If you’re anything like me, you’ll agree that one of the very best parts of winter is skiing. But it’s not just the swooshing down the slopes that gets me excited for snow; it’s also the culture surrounding ski resorts. There are the woodsy, rustic alpine cabins nestled into the sides of the slopes, where dark IPAs flow from brass taps. And there are the chic wine bars, circled around fire pits, where women in black spandex pants and white furry hats sip pinot noir in the cold. And of course, there are the countless cabins, where exhausted skiers doze off fireside, with mugs of hot chocolate in their hands.
But hidden among these après-ski moments of winter bliss is something unexpected — great cheese.
There’s something about spending a day burning up calories on fluffy black diamond ski slopes that makes even the most athletic-minded people want to get their cheese on that evening. Really, there’s no tastier way to replenish those calories burned up in the cold. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, just take a look at the plethora of cheesy businesses that have cropped up in the country’s most famous ski towns.
We spoke with some of these cheese-enhanced businesses around the U.S. Rockies to get the scoop on what the winter scene is like for cheese lovers who happen to also be devotees of the slopes.
First stop: Deer Valley, UT
Deer Valley is one of the country’s most premier ski resorts and increasingly becoming a spot for cheese lovers. Deer Valley Resorts, the center of the ski resort action, doesn’t skimp on cheese offerings. The resort now offers some high-altitude (8,100 feet!), handcrafted cheese produced in the kitchens of Silver Lake Lodge by cheesemaker Corinne Cornet-Coniglio. Here, she turns out savory delights, like a creamy Blue aged for 60 days, and an ash-ripened goat cheese called Moon Shadow that recalls Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche or Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog. But there’s no doubt about it, it’s the Triple Truffle Brie that is the most popular with visitors. There’s something about the decadent combination of truffles and triple cream that really hits the spot for rosy-cheeked skiers and snowboarders. Best of all, the resort sources from local Utah farms, like Dale Peel Farm in Mount Pleasant, Sweet Deseret Farm in North Ogden and Heber Valley Milk in Midway. And if you love cheese and find yourself skiing in Utah, don’t forget to also check out Gold Creek Farms in Kamas, a farmstead spot that even the refined folks at the Deer Valley Resort recommend for cheese connoisseurs. Oh, and one more thing that you can get at Deer Valley Resort, Raclette. At Fireside restaurant, guests can warm that bone-chill you get after a day on the slopes with scraps of this semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, dripped and melting hot right onto your plate. Talk about something decadent to warm you up!
Next stop: Breckenridge, CO
Breckenridge is known for being one of the best spots to carve up Colorado, and for those looking for a little boost after a day of skiing, perhaps nothing hits the spot more than a homemade cheese plate and a glass of wine. For that, you’ll want to use your off day to pop in to the Cheese Shop of Breckenridge, where a finely-curated selection offers up choices from across America’s artisan cheese spectrum, including some fancy European options. Owners Courtney and Brooks Leedahl know exactly what folks like me are looking for. “Skiers shredding all day crave something hearty and warming,” they tell me. “Melting cheese like Gruyére and Tête de Moine are satisfying,” they point out, before adding that “classic English Cheddar like raw milk Montgomery’s” can hit the spot, as well. And one more thing, they interject, ”Don’t forget the cured meat to help with recovery and energy.” The Leedahls capture what may be the best part about skiing this region of Colorado, which is that “you can rough it and still eat well. We’re all about gourmet in the mountains,” they say. And if you are looking for a diamond in the rough a bit farther afield from Breckenridge, they suggest heading to Minturn, CO and Mangiare Italian Market.
Next stop: Denver
Any skier who loves Colorado knows that the starting point for most ski adventures is Denver. From Denver, resorts like Breckenridge, Keystone, Steamboat Springs, Copper Mountain and Aspen are all just a short drive away. And that’s why savvy skiers and snowboarders make sure to stock up on cheese supplies in the big city before heading to the resorts. Fortunately, Denver offers some excellent cheese spots. One great cheese retailer to check out is the Truffle Cheese Shop, Denver’s oldest store of its kind. Co-owner Karin Lawler makes sure that the shop’s cheese selection rotates seasonally, so that means you can expect plenty of creamy Alpine cheeses once the snow starts to fall in the winter. But you’ll also get to pick from much more, since the shop rotates through 400 different cheeses per year. Because of that great selection, the Truffle Cheese Shop has become a destination for skiers looking to set up an ideal après-ski tasting board. And Lawler has just the plan for those folks. “When our customers are looking for cheeses for après-ski, we recommend French and Swiss, such as Gruyère, Schnebelhorn, Raclette, Vacherin Fribourgeoise, Comté or Cantal.” But Lawler knows that the most hardcore skiers are going to wait until the slopes close to indulge in these selections, though many of them will want to pack the cheese with them to snack on while on the slopes. For those folks, she recommends Alpine cheeses, and especially the cow’s milk type, because “they carry well in backpacks while on the slopes and then transition nicely into snacking before hitting those double diamonds. Their intense flavors, packed with protein and nuttiness, are just what skiers need to get through the run.” And for those who wait to save cheese until after their ski day, Lawler drops the F-bomb: fondue. “We also love to use what you don’t eat on the slopes in a melted fondue afterwards. A bit of crisp, white wine, and a rich pot of melted cheese is the best way to end the day,” she says.
Last stop: Vail, CO
These days, Vail, like Aspen, has become synonymous with luxury skiing. From the eye-popping lift ticket prices to the chichi ski village shops to the staggeringly massive vacation homes, if you’re looking for a glamorous, luxurious winter ski vacation, you’re probably strongly considering heading to Vail. But if you’re dropping that kind of cash on your vacation, you’re probably not the type to squirrel away cheese in your backpack or settle up to nachos at the bar after a day on the slopes. Instead, you’re probably looking for the most highly-personalized, catered experience possible. And if you’re a cheese lover in Vail, you’re in luck, because there is now such an experience made just for you. Introducing Fondue at Home. The idea is simple – simply genius. It’s a gourmet fondue delivery service for the Vail Valley, where the fixings for a fondue party are essentially delivered to your doorstep. In fact, you can stay seated on the couch in front of the fire, because this service includes delivery, set up and even the pick up the next day, since everyone knows it’s the fondue pot cleaning that’s the biggest deterrent to hosting a fondue party. Derek George and his business partners deliver the full Swiss fondue experience, which means guests can enjoy traditional, Gruyère-based fondue flavored with nutmeg and Kirschwasser cherry brandy, all for $38 a person. They even offer wine pairings selected by a sommelier to suit the fondue. Not located in Vail? Not to worry. The business has already expanded to Crested Butte, and before long, they plan to expand farther. But even George can’t resist also pointing out another great opportunity for cheese connoisseurs who love the Rockies. He says the Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy out of Buena Vista, CO is one of his favorite places to visit for handcrafted, farmstead cheese.
Clearly, cheese and skiing are not mutually exclusive hobbies, and thanks to businesses like these, more and more aficionados are able to indulge in both pleasures at the same time. From fondue at home, to a picnic at the basecamp tables, there is a cheese chance for anyone who loves winter sports. And all across the Rockies, you’ll get that chance. From Aspen to Jackson Hole, there are countless more cheese shops and stunning cheese plates to try after a day of bouncing around moguls and digging out of deep powder. So don’t feel guilty about having a moment of indulgence in the midst of all that intense physical activity. After all, following a day on the slopes in freezing weather, you’ve earned it.