Food Matters: Earn It To Burn It
CLIFFHOUSE FULL MOON DINNERS
5 to 8 p.m.
Top of Buttermilk Mountain
March 2: Full Worm Moon, so named by Native Americans because this is when the ground begins to soften, allowing earthworms to emerge. Also known as the Sap Moon, since maple syrup begins flowing now.
March 31: Blue Moon (second full moon in a single month)
Learn more at aspensnowmass.com
THERE’S SOMETHING very Aspen about “earning it” — whether turns in untracked powder or local status. While I haven’t made the full leap to diehard uphill fanatic yet, the first Full Moon Dinner at the Cliffhouse on Buttermilk last week was a cool introduction. It’s virtuous, but not so obnoxious, to climb a mountain, literally, to dinner.
I’m nocturnal by nature, so hiking up Tiehack after dark is a million times more appealing to me than trudging up the Highland Bowl during daylight operation. (Alas, the rewards are vastly different, so I’ll do the latter a few times a season.) On these full-moon evenings the pace is gentle, the skyscape ethereal and, of course, there’s promise of beer, music by a live band, and Mongolian barbecue.
Sanctioned as a community event by Aspen Skiing Co., for the past three years, Full Moon Dinners have only increased in popularity alongside Aspen’s ardent uphill culture, notes Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle. Regardless of the time of day, there’s no ticket price for uphilling; skiers and snowboarders schuss down for free. Those who forego clunky equipment in favor of Yaktrax-wrapped snow boots and hiking poles (I’m a fan) can make the ascent quite quickly and comfortably.
Only half of the experience is about going up, though. Each skinner I passed served as a reminder that I would later miss out on the most exciting part: the swift descent. I found a fun solution that served me well, but I’m sure it’s not endorsed by anyone involved in mountain operations, so I’ll leave it at that.
For me, being out on a snowy mountain at night is deeply nostalgic. I grew up in a small town on the East Coast, where night skiing offered just another chance to be free from parental supervision after school (Ski Fridays!) and scout mischief in the shadows of the great outdoors. Post-sunset adventures feel distinctly illicit, don’t they?
Last Wednesday’s full moon represented a celestial trifecta, too. It was a supermoon (close to Earth), a blue moon (the second full moon in a single month) and a lunar eclipse (when Earth blocks the sun’s light from the moon), all conspiring to create what astronomists call a “Super Blue Blood Moon.” (Though blue moons are thought to be “rare,” they occur, on average, every 30 months, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.)
And this Super Blue Blood Moon gave a show. As we began our ascent up Tiehack at dusk, the clouds that had been hanging around all day parted to reveal an iridescent orb suspended over our twinkling town and a slow-moving snake of headlights crawling from downtown to points west. There was enough light cast from the sky that a headlamp wasn’t necessary, but many people in the parade used them anyway.
Perhaps because the first Full Moon Dinner of the season, scheduled for Jan. 2, was canceled due to low snow, crowds came out to Buttermilk.
“It was a massive showing up there,” Hanle says. “Amazing.”
Chef Andrew Helsley, who led a staff of about 10 to meet demand, concurs.
“We served over 200 Mongolian grill entrees in about two hours,” Helsley says. “Additionally we served another 100 or so grill specials and a good smattering of soups, salads, and grab-and-go items. Looking ahead, I think it’s safe to say we’ll consider more options that allow us to more efficiently serve all of the hungry guests who join us. As you know, it takes a mountain to pull it off.”
Shortly after we squeezed into the Cliffhouse cafeteria line around 7 p.m., Helsley bellowed out that Mongolian grill items would require about a 20-minute wait. I grabbed a yellow slip for a pho noodle bowl instead of the orange slip for stir-fried noodles; judging from the long line of orange slips and pre-loaded bowls of veggies waiting on the counter versus how fast I heard my name called compared to everyone else, it seems like I may have missed the memo on the Cliffhouse’s all-star dish. Warm broth is comforting, but I couldn’t help but feel envious of my dining companion’s tangle of glossy ramen noodles. I have two more chances to earn it. (Poke bowls are another specialty.)
The next Full Moon Dinner will be held on Friday, March 2 (see sidebar, opposite page), from 5 to 8 p.m. Those who arrive to the Cliffhouse by 6 p.m. may enjoy free hot chocolate out by the cauldron fire pit; the band performs indoors until last call for food around 8 p.m.
Interestingly, Native Americans who nicknamed the full moons as a means to track seasons dubbed the February full moon “Full Snow Moon.” They also called it the “Hunger Moon,” since hunting became difficult during what is traditionally the snowiest month of the year. Though there’s no full moon during February 2018, we’re blessed with another two full moons next month, on March 2 and 31. That there’s a second blue moon in 2018 — special times, indeed.
See you at the top….
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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.