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A List for the Ages: Wine Spectator’s Top 100

So I recently found myself at a very high-end steakhouse in Houston called Pappas Bros.

The highlight for me was the prodigious wine list that features upward of 3,900 different wines and would take an hour or more to properly peruse. My companions at the dinner had come not for the wine, but for the steak. So as I buried myself in the list, much grief was passed my way for being “an anti-social wine snob.” While there was some truth to their criticism, it stung nonetheless.

I tried to explain that this list was special and it was one of just 100 in the world to be granted Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. “That would be like being named a Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated,” I offered, attempting to give some context. But the group would have none of it, so I was left, odd man out, with my book of wines, my solitary appreciation for the breadth of bottles obtained by this Houston institution, and fortunately, my glass of Heitz Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

But the Sports Illustrated analogy got me to thinking about just how powerful an influence Wine Spectator is, and has been, on the world of wine. In addition to their restaurant wine list awards, of which over 3,800 restaurants worldwide are ranked based on their wine programs, the publication also produces the definitive “Top 100” most exciting wines of the year issue which came out this month.

The Top 100 list was originally conceived in 1988, to provide a service for readers to help them navigate their way through the wines of the world. Since then, however, the list has become a powerful force in the industry. Making the Top 100 can make an unknown brand both profitable and relevant. It can also bolster a well-known wine to stratospheric sales.

A team of 10 tasters at the publication, including its senior editors, started with over 6,250 wines that scored 90 points or higher in 2019. These wines represent successful wineries, regions and vintages from around the world. While it may seem like a fun process, tasting and rating wines, it can be a long and laborious journey for those at the publication whose job it is to whittle the world’s wines down to the final 100.

The goal is to create a list featuring wines that are not only tasty, but also reflect the tenor of the times, can reasonably be found in wine shops and have great stories behind them. Or, as they say at the Spectator, wines that bring “quality, value, availability and excitement” to the table. The wines are tasted blind and rated on a variety of criteria. Once the best wines are identified, they then undergo a thorough review so that the final rankings can be determined.

Of course, the wine which attains the rank of No. 1 on the Top 100 becomes a coveted commodity and that will no doubt be the case with 2019’s winner, the 2016 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien from the Medoc region on the Left Bank of Bordeaux. A second-growth estate, the wine sold for just below $100 a bottle at the time of the coronation. It will be interesting to see what the market does in the coming months for the collectible wine that those who have tasted it say should be ready to drink in another five years or so. The guess here is that it will become a hot property in steakhouses like Pappas Bros. and much of the 11,000-case production will be consumed in its youth. On expense account, of course.

France, Italy and California were heavily represented on the 2019 honors, with 66 bottles coming from just those three regions. The 2016 vintage, one generally considered as outstanding across much of the planet, also was featured prominently, with 7 of the top 10 grown in that august year.

While one may think the list includes only wines of great expense, there are some values, as well. In the top 20, for example, there are three chianti wines from Tuscany that are all available for reasonable prices (2016 San Giusto a Rentennano $36, 2017 Castellare di Castellina $22, 2015 Tenuta Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva $30). The most expensive wine was a Bordeaux, a 2016 Château Pichon Longueville Lalande Pauillac, which retails for $197 a bottle and placed 97th on the list. By my count just 14 of the wines on the list exceed $100 a bottle and the average price of the Top 100 is $54 a bottle.

The issue, on newsstands now, is one I keep. My pile of Top 100s goes back a few years. It is always fun to count the wines I have tried and to compare notes with what those at Wine Spectator had to say. I guess that’s just one of those things that an “anti-social wine snob” does.

Food Matters: A Rustique Bistro resurrection at Anderson Ranch

If food is art — if eating an exquisite meal is on par with attending a spirited concert or viewing an esteemed painting — then Rob Ittner is leading a one-man traveling exhibition.

