From its cozy A-frame base lodge to its parking-lot tailgate parties to its rowdy terrain, Arapahoe Basin has always been a haven for core skiers and snowboarders—people who don’t require a ski-in, ski-out condo or $12 bowl of chili to feel at home on a mountain. Which is why the recent rise in renown of the Basin’s new gourmet restaurant, Black Mountain Lodge, has taken many by surprise.
Since it opened in 2007, and especially since the resort’s classically trained executive chef Chris Rybak took charge a year later, Black Mountain Lodge has become arguably the most distinctive dining option in Summit County. Perched on a rocky knoll halfway up the ski area at 11,500 feet in elevation, with neck-craning vistas of the Continental Divide, the lodge has made A-Basin a must-dine destination. By day, it eschews cheeseburgers and fries and instead offers the mountain’s plastic-boot-clad masses unconventional ski-area fare such as Atlantic salmon, smoked chicken, and spinach salad with candied pecans and feta cheese. And on a handful of moonlit Saturday nights each season, Black Mountain Lodge transforms into an aspirational white-tablecloth venue with a view in the tradition of Windows on the World; the dining room sells out months in advance, and sated patrons—who either ride a chairlift back down to their vehicles or descend on skis or snowshoes—depart spellbound by the multiple memorable courses they have consumed.
“Everything you eat there is so fresh and unusual and different for Summit County,” says Meredith Van Dyne, a Keystone resident and Black Mountain Lodge regular who rarely misses a special event. “It’s a very informal, casual atmosphere, but it really is a fine-dining experience.”
For the epicurean excellence, credit Rybak, the American Culinary Federation’s 2000 Colorado Chef of the Year. During a twenty-year career down the road at Keystone, Rybak helped launch the Keystone Conference Center as well as Alpenglow Stube, one of the industry models for gourmet on-mountain dining. When he signed on at A-Basin in November 2008, after an intriguing phone call from COO Alan Henceforth, he saw similar potential in loftily situated Black Mountain Lodge. “There’s nothing else like it,” he says.
In addition to the lodge’s daily offerings (which include A-Basin’s famous Bacon Bloody Mary, with two vodka shots and a twist of Oscar Mayer in a twenty-ounce glass for $9), the lodge also hosts five moonlight dinners each winter and a number of unique events in the summer (e.g., Yoga on the Mountain, sun salutations coupled with a light lunch). Each moonlight dinner includes a ride up the Black Mountain Express lift and multiple courses revolving around a particular world cuisine. This year’s themes include recipes from Bavaria, France, Spain, Scandinavia, and Italy. Rybak usually prepares up to a dozen appetizers and four entrées for each dinner, as well as a smorgasbord of soups, salads, and desserts.
“I don’t write menus until we’re two or three weeks out, because I like to see what’s available and what’s going to be fresh then,” Rybak says. “I’m always going for a ‘wow’ factor with whatever we’re doing—stuff you’re not going to see on a normal menu at a restaurant.”
Case in point: at the Bavarian-themed Randonée Dinner that kicked off the season in November, in addition to the expected beer, soft pretzels, Wiener schnitzel, and spätzle, Rybak also served German Cambozola cheese, braised pheasant, and whole-roasted hog, paired with hard-to-find rieslings.
After a sold-out New Year’s Eve gala, the Moonlight Dinner Series ($82 per person) starts the new year on January 26 with a Mediterranean feast. In a change from the Randonée Dinner, the lift will be running for this one, so you won’t have to skin up the mountain to open up your appetite. But you should still bring your boards, board, or snowshoes for the most fitting final course: a gravity-assisted cruise down the mountain, under a silvery moon.