Peak dining

In Colorado, some of the best winter meals are served at the top of the mountain
Lori Midson

No matter how you spend a day in Colorado's high country―snowboarding halfpipes, skiing down double black-diamond chutes, or simply making snow angels in a powder-dusted meadow―you're certain to work up an appetite. Our favorite winter dining destinations take us back onto the mountain and serve panoramic views with the main course. Part of the fun is getting to the restaurants: by gondola, snowmobile, multipassenger snow cat, sleigh―even snowshoes or skis.

Open during the summer as well as ski season, most of these restaurants are closed in May and October. Reservations are required; book an early table to time cocktails with the sunset.

BEAVER CREEK:  Beano's Cabin. Pulled by a snow cat, an open-air sleigh climbs alongside bubbling Beaver Creek, near Vail, then drops you in front of the welcoming lights of this beautiful backwoods cabin on the shoulder of Grouse Mountain. Warm up next to the roaring fire inside the hand-hewed log lodge before savoring a five-course dinner that might include wood-fired pheasant, buffalo carpaccio, and bourbon-vanilla crème brûlée. Dinner nightly (includes sleigh ride); entrée range $26 and up. (970) 949-9090.

CRESTED BUTTE:  Irwin Lodge. If you're not staying overnight, there's only one way to get to this snowbound cedar lodge 12 miles outside Crested Butte: by snowmobile. The ride up the winding trail is an exhilarating introduction to the 14,000-foot peaks of the Continental Divide. Dinner's bounty―cheeses from around the world, hearty soups, and grilled pork tenderloin―provides energy for the zoom back to civilization. Overnight stays in the 21-room lodge start at $285 per person in December, including meals and transit via snow cat. For nonguests, a predinner snowmobile tour for two runs $85 from Action Adventures Snowmobiling (970/349-5909). Lunch and dinner daily; entrée range $11-$25. (888) 464-7946.

KEYSTONE:  Alpenglow Stube. Your journey to the nation's highest fine-dining restaurant (11,444 feet) begins with two separate gondola rides sweeping over the expansive ski slopes of Keystone's North Peak Mountain, 70 miles west of Denver. The gondola vistas are worthy appetizers for chef Steve Kohl's menu, which can include venison, pan-roasted Hawaiian snapper, and black truffle-potato ravioli. Lunch (does not include gondola) and dinner (includes gondola) Tue-Sat, brunch Sun (does not include gondola); entrée range $26 and up. (970) 496-4386.

KEYSTONE:  Der Fondue Chessel. The other restaurant at the top of North Peak Mountain is a convivial, sometimes raucous outpost of Bavaria where a four-course fondue dinner is served family-style. The lofty windows open to the skyscraping Ten Mile and Gore Ranges, and a lederhosen-clad oompah band enlivens the room. Dinner Tue-Sat (includes gondola); entrée range $26 and up. (970) 496-4386.

STEAMBOAT:  Hazie's. This refined yet homey bistro takes in sunsets that sweep the Yampa Valley and the dense aspen glades as the lights of Steamboat wink below. The kitchen serves up straightforward dishes of duck, fish, lamb, steak, and veal, while the piano player adds just enough warmth to the classy ambience so you won't rush dessert. Lunch daily ($10 foot pass for gondola is credited to meal total), dinner Thu-Sat (includes gondola); entrée range $11-$25. (970) 871-5150.

TELLURIDE:  Allred's Restaurant. The vistas from Allred's expansive windows are jaw-droppers: the line of craggy, 13,000-foot peaks that anchor the San Juan Mountains tower over the Victorian town of Telluride far below. "My biggest challenge is to make the cuisine as incredible as the views," says Bob Scherner, Allred's chef de cuisine, whose creative regional American entrées include an Alaskan butterfish that, true to its moniker, melts in your mouth. Dinner nightly (includes gondola); entrée range $26 and up. (970) 728-7474.

SKI COOPER (LEADVILLE):  Tennessee Pass Cookhouse. You'll have to work a little for the view―Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert―and the dinner by either cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling the mile from the base of Ski Cooper with a guide. You'll dine by candlelight and wonder how executive chef Ryer Triezenberg can work wonders with elk tenderloin and Colorado rack of lamb in a 35-seat yurt with no electricity. Food orders must be placed in advance. Lunch Sat, dinner nightly (includes equipment rental and tour guide); entrée range $26 and up. (719) 486-8114.