On Dec. 17, the chef-entrepreneur revives Rustique Bistro — which he operated for nearly 20 years on Hopkins Avenue in Aspen and closed this past April — during a special pop-up dinner at Anderson Ranch to conclude the art mecca’s annual Holiday Open House. “Rustique at the Ranch” will showcase a multicourse, family-style supper of classic dishes from the beloved restaurant, served in the Snowmass Village property’s Schermer Meeting Hall beginning promptly at 7 p.m.

“We want to make it more elegant,” says Anderson Ranch marketing director Katherine Roberts. “Not to take away from the homespun fun of the event, but something new and dynamic.”

A Rustique Bistro resurrection fits naturally at Anderson Ranch, home to more than two dozen resident artists who invite the public into their creative workspaces and offer studio tours and talks during the free Holiday Open House. Ittner believes that this culinary enhancement to the 25-year-plus tradition will bring newcomers to the Ranch, “an international art treasure.”

Beginning in 2013, Ittner ran the subterranean Cooking School of Aspen — a 2.0 revival from an earlier iteration that launched in the 1990s, then closed around 2007 — guided by an artful philosophy.

“My whole mission with the Cooking School and Rustique: food is art,” Ittner says. “I think it quite often gets ignored as an art form. Just like listening to something at the Music Tent or going into an art gallery, experiencing a meal is a form of art. It’s something you’re going to remember for a long time.”

Rustique at the Ranch — priced at $50 per person and featuring linens and servers — reprises iconic dishes that persevered for almost two decades. To start: Rustique’s spinach salad with bacon lardons, goat cheese crostini, and shallot vinaigrette, alongside shared appetizers including the restaurant’s famed roasted mushroom-truffle mac and cheese. Three-time winner of the bygone Aspen Mac and Cheese Festival, the dish of creamy, savory gemelli pasta is likely one of the first that resurfaces when folks reminisce about Rustique.

Next up, a family-style main course of former bestsellers: braised short ribs over polenta with root vegetables and slow-baked salmon topped with balsamic-tomato jam, alongside country ratatouille, mushroom risotto and caramelized Brussels sprouts with bacon-orange gastrique. The feast finishes with apple tart tatin and a selection of French cheeses.

In featuring such classics, the Rustique redo might be compared to revisiting favorite European master works. “I don’t say, ‘Oh, I’ve (already) been to the Musée d’Orsay,’” Ittner explains. “I say, ‘I want to go back and experience “Starry Night” again.’ I define art very specifically in my cooking classes: experience through our senses that inspires emotion. It’s not (always) something you listen to or see, but it can be something we smell, taste or touch.”

Ittner shares a story of visiting the Louvre in Paris and observing a group of blind students led through a Degas exhibit. “They all had white gloves and were allowed to touch the sculptures,” Ittner marvels. “It was amazing — a direct reflection that all (senses) experience art. My expression has been smell and taste.”

Nostalgia, then, is the ability to experience emotion over and over.

“The memory of Rustique in my mind has to do with refined flavors in a rustic manner,” Ittner says. “And comfort. The mass following of Rustique had to do with feeling comfortable (there), comfort food. That’s the emotion. Food as art.”

Passionate about recreating a certain coziness through hospitality, Ittner is calling upon former Rustique sous chef Neal Stiles and select waitstaff to bring Rustique back to life for the night. Anderson Ranch chef Greg Basiliere will assist Ittner, who serves as executive chef for the event.

“Any meal you have is an art form — even making an omelet in the morning,” Ittner says. “Doing things with purpose. When you add salt, pepper and flavors to an omelet, you’re expressing yourself in a particular way.”

Though Rustique at the Ranch was announced a couple of weeks ago and has since reached capacity of more than 100 seats, those hoping to get on the waitlist should contact Molly O’Leary at 970-924-5056. Wine is included in the ticket price.

“We often think of art as extracurricular activity, as a pleasure of life,” says Ittner, who is consulting on a possible guest chef series at Anderson Ranch this winter. “I think experiencing food as art is a necessity.”

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

Photographer Scott Brockmeier’s travels with avalanche rescue dogs of Aspen and Colorado

The avalanche working dogs at ski resorts throughout Colorado have intrigued and delighted as well as rescued countless numbers of visitors and residents during the winter months.

