Culinary Jubilee

Vail celebrates its 60th season with a food and drink revival.

By Amanda M. Faison November 28, 2022 Published in the Winter/Spring 2023 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

Bill Whiteford tending his infamous, but short-lived, Ice Bar at Mid-Vail in 1964.

Due to the lingering impacts of the pandemic, there weren’t a whole lot of reasons for gourmands to celebrate last ski season when it came to eating and drinking on Vail Mountain, which benched everything from Blue Sky Basin’s hot dog shack (The Dog Haus) to the tony Game Creek Club. For its 60th season, the resort has created a slew of ways—old and new—to whet the appetite and wet your whistle in celebration of Vail’s diamond anniversary on the mountain and around the village. Here’s our synopsis (for more information: vail.com):

Ice, Ice Baby!

“When Vail opened, there were only three lifts and the Lodge at Vail. There was no bar,” explains John Plack, senior communications manager for Vail and Beaver Creek. As legend has it, under the cover of darkness one night in February 1964, a village restaurateur and practical joker named Bill Whiteford took it upon himself to build a European-style ice bar outside the upper gondola terminal at Mid-Vail (see “The Ice Ages,” p. 34). And legend also has it, says Plack, that after sweeping the mountain each day, patrol would pop by the bar (manned or not) for a nip. Lacking permission or a liquor license, Whiteford’s ice bar was much loved, yet short-lived. “For something that was only around for a couple of months, [the ice bar] was impactful and captures Vail’s spirit: “Effortless fun around every corner,” says Plack. “That feeling has always existed here.”

Vail Mountain is leaning into that memory and creating two ice bars: one at the top of Eagle’s Nest and one at Wildwood. Of the two, Eagle’s nest is more curated, with a backbar and augmented with igloo bungalows that can be rented for the day. And since it sits at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola, revelers don’t necessarily have to ski or snowboard to reach the fun (or tempt the fates on the downhill after indulging). The ice bar at Wildwood, which is situated perfectly to capture the take-your-breath-away views, is a little more rustic, which jibes with the restaurant’s barbecue vibe. The ice bar also straddles the junction of two new high-speed lifts (Chairs 7 and 17), where a specially commissioned mural riffs on Vail’s original opening-day sign.

Bring It Back!

“One thing we realized when we had to streamline menus during the pandemic, was that there are fan favorites,” Plack explains. This season, two foodie faves will reappear: Wildwood’s much-loved and much-missed chicken and wild rice soup (“We heard loud and clear that people wanted it back,” he assures) and The Dawg Haus, the hot dog haven at the base of Pete’s Express in Blue Sky Basin. Shout it from the rooftops: Slope-side chili dogs and ice-cold suds are back!

Better Than Ever

In addition to chairlifts, Vail has invested in other quality-of-skier-life upgrades this season, including revamping and freshening up the bar at Cucina, located at the Lodge at Vail, and Bistro 14 at Eagle’s Nest. “We totally gutted [Cucina’s] bar area for a more standout après experience,” Plack says. As for the gussied up Bistro 14 (new carpet, new paint, new menu), it feels a lot more like an art gallery this season with famed photographer Gray Malin’s aerial photo series hanging on the walls (See “Bird’s Eye,” p. 54). “He approached us and said ‘I really want to do a vintage series,’” Plack explains of the collaboration. “We were looking at old black-and-whites and he recreated those in his modern aesthetic.”

Après Your Way

An excellent way to wind down a day on the slopes includes sipping super-fancy hot chocolate from The Arrabelle’s cocoa cart. Every afternoon the cart peddles four signature versions of the classic chocolate drink—each recipe was crafted by its wunderkind pastry chefs Jenna Hughes and Alan Wisniewski. (Speaking of: While at The Arrabelle, check out The Bell, a new high-end café for pastries, coffee, afternoon treats, and coffee cocktails.) For those on the hunt for something stronger, Vail partnered with 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits to create 10th Mountain Whiskey Vail 60th Edition Rye Whiskey (10thwhiskey.com) for the mountain’s anniversary. Enjoy the limited edition in a maple old fashioned at the Tavern on the Square in The Arrabelle, or find it worked into different cocktails and flights around town. “You can have a cocktail on the mountain, taste it at your hotel, or buy it at the tasting room on Bridge Street,” Plack says. And don’t miss Henry’s Rescue Bourbon. Plack explains how Vail Ski Patrol Director Chris “Mongo” Reeder brought Henry, Vail’s original avalanche dog, down to a tasting at 10th Mountain and let him determine which barrel was best. (Henry didn’t imbibe, just indicated his preference for one barrel versus another.) Sadly, in late October, Henry left this resort for the more heavenly one above at the age of 15, but his paw print here endures, emblazoned on the label. A portion of proceeds from Henry’s Rescue Bourbon will go to K9s for Warriors.

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