Finding Fondues

By Louise Hudson

 

Showering after skiing and then putting a ski suit back on? Not your typical outfit for a fancy three-course dinner. But at Tyrolean-themed Sun Peaks, this is the first step for taking the 6 pm gourmet gondola to reach the fondue feast at Sunburst Lodge.

Grouping around convivial communal tables, a mix of locals and international visitors indulge in Euro-style decadent dining several nights a week as part of the Alpine Fondue and Starlight Descent. The cheese fondue starter with dippers and sourdough could be the main event itself. But it’s followed by a feisty fondue Chinoise –  various meats cooked in a piping hot broth in a central pot – with a selection of sauces and trimmings. Just when you’re worrying about being too full for the ski down, along comes the chocolate fondue, complete with shortbread cookie on top of the typical fruits. Skiing back to the village in the dark with flashlights, wearable on helmets or wrists, is serene and surreal. Intensely quiet, often moon and star-dappled, the slopes are beautifully groomed with orienting lights embedded at intervals.

This type of Alpine après is being somewhat eclipsed lately by the trend in healthy, vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, and gluten-free fare. However, for those prepared to seek them out, raclettes, pierres chauds, and fondues are still out there, albeit lower profile than the more Millennial-motivated menus.

At Big White, cheese fondue is the second course in the self-guided ‘Village Walk, Dine, Wine’ tour. This culinary cruise starts at The Bullwheel gourmet gastro pub with duck wings and tuna stack paired with a Mission Hill Chardonnay. The cheese fondue at The Woods comes with a huge platter of orchard fruits, veggies, nugget potatoes and baguette with choices of a Red Rooster Pinot Blanc or Merlot. A gorgeous re-purposed log home with a patio and snow bar outside, the beautiful building really complements these mountain munchies. The third course, at the Globe Café & Tapas Bar embraces a new sharing concept: Tabletop S’mores, paired here with a Hester Creek Late Harvest Pinot Blanc. A great way to appreciate the redolent range of Big White’s après in one night.

Bringing the Alps to the Rockies, the Old Bauernhaus at Kimberley is over 350 years old and was originally a farmhouse in Bavaria. In 1989 new owners had it dismantled and rebuilt just below the ski resort on the route back to town. Perfect spot for some really authentic Alpine après, it specializes in European delicacies including fondues, schnitzels, and spätzle.

A veritable fount of fondues, Panorama features four different locations. Top of the tree is the heli-ski fondue with the three-course feast tacked on to an indulgent backcountry pow day with rk heliskiing. The heli-fondue component can also be booked separately by resort skiers, who are treated to aerial views of the resort before being deposited at the rustic Summit Lodge for Alpine dining. At Mile 1 Lodge there’s a regular cat-fondue via a luxury ‘limo’ which transports 12 diners at a time. Mile 1’s also open for chairlift-accessed night-skiing nibbles. The mid-mountain Elkhorn Cabin focuses on Swiss raclette: strips of bison, tenderloin or chicken cooked on Swissmar tabletop grills with palettes for cheeses below, served with onions, potatoes and veggies. This mountain menu can be booked for lingering lunches or via snowcat by night with a lamplit ski down. At Chopper’s Landing, a new Austrian culinary director, David Auer is expanding the Alpine appeal, adding three-course hot stone menus with schnitzel and spätzle, and multi-course fondue sharing – topped off with chocolate fondue.

At Lake Louise Village, the 24-seat Fondue Stübli at the pretty Post Hotel has been famous for its first-rate Alpine fare for many years. But new this season is a taste of Europe right on the slopes of Lake Louise Ski Resort. The menu at Sawyer’s Nook, nestled at the top of Temple Lodge in the valley near Larch Mountain, has been reinvented, featuring fondues, stews, and raclette.

In the US, Aspen’s Ajax Tavern offers cheese fondue for two as an après appie, perfect for pairing with pink champagne – make a reservation though as this venue is typically rocking. Mid-mountain at Highlands, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is best known for classic fondue, raclette and apple strudel. This is champagne gun territory, especially on the south-facing terrace on a bluebird day. With a backdrop of the iconic Maroon Bells, the cosy cabin combines authentic Alpine cuisine with one of the most animated après-ski scenes in North America. Groomer cats are regularly commandeered to drive ski-boot dancing revellers, no longer deemed ski-worthy, back down to base.

A Bavarian-esque beer garden at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows brings Europe’s fragrant flavours to Olympic Valley. The Chalet at Alpine Meadows makes a signature raclette with fingerling potatoes, pressed sandwiches, strudels, and six different beers on tap for “das boot” enjoyment on the deck. Alternatively, once the mountain closes and the winter moon rises, there’s a snowshoe tour to the mid-mountain Chalet with an Alps-inspired menu for an intimate seated dinner. Expect dishes like potato cheese soup, chicken cordon bleu, and apple strudel with mulled wine.

The Swiss Chalet Restaurant in Vail’s Sonnenalp Hotel won a ‘Best of Award of Excellence’ from Wine Spectator for its 1000-strong wine list. With pretty wooden balconies, the entire hotel is elegantly Alpine-themed and its family ownership, like all the original European ski hotels, spans five generations. Après attractions include glühwein and bourbon-based hot toddies. Steak tartare and escargot add to the dinner menu which features four different fondues – including a signature champagne one – and three raclettes. There are also schnitzels and an enticing three-cheese spätzle. Just the aromas transport you to Switzerland!

Although the town of Telluride has a rich Western history, it didn’t have a fondue tradition until recently when Alpinist and the Goat opened in 2014. Traditional Swiss, Basque Spanish, La Cortina Italian and Montblanc French specialties top the menu, with added cordon-bleu twists such as bread soaked in plugra butter, sea salt and seasonings. Euro-inspired late-night bites from 9pm-12am are only $5 per small plate and, at only $7 a pop, the Spanish Rioja makes a great accompaniment. Their spin on dessert fondue is mixing 60 per cent melted chocolate with imported goat’s milk caramel served with British shortbread and butter madeleines. With 11 small tables, there’s an intimate ambience reminiscent of Alpine ski chalets.

Huge wheels of raclette cheese are cooked by the roaring hearths in Deer Valley’s impressive main lodge as part of a four-course fireplace food frenzy. The nearby Goldener Hirsch Inn, an Austrian-themed restaurant and hotel, peps up contemporary Alpine cuisine with a seasonal American spin. And the Stein Eriksen Lodge has a whole menu of fondues during après entertainment, with cheesy and chocolate choices.

If you look hard enough, you’ll find many more examples around ski resorts indicating that the fondue fad is by no means finished. As Oscar Wilde put it: “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation”!

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