I’ve spent more than 10 years capturing images of these amazing four-legged first responders. It all started by visiting various ski patrol huts throughout the west to photograph the dogs and other search-and-rescue teams to raise awareness of their life-saving work.

I’ve spent time with these pups beyond resort boundaries, documented the special bond between the dogs and their humans and marveled at beautiful vistas while taking shots of the patrollers’ “home playgrounds.”

I’ve now collected more than 100 colorful images for the book “Skier’s Best Friends: Avalanche Working Dogs of Colorado,” which reveals the beauty of Colorado mountain resorts and the joy and dedication of the dogs and their handlers. A portion of all books sales will be made to the Avalanche Rescue Dog teams who keep skiers safe on snow-covered playgrounds. It’s been a labor of love created in the company of some of the best people in the ski industry and their pups over the past 10 years.

Know Your Liftie: Tara Toy

Who are the people who stand outside all day making sure the lifts are running and where do they come from? In this new wintertime series, each week we will be introducing you to a liftie that works on one of Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains.

Name: Tara Toy

Hometown: Alameda, California

Lift location: Silver Queen Gondola, Aspen Mountain

How long have you been in Aspen? About three weeks.

What brought you to Aspen? I’ve never really gone outside of California, so I decided I’d go somewhere for a bit, but long enough to settle down and have a community.

How did you pick Aspen? I applied to jobs in a bunch of different states and Aspen just kind of seemed like the best fit for me.

What has surprised you about Aspen so far? I love the small-town feeling. I think that’s just what’s surprised me the most and has been the most pleasant, because I’ve already seen plenty of faces from just being here for a couple weeks. I really, really like that.

How do you stay warm working outside? How do I stay warm? I don’t. Well, the thing is I was Californa-coast born, raised and maintained, so that’s also why I came here. I’m not good at the cold so if I put myself in this environment I will have to adapt; so layers, and gloves and handwarmers.

Will the gondola always be your assigned lift? I actually don’t know how to ski or snowboard so I’m here to learn — that’s also what brought me here is I want to learn — so for now I’m going to be at the gondola and then hopefully I’ll learn how to get down the mountain without downloading and then I’ll be at other spots on the mountain.

Aspen Historical Society opens winter season with cookie exchange and caroling

Sure, the cliché is true that the holiday season in Aspen bring traffic jams of private jets and celebrity paparazzi along with the Dom Perignon and man-fur crowd.

But it also brings some reminders that remains Aspen, at heart, the small town it’s always been. Among them is the sweet and intimate Holiday Cookie Exchange at the Aspen Historical Society’s Wheeler/Stallard Museum.

This is the yearly community get-together where you’re invited to bring a plate of cookies — a dozen or more — and set them down and share them, while you do a taste test of everybody else’s batches as ski season kicks off and the town fills up for winter.

The Christmas cookie swap has been accompanied in some years by book signings or a big exhibit opening (like last year’s eye-opening one on Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus in Aspen, which remains on display and runs through April). This year, the party includes caroling with the beloved longtime local pianist and Crystal Palace alumnus David Dyer.

The scene in this historic Victorian home-turned-museum, with locals and seasonal Aspenites sipping mulled wine and singing, is reminiscent of the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” where everybody in Bedford Falls joins in to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”

HISTORY TOURS

The Historical Society’s winter tours started operating for the season on Dec. 6.

The robust offerings include a new interactive “Fireside Chats” series, which runs on Fridays through April at the Little Nell at 10 a.m. Coinciding with the Nell’s 30th anniversary, the program brings Historical Society staff to the lobby to fill in tourists and locals on the neighborhood’s mining and skiing history, along with the origins of the Nell ($15 or free for Nell guests).

The 2019-20 slate of tours includes the Historic Pub Crawl (Thursdays at 3:30 p.m., $20), the archive tour (Dec. 17, Jan. 21, Feb. 18 and March 17, free), a Hotel Jerome tour (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:30 p.m., $15/free for guests) and the Wheeler Opera House tour (Wednesdays, 1:30 p.m., free).

