[Note: Even though this is posting on April 1, this is not an April Fools Day post – it’s totally real and totally awesome. -jen]
Crested Butte goes by many monikers: The last great Colorado ski town, Wildflower Capital of Colorado, The birthplace of mountain biking (along with Cupertino), The Nordic Ski Capital of Colorado, Powder Magazine’s #1 Ski Town in the US (2014)… We call it Paradise. Whether you’re hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, riding, or running – you are immersed in stunning mountain scenery that can only be described as God’s Country. Winters in Crested Butte are idyllic – lots of sun and snow, beautiful landscapes, friendly people, and a great ski resort 5 minutes up the road.
The Ice Bar at Uley’s Cabin
Crested Butte Mountain Resort is a very fine mountain to ski. There’s something for everyone and then some. But after you’ve had your share of the corduroy, the powder, the parks, the glades, or the cliffs, you can give those legs a rest at any number of dining spots on and around the mountain. The coolest – literally and figuratively – place to wet your whistle between runs is The Ice Bar at Uley’s Cabin.
the ice bar – it’s made of ice (except when it’s been really really warm)
To get there, ski or ride down Twister (one of my favorites on a powder day) to the bottom of Twister Lift. If you aren’t feeling the love for black diamond bump runs, you can also scoot to Uley’s from the cruisy green Peanut to Lower Twister (also green). Once there, put your skis or boards up at the racks and belly up to the outdoor bar, grab a table on the deck, or claim a loungy Adirondack chair and watch folks kill it on the mountain (Crested Butte has some ridiculously badass skiers and riders). The views of surrounding high country are spectacular, unless it’s dumping snow – and then you don’t need views because you’ve got powder and a big fat happy grin on your face. The menu at the bar includes cocktails, mixed drinks, shots, beer+shots, hot drinks (spiked hot cocoa, coffee, cider, toddy), various White Russians, and a Build-a-Bloody Mary. If you’ve worked up an appetite charging down the mountain, you can order some quick hot bites just behind the bar. I spied bowls of chili, bags of piping hot french fries, pulled pork sandwiches, and other ski mountain fare in people’s hands.
serving up colorado bulldogs (white russians with coke) on a bluebird spring day
my libation (ginger beer) and the summit of crested butte
If you have a hankering to dine on something more refined for lunch, then you’ll want to check out Uley’s Cabin. Just go through the front door of the building to the beautifully rustic mountain cabin/restaurant. While waiting to be seated, you can park yourself in a comfy leather armchair and warm up by the fireplace. Uley’s Cabin serves a sit down lunch daily from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm with a selection of salads, soup, shared plates (mussels, charcuterie, or cheeses), and entrées like salmon filet, Colorado elk bourguignon, seared pork belly, and risotto (usually a vegetarian option). Call ahead for reservations or walk in – just be aware that they are typically busiest starting around noon to 1:00 pm.
the inside of uley’s cabin
I spoke with the staff about their lunch service, which was when they mentioned dinner. Dinner? But if the mountain closes at 4:00 pm, how do people get up here for dinner? Funny I should ask… Uley’s Cabin offers sleigh ride dinners starting in mid-December to early April, Wednesdays through Saturdays (so no bookings for Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday nights), one seating per night. It’s $100 per person for a 5-course meal with your choice of entrée. Gratuity and alcohol are not included. It sounded so fun – a little adventure, a little fine dining, a lot of awesome – not too unlike The Magic Meadows Yurt Dinners. We had to check it out, so we booked a reservation for dinner.
Sleigh Ride Dinner at Uley’s Cabin
Our instructions were to meet at the Waffle Cabin (a place from which wonderful aromas emanate when the ski lifts are operating) at the base of the mountain at 5:15 pm and to have warm hats, gloves, and jackets for the open sleigh ride. Even if it is warm in spring, you’ll want the warm things for the return ride after dark. About 25 people were dining the night we went in late March, but Uley’s capacity is 50. We were greeted by Daniel, a nice young man with great knowledge of the local goings-on in Crested Butte. He had us each sign a waiver that said we understood the risks of riding up the mountain, and then invited us into the giant sleigh, pulled by a snow cat. There were cozy blankets set out on the bench seating for guests to use. I highly recommend wearing smart footwear. Smart footwear is NOT HEELS, ladies. Something with good grip is advisable as the floor of the sleigh can be icy and slick – so just keep that in mind. I also recommend sitting on the left side of the sleigh to avoid catching the exhaust from the snow cat. Hey, I’m always looking out for you.
meet at the waffle cabin
the snow cat pulling the sleigh
view of the summit on the way up
It’s a lovely 20 minute ride from the base of Red Lady Express Lift up Houston and across to Peanut, then down Lower Twister to the cabin. In winter, you’ll be riding up in the dark (possibly at sunset if you time your visit right), but later in the ski season you’ll have stunning views in every direction with the sun still above the horizon. You’ll probably want a camera of some sort, because it’s not every day that you take a sleigh ride to dinner… on a mountain in paradise. Daniel rode up with us to answer questions, share some geography, and to prevent passengers from doing any stupid and/or dangerous things. Everyone was excited and in a good mood.
