Asher on Aspen: High above the clouds
Asher on Aspen
Scanning the restaurant’s patio from the chairlift, I spotted my friend’s burnt-orange snow pants. I watched as she raised her glass to toast our friends. It was a particularly warm, glorious day with not a cloud in the sky, and it finally felt like spring. Thus, I was delighted to see that they sat us outside on the wraparound deck for our 11:30 a.m. reservation. I eased off the lift and skied up to the entrance of Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro at 10,825 feet of elevation on Aspen Highlands.
I propped my skis up against the rack and eagerly made my way to the patio to join my friends. A magnum bottle of Entourage rosé positioned in a wine cooler of ice was waiting for me patiently upon arrival. Almost immediately, I swapped out my helmet and goggles for a Cloud 9 hat that I purchased on site at the Veuve Clicquot ice bar. The notorious Cloud 9 hats are kind of like Mickey Mouse ears. You can’t go to Disney World and not purchase the illustrious ears — it’s just part of the experience.
Perched up in the clouds, this famous European-style ski chalet is only accessible by skiing or snowboarding and commuting on two different chair lifts. Dining here is one of the most quintessential Aspen experiences. The location occupies a former ski patrol hut that has since been transformed into a modernized dining space, bustling kitchen and outdoor deck — all while maintaining its unique, historic essence. Recent bold-face visits to the bistro include Lance Armstrong, Will Ferrell, Chelsea Handler and musician Seal.
Known for its famous Champagne-spraying parties, Cloud Nine took a hiatus from that this season due to the pandemic restrictions. Despite the beloved tradition and rite of passage, I was secretly happy to not be participating on my inauguaral visit. The spraying can often be a nuisance and not everyone who’s dining prefers to be doused in Champagne. However, it would have been entertaining to observe the chaotic and happy-go-lucky atmosphere. Maybe next year!
To start, we were served a luxurious double-decker plateau de fruits de mer filled with an impressive selection of gulf shrimp, crab and lobster. I marveled at the elegance of the presentation, and I had to consciously pick my jaw up off the floor. Two more of our friends rolled up to join us just as this decadent platter was being served. Our lively group of six indulged in rosé and seafood as we caught up with one another and boasted about the beautiful day.
Our friendly and attentive server, Jimmy, was a true Aspen local. Having lived and worked in the valley for the past 29 years, he’s seen it all. From wild Champagne-spraying parties, to legendary celebrity sightings, to serving the uber wealthy, Jimmy (though a bit desensitized) understands the Aspen way. He amused us with a story about a recent Jack Nicholson encounter that involved a humorous reenactment from “The Shining.” His carefree spirit and entertaining stories made for delightful company.
We went on to order the prix fixe lunch which included an alpine salad and gruyère fondue with apples, chorizo and cornichon. Others at the table ordered the sea scallops, which Jimmy advised us was a crowd favorite. The fondue melted in my mouth, and I washed it down with my second refreshing glass of rosé — or was it my third? Who’s counting?
“Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones echoed over the loudspeaker, and I quickly noticed the patio’s vibe beginning to elevate. Revelers in bulky, bright-colored vintage ski suits shimmied around at their tables with dance moves I had never seen before. The conservatives would watch the rowdy groups and want to join in and eventually, after a little more hooch, it quickly turned into a boisterous dance party with everyone bobbing along while maintaining distance and remaining at their tables. The 1:30 p.m. reservation crowd began to roll in, signaling our time to roll out and continue skiing.
As we prepared to ski off, I took one last look at the picturesque Maroon Bells view from the patio. I got this feeling — one I know well — and had to pinch myself, once again after another rarefied Aspen experience, to remind myself that it’s such a privilege to live here.
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