On the mountain, the historical society is reviving its free ski tours at Aspen Highlands (Mondays 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) and Aspen Mountain (Fridays, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.). These guided ski days from volunteer ambassadors include the history of skiing in Aspen, from the boat tow at Ajax to the mavericks of Highlands.

The popular “Snow Screw” demonstrations this winter will run on Feb. 20 and March 19 at the base of Buttermilk, showing off a recently restored 1930s-era Aspen-made snow machine in action.

This season includes two History on Tap programs, beginning Monday, Dec. 16, with “Magic in Snowmass” with the locally based illusionist Doc Eason at the Collective Snowmass ($10 to $15) and followed by a presentation on ski history by historian Duane Vandenbusche on March 19 ($10 to $15).

And throughout 2020, the Historical Society will commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage in the U.S. through its Time Travel Tuesdays series, culminating with a performance of the opera “The Mother of Us All” at the Wheeler Opera House on March 3 by the University of Northern Colorado Theatre Department.

ADDITIONAL HIGHLIGHTS

Teddy Bear Story Hour at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum (Dec. 23 and 24); Aspen History 101 and “Aspen Extreme” screening (Jan. 9); History Lessons with Larry Fredrick (Jan. 16, Feb. 20, March 19); History On Stage in Snowmass at The Collective (Jan. 19, Feb. 16, March 15) and the Retro Film Series at the Limelight Hotel (Feb. 13, March 12, April 9).

atravers@aspentimes.com

Gear Guide: Columbia ‘Star Wars’ Jackets

Over the years, Columbia Sportswear has unveiled multiple “Star Wars”-themed jacket lines. It licenses the look and adds a unique aesthetic and extra features two jackets from its performance line.

This month, the company has a new limited-edition run available on Dec. 6. The Star Wars Force line offers jackets emblazoned with Imperial details or the logo of the Rebel Alliance. You choose which side to represent.

The anorak-style jackets are a Columbia style dating back to the 1990s. The team worked with Lucasfilm to incorporate features inspired by the Star Wars saga.

The Force-themed jackets include a nod to Aurebesh, the primary language in the Star Wars galaxy. Coded messages in the jackets translate to “may the Force be with you” or “you underestimate the power of the dark side” in the Imperial version.

Click here to read more about Columbia’s new Star Wars Force line.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com

Food Matters: New mix6 in Snowmass brings fast-casual to Base Village

Chef Martin Oswald dreams of broccoli. Specifically: a crisp-tender, neon-green vegetable with edges charred just so. Oswald — who opens a new fast-casual eatery, mix6, in The Collective building in Snowmass Base Village on Dec. 7 with a free community dinner and celebration with live music — has spent dozens of hours studying high-tech “combi ovens” and programming the machines’ algorithms to perfect his recipe.

“If you put broccoli in a sauté pan, you can never achieve that,” Oswald declares. “In a combi oven we’re injecting steam first so it gets nice bright green, then we take all the steam away so it gets charred with the Maillard reaction, which creates so much flavor.”

Mix6 chef de cuisine Kyle Raymond was deeply impressed with Oswald’s dedication to this single ingredient, one of some 30 nourishing items on the line. Raymond will prepare everything fresh at the new counter-serve restaurant, where customers may combine a cornucopia of flavors into big bowls for eat-in dining or takeaway.

“We went to do the combi-oven training in Denver, and it really is a game changer, what these ovens are capable of doing,” says Raymond, who recently visited the Rational brand facility with Oswald and mix6 general manager Fabio Bianchi for a full day of instruction. “Instead of blanching, shocking, and then roasting to get the color, all of this can be done in the oven. It kind of blew my mind.”

The technology finds a natural match in nutritarian cuisine — food prepared to contain the highest possible concentration of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients — which Oswald has pioneered since opening Pyramid Bistro above Explore Booksellers in Aspen in December 2010. The same philosophy infuses mix6.

