cooked in a tomato-y ratatouille and a side of rustic bread, we can’t think of a better pre-ski meal. (For the egg adverse, the dish can also be made with scrambled tofu.) Add a freshly pressed carrot-ginger juice and you’ll be unstoppable. 305 Aspen Airport Business Center, Suite F, 970-710-7096; mawaskitchen.com

Buttermilk pancakes at Poppycock’s Cafe

Image: Ryan Dearth

Poppycock’s Cafe
Oh, if walls could talk. Named after a reference to whispered gossip, Poppycock’s has been serving its cheerful, all-American brand of breakfast and lunch since 1971. The menu hasn’t changed much in its 50 years (aside from modern additions like gluten-free bread and almond milk), and along the way, the cafe has grown famous for its hearty, plate-sized oatmeal buttermilk pancakes. They’re big enough to share around the table and decadent enough that you really should. Diehard fans (or those looking for an edible souvenir), can pick up a bag of the mix to replicate the hot cakes at home. 665 E. Cooper Ave, 970-925-1245; poppycocksaspen.com


Best Breakfast en Route to the Gondola: Jour de Fête

Image: Ryan Dearth

Out-of-towners may have discovered this cafe’s delicious array of French-inspired and homestyle cuisine, but locals know Jour de Fête. This is old-school Aspen with nearly every dish named for a regular, and eating here is as much about basking in owner Oliver Mottier’s buoyant energy as it is the food itself. If you’re on a mission to get on the mountain, pop by the take-out window and order a chorizo breakfast burrito and a coffee to go. Then walk the block to the Silver Queen for a 13-minute breakfast ride to the top. Not in a rush? Find a table inside and order the Dude (black beans topped with poached eggs, shredded carrots, avocado, and pico de gallo) and savor a moment of morning.
710 E. Durant Ave, 970-925-5055; jourdefeteaspen.com


 

During

 
The Power of Four—that’s not only Aspen’s tagline, but it’s also the secret to the resort’s success. The four mountains’ ability to spread out the crowds is the reason you’ll rarely encounter a lift line and, more often than not, have a run all to yourself. Each ski area also has its own draw. Those who want to be seen or ski the steeps flock to Aspen Mountain; locals and experts ride at Aspen Highlands; families favor Snowmass’ wide-open slopes, and an unusual combination of beginners and half-pipe hounds head to Buttermilk. Just as the mountains have distinct personalities, so do their respective restaurants. Here’s what to expect, and eat, at each.

 

The Sundeck on Aspen Mountain

Aspen Mountain 

Whether you’re skinning up or someone who solely glides downhill, get yourself to Bonnie’s for the legendary oatmeal pancakes. You don’t even have to be an early bird, per se, but the kitchen crew stops flipping the hotcakes at 10:45 a.m. sharp—no exceptions. (If you miss the cut-off, a good consolation prize is the apple strudel, made from the original owner Gretl Uhl’s 1966 recipe.) To secure the pancakes: Take the gondola up, zip down Dipsy Doodle or Midway Road, and head inside the wood-paneled cabin. We greedily order a stack of two with a side of bacon, but most people just get one. Hit the teensy bar for a mimosa and head outside for an outdoor table for views of Bell and mid-mountain, and bites of pancakes with lacy edges and creamy interiors.

Assuming you aren’t a member of AspenX, the private mountain club with a hidden entrance, modern-art feel, and a fine-dining menu, the Sundeck is the sole option for lunch at the top of the mountain. Although it’s cafeteria style (grab a tray, make the rounds), the fare is enticing with options like tonkatsu ramen, pork banh mi, and Wagyu hot dogs alongside the more basic French dip, grilled cheeses, and burgers. If you’re just up for drinks, head to the long bar and (if Margo is working) order a margarita. When the crowd is three-deep, slip outside and step right up to the ordering window—it’s a holdover from the pandemic and a barely concealed secret. Plus, the view of Highland Bowl is on point.

