Hitting The Slopes

Hitting the Slopes in a Gluten-Free Friendly Western Ski Town

There’s nothing quite like spring skiing out West. The temperatures are tolerable, there’s a great base of snow built up on the slopes, and there’s even a good chance for some fresh powder, too!

With our boys’ spring break falling in March this past year, when ski resorts are still open, we seized the opportunity to plan a family ski trip.

After debating the pros and cons of ski areas in both Utah and Colorado, we chose Aspen, Colorado. Although it’s a full four hours from Denver, this “remoteness” equates to fewer crowds, shorter lift lines, and more time skiing!

The question then became whether to fly into Denver, rent a car, and drive to Aspen – or try to get an affordable flight directly there. After comparing prices and factoring in the cost of a rental car, we were pleased to find it wasn’t much more to fly right into Aspen.

We were told by friends that we wouldn’t even need to rent a car to get around Aspen, as most hotels and condos will pick you up from the airport upon your arrival. To get to and from the various ski mountains, most locals and tourists take the municipal bus system, which is easy and free.

We booked a very nice and affordable condo in Tamarack Village right across the street from Snowmass Mountain. Snowmass is one of the four mountains found in the Aspen area. The others are Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk.

The great thing about skiing this area of Colorado is that the lift tickets are good for all four mountains. We purchased a five-day pass, but the days we skied did not have to be consecutive. Our preference is always to ski for three days, take a break for a day, and then wrap up the week with two final days on the slopes.

Everything is pretty high-tech these days, at least in Aspen. Gone are the ski passes that hang from your jacket zipper. Now, they issue you a plastic card with all your lift ticket information pre-loaded. Your card (worn in your jacket pocket) is automatically scanned as you go through the turnstiles in the lift lines. If you purchase a five-day lift ticket and take a day “off,” it’s automatically tracked.

We chose to rent our ski equipment from Four Mountain Sports . With nine locations, including at least one at each of the four mountains, we knew we’d have recourse if anything went wrong with our equipment. This company was a little pricier than what we had been used to paying on other ski trips, but it was top-of-the-line equipment, and the convenience of their many locations allowed us to adjust or swap skis for varying snow conditions, free of charge. Another huge selling point was their free ski storage and transfer. Instead of lugging your skis back to your condo or hotel each night, you can have Four Mountain Sports store them right at the base of the mountain for pick-up the next day. If you choose to ski at another mountain the following day, they provide free transfer of your equipment.

Now, on to the food … after all, before and after a day of skiing, you need some serious refueling!

We made full use of the kitchen in our condo on this vacation. We were thrilled to find Clark’s Market  (with locations in both Snowmass Village and Aspen), which stocked all sorts of gluten-free goodies. We purchased plenty of food for hearty breakfasts, which we prepared in our condo each morning before heading out to ski for the day. We also purchased the ingredients to make a few easy dinners during the week. The other three nights we dined out at places I’d researched before our trip:

 Mezzaluna – This packed Italian restaurant in the heart of Aspen offers gluten-free pizza and pasta and has procedures in place to avoid cross contamination. Many of their entrees can be prepared gluten-free as well, even though they aren’t marked as such on the menu. It’s best to call to discuss your options with a manager before making a reservation.

 Hickory House Ribs – This restaurant is famous for their barbecue, and we found out why. Pure deliciousness! Although nothing is marked gluten-free on their regular menu, they do have a Gluten Information Sheet they can email you or provide upon your arrival at the restaurant. Their ribs, grilled chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, sausages, burgers and steaks are all gluten-free, as are both their regular and spicy barbecue sauces. Our favorite was the pulled beef brisket, which was so moist it literally melted in our mouths!

HOPS Culture – Located right in downtown Aspen, not far from the base of the slopes, this casual restaurant and brewery is worth a visit. Their gluten-free knowledge stems from the fact that the owner’s wife has celiac. If you’re gluten-free, you’ll find you have choices like an amazing appetizer of deviled eggs with chorizo sausage, salads, rotisserie chicken, mac-n-cheese, sandwiches, and a ribeye steak. I also loved their many cozy spots for dining and sipping brews. You can even order a gluten-free beer or Moscow Mule.

Dining on the four mountains for lunch each day was also relatively easy. Most of the restaurants are owned and operated by Aspen Snowmass, with a few exceptions. After perusing their menus online before our trip, I contacted dining services and was immediately helped by the director of food and beverage, who was fairly knowledgeable about gluten-free needs. However, she then suggested I contact Executive Chef Jim Butchart directly, to get more specific information about the most gluten-free friendly places to dine on each mountain.

Chef Butchart emailed me a list of the glutenfree options at each of their restaurants, which reassured me that my son, Ryan, would have some safe choices no matter where we chose to ski each day. The managers at each venue could not have been friendlier, and they all demonstrated that they were well trained when it came to avoiding cross contamination. Gluten-free options typically included hearty entrée salads, soups, pasta, chicken tenders, burgers on gluten-free buns, and sometimes sandwiches on gluten-free bread. Delicious and individually packaged gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and brownies were available at most restaurants, too. The places we dined for lunch were all cafeteria style, but there is typically at least one higher-end table service restaurant on each mountain, if you’re looking for a more relaxed and refined experience.

On our second day, at a restaurant on Snowmass Mountain – but not managed by Aspen Snowmass – we had a bit of a scare. After Ryan started to eat a gluten-free version of their teriyaki chicken and rice bowl, the owner came looking for us at our table. She was concerned, because a manager had not verified that the correct (gluten-free) teriyaki sauce had been served with the meal. After a short time of panic (no one wants to get “glutened” on a ski trip!), we all determined with near-certainty that the correct sauce had indeed been served. Just in case, the owner brought Ryan a new version of the chicken and rice bowl and refunded our money. Fortunately, Ryan did not get sick. However, it was a reminder to always be vigilant and talk to the owner or manager directly when ordering any gluten-free meal, especially if it’s in a busy cafeteria setting.

All in all, we had a great trip until our flight out of Aspen was cancelled due to a snowstorm (always a risk when flying in and out of Aspen!). Nonetheless, when we look back on this trip, it will be the great skiing, fun memories, friendly atmosphere, and easy gluten-free dining that we will remember!

Gluten free Karen Broussard headshotABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
Karen Broussard publishes and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.

Tags: Dining Karen Broussard Magazine
Jan-Feb 2024 Cover



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