“When I worked for Wolfgang Puck (in 1992-1993), we had an oven-roasted broccoli,” Oswald shares. “It came out wonderful — we put garlic and Parmesan on the dish, really great flavor — but when you roast it you lose the color. I wanted to take it to the next level and inject steam into it to get the bright green color, and get the roast out of it. We’ve worked hard on this.”

Such precision to create what Raymond calls “foolproof” recipes is also evident in mix6 spices, blended in-house. Diners will find distinct Asian influences with lemongrass and kaffir lime, French-Indian vadouvan spice blend on cauliflower, Tuscan chicken, South American chimichurri steak and North African harissa shrimp. That broccoli, too, is kicked up with a handful of spices including two kinds of chile pepper and ground coriander, then topped with pickled kumquats.

“Every food item option is seasoned individually — that’s the fun part,” Oswald says.

Diners have many choices. A bowl begins with hot or cold “base” items, including baby kale with Meyer lemon dressing; ancient grains with dates and green onions; a Tokyo-inspired crunchy salad with mango and ginger; forbidden black rice with tamari; red quinoa; Spanish rice with peppers; and sweet potato puree. The mix4 option offers two hot or cold bases, one vegetable (Brussels sprouts with toasted sunflower seeds and balsamic glaze; butternut squash with coffee spices, pepitas and pomegranate molasses), and one protein (Tuscan chicken, crispy chicken or pulled pork with blackening spice and barbecue sauce) for $11.95.

The mix6 option (two bases, two vegetables, two proteins) starts at $14.95. Premium proteins, such as steak, shrimp, or ginger-miso salmon with nori spice, may be added for $2.50 more. Ginger-mandarin-miso tofu, interestingly, is counted as a vegetable, and flavor add-ons (two included per order) range from tomatoes with red onion and mint to spicy kimchi.

Oswald is most excited about his “chef-curated mix” of predetermined six-item combos. The “nutritarian mix” is a vegetarian delight for $14.95; Oswald, personally, would pick the premium “surf & turf” selection with steak, shrimp, crushed avocado, sweet soy cremini mushrooms, forbidden rice, Tokyo mix and that supreme broccoli for $21.95.

“You really can customize your food; anybody with any food allergy of any kind, or on a Paleo, Ketogenic, or nutrient-dense diet,” says Oswald, who a few years ago was the chef-consultant for the opening of Bolay, a bowl-based, fast-casual chain in Florida. “I’ve worked so long on the molecular food — Syzygy in the ’90s — but what really gets me interested is how to build the most dense phytonutrient composition. How can I create the most flavor?”

Raymond, a veteran of Aspen establishments including Mezzaluna, Caribou Club and Grey Lady, is stoked to unveil a different kind of affordable dining concept to Snowmass, a veritable family activity hub. In addition to world-class skiing, the Base Village ice skating rink and the indoor rock climbing wall at the Limelight Snowmass, The Collective comprises an 8,000-square-foot multipurpose event space with moxiBar (with a separate menu of snacks by Oswald and extensive cocktail list, plus beer, wine and coffee), fireplace lounge, space for live music and art programming, and eye-bogglingly awesome subterranean game lounge. Visitors are encouraged to explore; a traditional restaurant simply wouldn’t jive here.

“Coming from plated, more elevated cuisine … we’re taking a lot of higher-end products and applying it to a fast-casual operation,” Raymond says. “It’s similar in terms of using the best ingredients we can; it’s (different) in how it’s received to the customer. You’re not dependent on a server. You can bring in your family and sit down, get something nutritious and delicious, but not have to allot the two-hour dining time.”

While Oswald has devoted the past decade of his career to nutrition, he’s not an extremist. Desserts include hazelnut-chocolate mousse and a peanut butter-chocolate bar, among other treats. The kids’ mix3 menu will feature wholesome base items, vegetables and crispy chicken tenders, which happen to be gluten-free. Buttermilk pancakes at brunch (see sidebar, above left). Youngsters seeking creamy, gooey, cheesy goodness will find that, too.

