Asher on Aspen: Snow globe state of mind
A journey to Pine Creek Cookhouse
Asher on Aspen
You could smell it before you could even see it. The aroma of roasted garlic and mulled wine wafted in the air as we neared the cookhouse on our cross-country skis. Rounding each corner, we were met with a new picturesque view of the Elk Mountain range. Brisk mountain air hit our faces as we swished through the trees along the river. My fingers felt numb and my cheeks were starting to turn a rosy shade of red as we approached our dining destination. After about a 30-minute trek, we finally reached one of Aspen’s most legendary restaurants—the Pine Creek Cookhouse.
From a distance, the idyllic cabin looked like something from a Hallmark Christmas movie. Only accessible by cross-country ski, snowshoe or a sleigh ride, the establishment is nestled 12 miles up Castle Creek Road at the base of the Elk Mountains. Completely secluded, the mountains and river are its only neighbors. Imagine a real-life Lincoln Log cabin that boasts enormous icicles as long as your arm lining the perimeter. The cookhouse called us in with its charming demeanor and we couldn’t wait to step inside to get warm.
Accompanying me was my friend Natalie who was celebrating her 30th birthday the following day, and we reasoned this was the perfect way to kick off her birthday festivities. Greeted by roaring fireplaces, chandeliers made of antlers and inviting smells of cinnamon sticks, we instantly felt warm and welcomed the moment we arrived. The exposed beams of Colorado wood gave the cabin a homey feel that made for an extremely cozy ambiance.
Friendly and attentive staff members who were all wearing face masks welcomed us eagerly. As with all Aspen restaurants right now, Pine Creek Cookhouse is only allowed to operate at 25% capacity for indoor dining. Additional outdoor seating is also available when the weather permits. Since there were only two of us and it was an especially chilly December day, we decided to dine inside and wear masks when not seated at our table.
Shivering and rubbing our hands together, we quickly warmed up with a hot cup of coffee, followed by a glass of sparkling rosé. The bubbles tasted crisp and refreshing after working up a sweat. We started our meal with a steaming bowl of chicken tortilla soup that kicked off our three-course lunch. While we waited for the food to arrive, I took out my phone and opened Instagram in a routine fashion. To my surprise, I had no service. Our server informed us that the towers couldn’t reach the cookhouse and therefore, no WIFI was available.
A feeling of relief washed over me. The same feeling that comes to me when I start to lose service on Frying Pan Road as I commute to Ruedi Reservoir to go camping in the summer months. Sometimes, there is no better feeling in the world than losing service. For a moment, I finally wasn’t focused on what my friends were posting or what I was planning to post. For a moment, social media didn’t matter, and it felt extremely satisfying to unplug and focus on being present.
The prix-fixe menu featured all the best alpine gourmet food that the cookhouse is known for. I opted for the sautéed ruby red rainbow trout with vegetable fricassee for my main course. The fish melted in my mouth and filled me up but yet, I wasn’t too full for dessert. Frankly, I don’t think I’m ever too full for dessert. We both ordered warm apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream and it was the perfect way to appease my sweet tooth. Natalie turned to me with a grin and I could tell she was satisfied with our leisurely yet thrilling afternoon activity.
By the time we warmed up and our bellies were full, we were ready to set back out and continue our day of cross-country skiing. The trees looked especially luscious that day as they glistened and sparkled—almost as if they were showing off their fresh new layer of snow. The scene looked like something from “The Nutcracker” or “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and we both couldn’t stop ogling at the incredible views as we glided across the snow-covered terrain. My hair blew in the wind as I caught speed down the final hill leading us to King’s Cabin (the starting location where we parked and rented skis).
The venture itself made us both feel like kids again. With downhill skiing being our main athletic focus, cross-country felt a bit foreign to us. We went into it with a cheery outlook and every time one of us fell, it was followed by an enormous belly laugh that caused us both to giggle at each other’s awkwardness. Regardless, it was rewarding to try something new and experience this famous, bucket-list destination for myself. Wide-eyed and childlike, we laughed our way through the entire journey home. It was a true winter wonderland, like we were in a snow globe, and I felt insanely lucky to live in a place just this magical.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.