The always-jammed Sundeck has long held court at the top of the gondola, but last season, Snow Beach popped up, and the collaboration between photographer Gray Malin and SkiCo will be back this winter, rebranded as AspenX Beach Club. Look for a highly curated beach vibe, complete with classic red-and-white chaise lounges, cabanas, a lifeguard tower, and snow games. An après menu focuses on bubbles, rosé, caviar, Jamón Ibérico, black truffle pizza, and kettle corn. The reservations-only experience is not for the faint of heart, however. Depending on the size of your party and the package chosen, it’ll run you $150 to $4,200. aspensnowmass.com/visit/dining 

Alpin Room on Snowmass Mountain

Image: Oliver Sutro 

Snowmass

Not surprisingly, the biggest of the ski areas has the most restaurants. Two Creek’s Cafe is mostly grab-and-go, Elk Camp is known for its salad bar and rotisserie chicken, and the Ullrhof excels at the grill station (with a great bar backed by windows), but there are also destination spots. 

Elk Camp at dusk

Few ski the Big Burn without also stopping at Up 4 Pizza in the patrol warming hut at 11,835 feet. Craving sweet instead of savory? Skip the pizza and go straight for a chocolate-chip cookie. Ooey, gooey, and underbaked in the best way, each bite delivers a sugar rush.

Alpin Room’s potato and caramelized onion fondue tartiflette

Image: Oliver Sutro

From there you’ve got two fine-dining options: Sam’s (at the top of Sam’s Knob) and Alpin Room (at the top of the Alpine Springs lift). Both are new, and both offer the unparalleled pleasure of swapping your freezing cold boots with warm slippers. Alpin Room replaced Gwyn’s High Alpine, and Ski Co was smart not to try to replicate the beloved 40-year-old classic. Instead, the space is refreshed with clean lines and huge windows, as well as a menu that leans on the Alps with dishes such as chicken schnitzel and choucroute garnie, a hearty Alsatian dish of sauerkraut, beer-braised bratwurst, frankfurters, and seared pork belly. Both pair beautifully with a glass of sparkling wine.

Sam’s is exquisite in every way. Enormous windows show off the restaurant’s high perch above the valley and when it snows, you’re literally inside a snow globe. The Italian-ish menu is anchored by items including crab spaghetti, which is silky with a lemony sauce and topped with toasty breadcrumbs. There’s also Sicilian-style pizza, rigatoni Bolognese, and a bruschetta topped with olive oil–poached tuna. Negroni spritzes are the order of the day. Fair warning that a lunch reservation at Sam’s pretty much guarantees that the only post-meal run you’ll take is back to the base.

If you’re zipping down Velvet Falls and spy the gate to Lynn Britt Cabin open and the fire pit blazing, come to a screeching halt. This little log cabin delivers a souped-up Western après (you can also make reservations for lunch). It’s a party with a DJ playing to a crowd that alternates between lounging on Adirondacks, dancing around a chuckwagon, and digging into plates of pâté-topped crostini, blistered shishitos, and stacked charcuterie. aspensnowmass.com/visit/dining

 

Cloud 9 at Aspen Highlands

Aspen Highlands

Plopping a flat-roofed restaurant (that was once a Grand Junction Safeway) at 11,000-something feet was never a good design idea, but the iconic Merry-Go-Round has persevered since the 1960s, even if the roof must be regularly cleared with a snowblower. Over the years, the interior has been updated and the menu has evolved from standard fare to healthy salads and grain bowls. Add salmon to the Thunder Bowl—a mix of brown rice, butternut squash, edamame, and kimchi, for a real power booster. The spot’s crown jewel, however, is its enormous deck that’s ideal for catching rays. Located just off the Exhibition quad at mid-mountain, it’s the perfect location to rest the legs before heading back up Loge Peak’s double blacks. 