“It’s not just about being super healthy, whole-grain, and gluten-free,” Oswald promises. “There are plenty of healthy options — the mac and cheese is not gonna be one of them.”

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

A Wine Destination Turns 30: The Little Nell Reaches a Milestone

It was late November 1989, and Aspen was full of anticipation for the coming ski season. The Silver Queen Gondola had opened two seasons before, taking skiers to the top of Aspen Mountain in 14 minutes — cutting the previous base-to-peak time in half. There was controversy as the community fought over a measure to ban the sale of fur. In New York, a developer by the name of Trump was planning his Christmas vacation to Aspen. One that would include both his wife, Ivana, and his girlfriend, Marla Maples.

And at the base of Aspen Mountain, a new hotel was preparing to welcome its first guests for Thanksgiving. The Little Nell, a 92-room, five-star luxury hotel designed by the local architectural firm Hagman Yaw, opened Nov. 23, 1989. While it has changed many things in Aspen and the world of skiing, setting a standard in ski-in-ski-out luxury hotels that is mirrored at virtually all top-tier U.S. resorts today, it is its role as a premier wine destination that distinguishes it from other mountainside properties.

Over the last three decades, The Little Nell (TLN) has become a revered destination for a number of different wine constituencies. Its Wine Spectator Grand Award, one of fewer than 100 granted worldwide, has made it a must-stop for traveling wine connoisseurs since it was first awarded to the hotel in 1997. A staggering run of master sommeliers in the wine program (there have been 10 who have worked the floor in the hotel’s various restaurants) have made it the “Cradle of the Masters.” Those who aspire to be players in the wine community regard TLN as an ultimate proving ground and, for years, the Court of Master Sommeliers held both their educational events and final exams in TLN meeting rooms and restaurants.

Then there are the winemakers themselves, many whom have made the pilgrimage from around the globe to pour their wines for guests at TLN over the years. Peter Gago, the winemaker at Penfolds in Australia and the custodian of the famed Grange, has brought his bottlings from the Barossa. Vintage Dom Pérignon has been popped in TLN Wine Room by the Champagne’s former cellar master, Richard Geoffroy. And this past year saw the new world of minimalist wines represented when Raj Parr poured pinot noirs from the Sta. Rita Hills and Oregon.

And I nostalgically recall a La Paulée des Neiges wine event in 2013, held in the newly christened Element 47 restaurant, that saw a passel of Burgundy’s finest producers, including Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon; Etienne Grivot of Domaine Jean Grivot; Jean-Pierre de Smet of Domaine de L’Arlot; Christophe Roumier of Domaine Georges Roumier; Pierre Meurgey of Maison Champy; and, from Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot, pour their wines for an elite clientele. The accompanying meal was prepared by famed French chef Daniel Boulud. Sigh.

Pretty heady stuff. But why has this small boutique hotel sitting at 8,000 feet, miles from the nearest major city, become such a go-to for the wine world?

The answer traces back to the financial commitment made by the owners, the Crown family of Chicago and Aspen, to build a cellar that would rival the world’s best. That cellar, really not much more than a glorified, chilled storage room down a steep flight of stairs for the early years, grew under the stewardship of a cadre of young, energetic sommeliers.

Somms like Richard Betts, Bobby Stuckey, Jonathan Pullis, Sabato Sagaria and Carlton McCoy channeled their passion for wine into a place that holds over 20,000 bottles, serving a wine list of over 100 pages. Their commitment to service emphasizes a tradition that every bottle poured receives appropriate attention.

Today the wine program is under the auspices of newly named wine director Chris Dunaway, who looks forward to continuing the legacy of The Little Nell as a wine mecca. He will also oversee the wine cellar room that morphed into a destination speakeasy under past wine director Carlton McCoy.

On Friday, Nov. 29, The Little Nell is hosting a celebratory 30th anniversary dinner with the title “Dining Through the Decades” to commemorate its special culinary and wine history. Executive chef Matt Zubrod will be joined by chef George Mahaffey who, during his tenure at what was then called “The Restaurant at the Little Nell,” won a James Beard Award as Outstanding Chef: Southwest in 1997.

