Few fine dining experiences begin with the question: "snowshoes or cross-country skis?" At the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, located along the continental divide just north of Leadville, Colorado, it's necessary. After gearing up, diners trek one mile into the San Isabel National Forest to reach the Cookhouse – a backcountry yurt at nearly 11,000 feet. "Think of it as earning your food," says owner Ty Hall.
We arrived at 5:30 p.m. and opted for skis. The groomed trail to the Cookhouse gains 300 feet of elevation – just enough vertical to stave off the brisk 20-degree temperature. The sun had already set, but the alpenglow over the Sawatch Mountains was so intense that we didn't need to turn on our headlamps. It took 30 minutes through the pine trees to reach the Cookhouse, a large domed structure that seats 26 and is heated by a wood-fired stove.
Inside, we took off our boots and warmed our feet by the fire while sipping a Tennessee Pass Tuaca, made with the Italian liquor, hot cider, and cinnamon. Then came the four-course candlelit dinner: A charcuterie plate, potato leek soup, Grilled Elk Tenderloin with a port reduction of blueberry and sage served with mashed potatoes and seasonal roasted vegetables, and Colorado-grown peach pie. There was even a wine list available – some 17 bottles – that were possibly kept under a snow drift.
For extra, the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center also offers four sleep yurts located about a third of a mile up the trail from the Cookhouse. Our bags were waiting for us there, the wood-fired stove already stoked.
[$80 per person including four-course meal, ski or snowshoe rental, and headlamp (excludes alcohol and gratuity). Sleep yurts start at $225 and include access to 25 miles of groomed Nordic ski trails; tennesseepass.com]