Just up the hill, Cloud 9 radiates an Aspen Extreme vibe. Since day one, the warming hut has been about the party. In the 1970s and ’80s, ski patrol used to jump (yes, jump!) over Cloud 9 while crowds watched from the deck, drinks in hand. Over time, the hut has morphed into an exclusive bistro serving raclette and fondue, but the Champagne-soaked, dancing-on-the-table festivities are no less tame. Reservations are required.

At the base, Highlands Ale House’s pizza and beer draw the lunch and après crowds. It’s loud, it’s busy, and it vibrates with ski town camaraderie. If it’s too busy inside, grab a beer from the small outdoor bar, but be careful walking across the decking, it can be slippery in ski boots and someone always goes down. aspensnowmass.com/visit/dining

Cliff House at Buttermilk

Image: Ryan Dearth

Buttermilk

If there’s a mountain in Aspen that gets overlooked, it’s Buttermilk. But long-time locals know that a) the gentle, barely populated slopes are the best place to learn how to ski and b) a few fast laps on Tiehack on a powder day are as good as gold. Additionally, every January the mountain lays claim to the illustrious X Games, where top athletes from around the world come to compete for slopestyle and winter-sport titles. Over the summer, the resort renovated and rebranded the restaurant formerly known as Bumps as Buttermilk Mountain Lodge, part of a $23 million base area modernization designed by CCY Architects. Opening for breakfast, lunch and après on Dec 17 when lifts start spinning, the menu at Buttermilk’s new base lodge restaurant (which includes The Backyard, an outdoor patio and bar) focuses on skier standards like pizza, made-to-order pasta dishes, and a house burger made with locally sourced beef.

At the top of the mountain, just off of the Summit Express quad, the Cliff House sits against the jaw-dropping backdrop of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Creek Valley. The photo opp is as epic as the Mongolian Bowl at the restaurant’s wok station. This is a regular stop for the uphilling set who make it a goal to skin up and then refuel over stir-fry, Thai tea, and big views. Of note: Lunch tastes just as good when you’re riding the lift up and swishing down. aspensnowmass.com/visit/dining

After

Whether you’re looking for après while still clomping around in ski boots or a full-blown meal after coming off the slopes, there’s a little something for everyone. 
 

 

Ajax Tavern
Aspen’s most visible display of après is most certainly Ajax Tavern’s ever-packed patio. Situated at the base of Aspen Mountain and going strong since 1994, this is the dedicated home of truffle fries and the Wagyu double cheeseburger. It’s also the home of the town’s best people watching, be it those carving their way down the flanks of Little Nell or those who eschewed the slopes entirely and just want to be seen. 685 E. Durant Ave, 970-920-6334; thelittlenell.com/dine/ajax-tavern

Aspen Brewing Company 
You might come for the locally crafted beer, but you’ll stay for the pizza—specifically the Roaring Fork pie with red sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, hatch chiles, and crumbled sausage. If the Cloud 9 saison is on tap, order it. As the menu says, it tastes “as bright as the Colorado sun shines” and the suds sing when paired with this pizza. If it’s not available, drink a Conundrum red ale instead; the red IPA with flaked rye and citrus hops is a local favorite. 121 S. Galena St, 970-710-2461; aspenbrewingco.com 

Aurum Food & Wine
Despite being located a mere eight miles from Aspen, Snowmass has long been overlooked by serious restaurants that are themselves a draw. Last winter that changed when Kenichi and Aurum opened outposts at the base of the mountain. Both establishments have the potential to sway the dining culture in this mountain enclave. Aurum has already done just that in both Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge. To understand the hype, first order an Aurum Manhattan, an expertly stirred classic brightened with a bit of green chartreuse (you’ll never want to drink a plain old manhattan again). Then get busy with hot-from-the-oven Parker rolls, the Korean fried chicken, the French onion burger, any crudo or ceviche that appears on the menu, and all versions of the pork chop—then share, share, and share some more. Bonus: Pop by during happy hour ( 3–5 p.m.) for rotating drink and snack specials. 110 Carriage Way, Snowmass Village, 970-429-4906; aurumaspensnowmass.com