“When I arrived in October of 1992, The Nell was yet in its infancy,” Mahaffey recalled about his experience there. “I think that, all in all, we, a team of 300, did well. I have memories of hard work, and of our collective brilliance, of personal failures, and memories of laughter and tears, and of the many guests who also helped to make it so special.”

Pouring wines alongside Dunaway will be Stuckey, who worked with Mahaffey at TLN in the ’90s before going on to open Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, his Friuli-inspired wine centric restaurant that has also won a Beard Award for Best Wine service. He is looking forward to his return, stating, “I am so honored to be able to be back to The Little Nell for their 30th anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, when I went to work at The Little Nell, Eric Calderon, Connie Thornburg and chef George Mahaffey created an environment that created the food and wine and hospitality professional that I became. That era created many things about me that I pull on every day. I’m so excited to be back for the dinner.”

There will be stories. Wine will flow. And just like in 1989, everyone will be full of anticipation for another ski season to remember.

REI Ups ‘Black Friday’ Ante

For the fifth year running, REI will close its stores and pay all of its 13,000-plus employees to “Opt Outside” for Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving.

But the company now says it — and its members — need to do more.

REI announced new commitments to reduce its environmental impact. And it’s asking members to pledge to follow a 52-week “Opt to Act” plan for the year to come.

REI wants to mobilize its members, in conjunction with its employees, to take action throughout the next year. The Opt to Act plan provides resources for members to find local cleanup efforts across the country and commit to simple acts that reduce individuals’ carbon footprint.

Click here to read the full story from Gear Junkie

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com

Rookie Season: A tear sheet for novice aspen diners

Welcome! If you’ve just moved here for the winter 2019-20 season, congratulations! If you’ve lived here for decades: also congratulations! As Aspen locals will attest, the colder months represent prime time to enjoy all that our former mining town-turned-ski sanctuary has to offer, food included.

Still, as a miserly taxi driver might note: Many affordable, mom-and-pop restaurants have gone the way of the Snowmastodon. Cheap, satisfying breakfast is rare; food delivery is legitimately pathetic, not to mention exorbitantly expensive; and nobody will praise our dining landscape for diversity. Not to fear, however; options for good meals — and deals — do exist, if you know where to look.

BELLY UP TO THE BAR MENU

The single most suggested tip about Aspen dining: Order from the almighty bar menu, a timeless local cornerstone. At L’Hostaria’s 23rd anniversary celebration last week, in fact, our table of six — seated at a first-come, high-top bar table, natch — agreed unanimously: nobody could remember the last time he or she actually sat in a dining room. Those who perch at the bar in Jimmy’s, Bosq, Campo de Fiori, Cache Cache, Ellina, Steakhouse No. 316, or The Monarch (among many others) are privy to a separate, often more gently priced menu in addition to the regular restaurant menu. A lively bar scene (sometimes set to live music) provides the coziest atmosphere, anyway, as well as a chance to rub elbows with the folks who’ve lived here longest.

FOLLOW THE SKI BUMS

And gather intel on the gondola. While fast food is essentially nonexistent (McDonald’s closed in early 2016 after 30 years), fast-casual options are in solid supply. Eggs@520 (inside 520 Grill) joins the ranks of eat-in/grab-and-go a.m. fare from coffee shops including Local Coffee House, Victoria + Co., ink! Coffee, and Gorsuch Ski & Café. (Starbucks is for tourists.) Paradise Bakery and Jour de Fête breakfast burritos and drip coffee are gondy staples, too. Spring Café and JUS are clean-eating friendly, and the Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop SO Café pours buzzy Rock Canyon Coffee espresso (to enjoy onsite only).

ASK FOR A LOCALS’ DISCOUNT

Resident deals do exist, particularly in the offseason. Until Nov. 25, for instance, Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop offers a standard 15% off of any food order. Tatanka Western Bistro has been running an excellent $33 prix-fixe menu (choice of appetizer, entrée and house red or white wine) anticipated to last a few more weeks. Portions are generous, and Côtes du Rhône by the glass sweetens this particular offer over dessert. End dates for offseason specials vary by venue; ask and you shall receive.

