Leadville’s Backcountry Restaurant Invites Diners to Sup and Sleep

An evening of wining and dining at Tennessee Pass Cookhouse wouldn't be complete without a stay at the backcountry restaurant's sleeping yurts.

By Jeff Dick Edited by Kirsten Dobroth January 10, 2017 Published in the Midwinter/Spring 2012 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Fine dining set in a tent that requires a mile-long trek into Colorado’s backcountry? Sounds like a risky idea for a restaurant. Yet the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse has been luring adventurous diners to the subdued intimacy of a candlelit yurt for more than fifteen years, as patrons ski, snowshoe, hike, or hitch a snowmobile ride to feast in this primitively elegant setting.

What could possibly enhance such a singular experience? Beds.

Sated by the elk tenderloin, held fast by one more glass of wine by the woodstove, or mesmerized by stars arcing over the Sawatch Range, many a guest has been reluctant to depart the backcountry restaurant, located ten miles north of Leadville and less than an hour’s drive from Minturn. So for those who aren’t quite ready to head home, two furnished yurts are available to diners, skiers, or anyone else looking for a quiet weekend in the woods.

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The Tennessee Pass Nordic center.

Image: David Bott

The dwellings were built on a private mining claim with views of Mounts Elbert and Massive, Colorado’s two highest peaks (in descending order). Visitors need no more than a warm coat to enjoy their stay and the view, as complimentary gear drop-off at the yurt with an awaiting fire is all part of the experience.

Each 314-“round foot” dwelling sleeps up to six guests in backcountry plushness. Full-size beds and bunks hewn from burly aspen are topped with down pillows and comforters. A minimalist but fully outfitted cooking area with running water means no more melting snow to quench your thirst. Heat comes from an efficient soapstone woodstove that doesn’t require a 3 a.m. stoking, so you can sleep through until breakfast.

Guests can cook their own meals or enjoy lunch or dinner at the cookhouse—although it’s not a requirement. Should the sleep yurts prove too comfy to leave, the cookhouse’s “room service” delivers breakfast baskets, wine and beer, and items from the menu.

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Inside one of the new sleep yurts; a table at the cookhouse.

Image: David Bott

The most difficult decision guests face here may involve what to do should they leave the yurt. A night’s lodging, which runs $240, includes access to the adjoining Nordic Center’s twenty-five kilometers of groomed ski trails and five miles of snowshoe singletrack. The historic and family-friendly alpine runs at Ski Cooper  - an area classic for anyone looking to leave the comforts of Vail's heated gondola for a day - converge down in the parking area. And backcountry skiers can access the base of Chicago Ridge in less than 30 minutes.

If anything, the close proximity of the cookhouse may have only exacerbated its “problem” by adding the sleep yurts: sated guests can now stay the night, but they still won’t be in any hurry to leave.

Tennessee Pass Cookhouse; tennesseepass.com; 719-486-8144

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