French Alpine Bistro
As cliché as it may sound, when you walk down the steps to French Alpine Bistro, you’re whisked away to an Austrian chalet in the high Alps. Sheepskins and soft blankets offer warmth against winter’s chill, while candlelight, chandeliers, and a curated clutter of art on the walls invite you to stay a long while. Here, the glorious pairing of melty cheese and fine wine is queen. There’s bubbling gruyère capping the French onion soup; a blend of gruyère, vacherin, Beaufort, and comté that makes up the decadent fondue; and indulgent, gooey raclette scraped over boiled potatoes, cornichons, and crispy baguette. There are, of course, other items on the menu—crêpes, escargot, and cassoulet—but why? 400 E. Hopkins Ave, 970-925-1566; frenchalpinebistro.com 

Home Team BBQ
Anyone schussing down Buttermilk or Tiehack should make a beeline to Home Team BBQ at the base. You can’t miss it: Glide just past Summit Express, grab a picnic table, and get ready for a feast. Ask for a round of Painkillers straight away—Home Team makes them strong and nutmeg-y, which is just the thing if you’ve spent the day tumbling down the terrain park. Once you’re a couple of sips in, order the BBQ nachos with chopped brisket (it’s worth the $2.50 up charge). The platter is stacked with chips, cheese, pico de gallo, smoked corn salsa verde, pickled carrot-jalapeño salsa, and chimichurri. You can also add queso but we recommend skipping it in favor of the dreamy Alabama white sauce. 38750 CO-82, 970-236-2040; hometeambbq.com  

Marble Bar
This chic satellite location of Carbondale’s Marble Distillery Co sits inside the Hyatt Residence Club Grand Aspen and radiates luxury. Sink into the deep couches, belly up to the marble-draped bar, or tuck into a discreet corner. This is more a drinking establishment than it is an eating one (although you can order a charcuterie or hummus plate), and you won’t be disappointed by distiller Connie Baker’s beautifully crafted local spirits. The distillery’s most iconic cocktail, the Marblerita, stars Marble’s gingercello (think limoncello but ginger) and vodka, plus lime and citrus. If you like some fire, order a Spicy-Rita with muddled jalapeño! 415 E. Dean St, 970-930-7393; marbledistilling.com/marble-bar-aspen 

Mi Chola
Ending a ski day with a pitcher of margs is practically a rite of passage, especially at Mi Chola, an Aspen staple since it took over where The Cantina left off in 2016. There are three tiers of pitchers—standard ($60 ), classic ($80 ), and premium ($90 )—where you pick your poison from an extensive list of tequilas, mezcals, and sotols. Bolster the booze with platters of taquitos, bowls of posole, and an array of street tacos. Most folks skip right over the tamale (it’s the last item listed on the menu) but it’s a keeper, as is the savory stuffed sopapilla. 411 E. Main St, 970-710-7076; aspenchola.com  


Best Après View: CHICA

For a location that’s been a revolving door over the years—from The Tippler to Il Mulino to Shlomo’s and now CHICA—the 3,000-square-foot patio with an unobscured view of Aspen Mountain is unprecedented. Rebranded this season as Après Base Camp, CHICA’s indoor-outdoor bar is rightfully packed well beyond happy hour (daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) as revelers order plates from celeb chef Lorena Garcia’s Latin-focused menu paired with Champagne. Find an outdoor table by a heat lamp and feast on decadent house specials like the Blue Burger (double patty, gorgonzola, mushrooms, caramelized onions, bacon, foie gras, tarragon aioli and shaved black truffle) or the Caviar Bumps (Oscieta caviar with a bottle of Grey Goose). If you’re in town for the holidays (from Dec 23-Jan 2), linger over the restaurant’s Après Hangover Brunch series. 501 E. Dean St, 970-900-6780; chicarestaurant.com/aspen