Foodstuff: Will Ski for Food |

Foodstuff: Will Ski for Food

Charcuteskis and strudel races prove that food on the mountain tastes better than it would at the base

A "charcuteski" holds the remnants of fruit, cheese and meat at the top of Tiehack on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

It only took a couple of whiffs of the rich, cheesy smell at the top of Tiehack last Monday to elicit a hopeful confusion from the group of uphillers I was skinning with under the full moon.

Is that … fondue?

Justin, the self-proclaimed “fondue king of Aspen” who presided over the vat of cheese at a picnic table near the top of Tiehack, assured us it was.

He and a crew of other uphillers had assembled a feast fit for such royalty: fondue, yes, but also a hearty spread of meats, cheeses, crackers and fruits spread out “charcuteski” style on the topsheet of half a set of Black Crows Navis Freebirds. Lucky timing and loud curiosity earned our cohort an invitation to polish off the leftovers to help lighten the crew’s load for the ski back to the base.

It was exactly the kind of ridiculous-delicious scenario that seems to happen more often than not in Aspen, where little more than good fortune and gumption is all that’s required to find free fuel on the mountain.

Apple strudel awaited skiers at the base of the "Apple Strudel" run at Aspen Highlands during a recreational ski race for Wintersköl on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Just a few days before the full moon skin, I and three other friends each scored a substantive slice of apple strudel from Louis Swiss Pastry just for skiing through the slalom gates on the Apple Strudel run at Aspen Highlands during Wintersköl. And though I’ve never personally tucked in to a stack of powder pancakes at the Merry-Go-Round — the last record I can find of the tradition is from 2019 — just the idea of it fills me with good spirits.

The charcuteski, though, is in a league of its own: part novelty, part sustenance, part movement born out of the Instagram account @charcuteski, which I’ve been following faithfully for months (and which re-shared a post on its story of the very charcuteski we spotted at the top of Tiehack last week).

It was founded last February by a group of friends based in Park City, Utah; three of them — Kera Pezzuti, Sarah Sloan and E. J. Elliott — currently manage the account, Pezzuti said in a phone call last week.

Within a few days of the launch, the account had nearly 500 followers; it’s now nearing 6,000 and fields collaboration requests from Pit Vipers Sunglasses, Motel 6 and Black Crows Skis, Pezzuti said. Submissions by way of Instagram tag used to make up about half of all posts but now yield 98% of the content on the page, according to Pezzuti; there are enough now to queue up through 2025.

But fame — being, as Emily Dickinson observed, such a fickle food— comes with critics, too. The charcuteski is a “polarizing” concept to those baffled by the idea that cheese and meats could be safely served on the base or topsheet of skis or a snowboard, Pezzuti said.

“I think that a lot of people find it aesthetically pleasing, and that a decent minority of people find it absolutely repulsive,” Pezzuti said.

The aesthetic appeal is likely the source of the account’s popularity, Pezzuti said, but she maintains that the mountain should be an ingredient as much as cured meats and cheeses.

“Charcuterie boards as a social media presence have been really popular because people like looking at them, they like looking at (these) organizational and these colorful boards, and then when you add scenery to it, it’s just the best of these both worlds, like the food world and the outdoors.”

A fondue pot and "charcuteski" make up the spread of a picnic table at the top of Tiehack on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

There are some who choose to charcuteski indoors; a group of friends made one for a New Year’s Eve party that was a hit with the crowd there, Pezzuti said. But for her, it’s “the experience of being outside in the sunshine with your friends in the elements” that seals the deal.

I wholeheartedly agree. I’m a firm believer in the premise that all food tastes better on the mountain than it does at the base by nature of the circumstances we’re eating it in and the appetite we’ve worked up getting to it.

The remnants of someone else’s charcuteski at the top of Tiehack were far more memorable than any cheese board I could assemble in my kitchen; strudel slalomed for on the slopes with friends tastes better than the same pastry purchased on an errand; the premise of powder pancakes consumed among fellow skiers and snowboarders (whether realized or not) is so enticing that I’ve named an entire playlist after it.

Maybe it’s the altitude going to my head, but food earned by turns has a special seasoning to it that just isn’t available down on flatter ground.

A charcuteski at the top of Tiehack on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times
Aspen Times Weekly

This week in Aspen history

“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.

See more