ADOPT THE MOTTO ‘CA$H IS KING’

Get in the habit of carrying a spare $20 out here in the Wild West, since some joints still follow a retro cash-only policy (New York Pizza and Big Wrap, among others). Even if you end up swiping a card, cash tips are always appreciated by hardworking service industry staff and a sly way to score possible comp beverages.

SCORE ON-MOUNTAIN DEALS

Adult, Chamber, Silver, Senior, and Parent passholders receive up to 25% off food (before noon or after 2 p.m.; excluding alcohol) at a slew of on-mountain restaurants, so plan to eat lunch early or late if you’re buying. Personal picks: ramen at the Aspen Mountain Sundeck; sourdough pizza made using a 100-plus-year-old heirloom starter at Elk Camp on Snowmass; Mongolian stir-fry at The Cliffhouse atop Buttermilk; freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at Up 4 Pizza; the legendary soup bar at Gwyn’s High Alpine; and the ultimate french fries at Ullrhof.

HIT HAPPY HOUR

Typically running from 4 to 6 p.m., but occasionally beginning at 3 p.m. and ending as late as 7, happy hour is worth celebrating. At Clark’s Aspen, barflies can get a really good burger and fries for $12, as well as $8 top-shelf martinis. Zane’s, HOPS Culture, Aspen Public House, Aspen Tap, Su Casa, Mi Chola, Jing, the Limelight Hotel and others offer special food and drink prices in late afternoon. Meanwhile, Aspen’s oldest watering hole, The Red Onion, ups the ante with a dual happy hour: 3-6 p.m. plus 10 p.m. to midnight.

SEEK FREEBIES

Just like the RFTA bus system from Aspen to Snowmass, free stuff finds a place here. Find complimentary morning coffee, end-of-day hot cocoa, and mountaintop cider at all four mountains; Kind Bars likewise available; and “happy hour” s’mores in Snowmass Base Village daily (kids and adults welcome). Lifties might fire up a grill for hot dogs on a whim, and Powder Pancakes are a snow day requirement at select on-mountain restaurants for one hour (10-11 a.m.) on days that report dumps of at least 8 inches. (Sign up online for the Aspen-Snowmass Powder Alert to stay updated.)

GET THEE TO THE AABC

Aspen is quirky, so it figures that an industrial development such as the Aspen Airport Business Center—located across Highway 82 from Sardy Field/ASE—boasts a few gems. Perhaps the most underrated dish: Chicken tortilla soup at Franck Thirion French Pastry (the recipe reportedly carried over from a former Mexican restaurant with fan following). Louis Swiss Pastry likewise sells savory empanadas, breakfast burritos, baked goods, and sandwiches for takeaway. While these two eateries are closed on Sunday and Saturday/Sunday, respectively, Mawa’s Kitchen is a recently expanded BLD destination, known for its weekend brunch, array of gluten-free baked goods and meal delivery service. Note: Anyone who claims to “not travel past the roundabout” from Aspen is an extremist not to be trusted.

CONSULT A COMPENDIUM

EatAspen.com (and sister site EatSnowmass.com) is a definitive source for accurate operating hours, open/closed status depending on seasonality; happy hour information; and PDF menus. Folks here for Thanksgiving might want to scope a short list of Turkey Day specials, ranging from a Home Team BBQ catered feast to luxurious seated affairs at area hotels.

CONSIDER CREATIVE GROUP DINING

Those on vacation with a bevy of friends or family might consider hiring a private chef to cook at the house for a night or two, instead of squeezing into overcrowded restaurants during peak weeks. One more reason to hit the bar (menu) from tip No. 1: You’ll have the chance to seek talented chef recommendations from the locals who know them.

More required reading by Amanda Rae: “34 Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask About Aspen,” Midwinter/Spring 2017 Issue of Aspen Sojourner. amandaraewashere@gmail.com