daniel (standing) explains some crested butte traditions
approaching the cabin from lower twister
Upon arrival at the cabin, folks shed their jackets and were greeted with small mugs of hot toddies (alcoholic) to warm them up from the sleigh ride. Each party was then seated at their private tables where the first course, a charcuterie and fromage board, waited. The evening’s courses are all a set menu except for the entrée, which you chose from three offerings. The menu changes, but that night our choices were: slow roasted duck leg, gold canyon filet mignon, or Atlantic salmon. If you have dietary restrictions, you can inform the staff when they call to confirm your reservation (they will inquire) and the chef will make necessary adjustments as best he can.
ryan serves the hot toddies
the evening’s menu and our first course
the view from our table
You can start your meal with a cocktail, wine, soda, or other beverage. Uley’s has a good wine selection for being at 10,120 feet on the side of the mountain. We nibbled at the nice spread of cheeses (Danish blue, smoked cheddar, rosemary crusted goat cheese), prosciutto, elk sausage, andouille sausage, brandied apricots, pickled red onions, roasted garlic, crostini, and lavash. Diners periodically popped up from their seats to go outside and snap photos of the scenery or of each other to record the moment. While the meal presents as formal, the atmosphere is quite laid back and the staff is incredibly accommodating and friendly – they know you’re here for an experience. It’s special and they get that.
For the soup course, our server brought out bowls of creamy mushroom bisque along with a basket of freshly baked bread and soft butter. The bisque was earthy and salty with a mild mushroom flavor and smooth texture. Next came the salad of spinach, kale, baby greens, chèvre, and sweet pistachios, all tossed in a roasted tomato vinaigrette. The chèvre and pistachios lent nice bites and flavors to the otherwise subdued greens. I would have liked a little more tang to brighten up the vinaigrette and the salad as a whole, but it was still enjoyable. It’s important to keep in mind that we were not dining in downtown Denver, we were on a mountainside.
charcuterie and fromage board
uley’s signature mushroom bisque with french herbs
forest greens salad with pistachios, colorado goat chèvre, fire roasted tomato vinaigrette
The mains were definitely the stars of the meal, as they should be. I ordered the duck and Jeremy requested the steak. A crisp, delicate, and super flavorful skin surrounded the duck leg and the meat was falling-off-the-bone tender. It practically melted on my tongue. Nestled atop a bed of butternut squash, kale, and bacon hash, the duck was adorned with crunchy butter-fried sage leaves. Soft, yet chewy dried figs dotted the plate (they were delicious) and sat in a small pool of nicely balanced sweet, savory, slightly acidic gastrique. Typically, Jeremy and I share plates, but I almost didn’t want to hand this one over. It was that delightful.
We aren’t normally big fans of filet mignon as it isn’t our favorite cut, but I think Jeremy paired his food to his wine rather than the other way around. The chef cooked the gorgeous, generous cut of steak to order (rare) and served it alongside a piquant, creamy potato au gratin with sautéed beet greens, portabello mushrooms, and red onions. The bordelaise sauce added just the right boost of richness to the perfectly cooked beef.
To finish the meal, the wait staff brought out bourbon poached pears for dessert. A whole pear (cored) sat upright against a dollop of whipped mascarpone and a shard of caramelized sugar – sweet islands afloat in a light orange-zest bourbon caramel syrup. This was a perfect way to end the dinner: fruity and not too heavy, but not unsatisfying.
slow roasted duck leg on butternut squash, kale, and bacon hash, dried figs, agave nectar gastrique
gold canyon filet mignon, goat cheese potato gratin, swiss chard, port bordelaise
bourbon poached pear with marscapone
By 8:00 pm, most of the dinner service had ended. I asked Jeremy if he wanted to order coffee, but he shook his head no and said it was almost time to leave the restaurant. I noticed other tables had to-go cups of coffee and suggested he might want one for the cold ride back down the mountain (I knew that would convince him). Our server was happy to bring him a cup of coffee. Uley’s uses Elevations coffee, but Jeremy thinks they really ought to use Camp 4 Coffee which he feels is superior to Elevations in every way possible. Still, a hot beverage to sip on the open (and cold) sleigh ride under a starlit night sky is a beautiful thing. And if you aren’t a coffee drinker, tea and hot cocoa are available, too. Our neighbor’s table had ordered a hot cocoa that came topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Fancy!
The sleigh ride to the base of the mountain takes a shorter and steeper route down than you take to come up – with good reason. It’s dark, cold(er), and folks want to get back to their warm places. The blankets do help to keep you toasty as you look up and marvel at the constellations. Crested Butte has stunning night skies. Everyone was in a great mood when we unloaded from the sleigh. They had fresh memories of a delicious meal in an intimate setting with some of the best views you could ask for – a special night. This is definitely an experience worth trying if you’re ever in Crested Butte during ski season.
pinkish sunset over white rock mountain and friends
12 Snowmass Rd.
Mount Crested Butte, CO 81225
Ph: (970) 349 2275
Call for hours and reservations. Or make a reservation on OpenTable
Full Disclosure: No comps. All opinions are mine.