Where to Eat: Elevated Grab-and-Go Cuisine at Aspen/Snowmass

Pizza at Elk Camp, Snowmass

panini at elk campSome days, an hour-long lunch just doesn’t feel right. All morning long you’ve been skiing in choice conditions, and despite your grumbling stomach, you just want to keep going.

I was in a situation like this a week ago on Aspen Mountain. As I surveyed my options at the Sundeck, eager to head back out, I was reminded of how I used to sell myself short with a chili dog in such circumstances.

Times have changed for the better. Across all four mountains at Aspen/Snowmass, they’ve been mastering an on-mountain dining concept that, at first blush, seems incongruous — slow-food quality at the speed of grab-and-go. Here are some of my favorite fast-and-tasty lunches.

Sundeck, Aspen Mountain

Here’s the game plan for Sundeck: After laying claim to a window-side table (seriously, one of the best views in Colorado for watching an approaching snowstorm) head to the salad, stir-fry and pizza stations and take inventory of the daily offerings. You can never go wrong. Last week, I languished over whether to order a mixed-green salad with seared yellowfin tuna, a ginger-chicken udon noodle bowl, or a slice of the wood-fired chicken-jalapeño-cilantro pizza.

I can justify just about anything when it comes to food, so I convinced myself that the afternoon’s turns would be enough of a workout to order both the noodle bowl and the pizza slice. It was a good call.

the salad bar at Elk CampElk Camp, Snowmass

I like to hit Elk Camp a little early. Perhaps that has more to do with stretching out my afternoons than it does getting first crack at what’s cooking at the rotisserie station. Either way, that’s where you’ll find me come lunch time, where I often order the roast chicken and a French baguette. Elk Camp’s menu is driven by what’s fresh, locally sourced and seasonal; think lots of organic options, and surprising twists on standard ski-slope classics like the grass-fed beef chili or the grilled cheese with gruyère, cheddar and provolone on sourdough bread. And I’ve yet to find a better-stocked salad bar at 10,000 feet.

Merry-Go-Round, Aspen Highlands

Aspen Highlands might be the ultimate grab-and-go mountain. Between Highland Bowl, the runs off Deep Temerity, Olympic Bowl and the sublime mid-mountain cruisers, many skiers and riders have to pry themselves off the mountain just to nab lunch. When that happens, they invariably order a quick lunch at the recently renovated Merry-Go Round. Many love the vegetarian options here like the veggie lasagna, mixed-green salad with salmon and goat cheese, or the to-die-for vegan pho. I’m partial to the specials, like the barbecue brisket, which is braised for 24 hours to reach optimal tenderness.

Mongolian BBQ at CliffhouseThe Cliffhouse, Buttermilk

The Cliffhouse atop Buttermilk is justly famous for two things — its almost Himalayan view of Pyramid Peak, and the Mongolian barbecue. The latter is the perfect option for those of us who like to have lunch made-to-order. You select veggies from the bar, and then pick a winning combo of protein, sauce and starch. I’m a fan of spicy-coconut green curry and shrimp over soba noodles. If you want to be back out on the slopes in a hurry, head to the fridge case where delicious, made-that-morning spring rolls await. The Cliffhouse also has a wicked-good juice bar as well if you want to go light. A glass of ginger-carrot-apple in the middle of the morning goes a long way.

Other On-Mountain Spots for Grab-and-Go