Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ski G-Free: Arapahoe Basin, CO

On a recent Friday a few weeks ago, I attended a media day hosted by Colorado Ski Country USA at Arapahoe Basin. About a dozen writers and editors, along with many reps from the state's esteemed ski areas, convened on the mountain for a day of business conducted on skis. (All business meetings should be so fun...)

As lunch time neared, we retired to Black Mountain Lodge, which sits mid-mountain beneath its namesake Black Mountain and Lenawee Ridge, just a stone's throw from the cannon ski patrollers use to launch explosives onto the upper mountain to mitigate avalanche danger. (The view from the deck is truly stunning - one of the best in Colorado.)

To my partial surprise and great delight, as I neared the front of the line to order from the grill, a small printed sign noted that they offered gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns. I had already resigned myself to ordering a burger sans bun, but lo and behold, a burger with bun was on the menu for the GF crowd. Waiting for my burger to grill, I carefully eyed the rest of the operation, trying to gauge the potential for cross-contamination. (The last thing I needed was getting sick on the mountain that afternoon...) The french fries, for example, are cooked in the same oil as breaded chicken fingers, so the standard side was out. I grabbed a bag of potato chips instead.

I loaded up my burger with the fixin's: lettuce, red onion, tomato, a bit of ketchup. Then I took my first bite, and... the bun splintered into pieces. It was dry and crumbly, and it took considerable effort for me to eat the burger on the bun without it all falling apart in my hands. Bummer.

Later that afternoon, I sat down with Certified Executive Chef Chris Rybak to get the skinny on gluten-free on-mountain dining at A-Basin. Rybak was formerly the chef at the acclaimed four-star restaurant, Alpenglow Stube at nearby Keystone Resort, before coming over to head up dining operations at A-Basin.

It turns out that the gluten-free dining options are new this ski season, unveiled Fall 2009. Interestingly, the motivation to add GF options didn't come so much from the skiers themselves, but rather from Rybak and resort staff. For example, Kim T, A-Basin's social/new media director, has Celiac Disease and was part of an employee push for more dining options. Rybak, for his part, has a friend with gluten intolerance, and has always been interested in catering to as many guests as he can...whether their dietary restriction is gluten, or meat, or whatever.

While the effort is still a work in progress, there are already plenty of options. At Black Mountain Lodge, you can order a GF hot dog on a GF bun, or a hamburger, or grilled portobello mushroom, or a tuna sandwich. Since the fries are off-limits, you can substitute a small Caesar salad (with no croutons, of course). At the base lodge, you'll also find gluten-free pizzas, as well as prepackaged gluten-free cookies and brownies. (The buns and pizza crusts are sourced from Deby's Gluten Free Bakery in Denver. It's surprising the bun was so disappointing, since Deby's delicious pizza crust is used not only at A-Basin, but also at BeauJo's.)

All in all, though, it's a great effort that's much appreciated. It's nice to have options, and I commend A-Basin for taking the step to help meet the needs of GF guests (even if my hamburger bun took the wind out of my sails a bit...).

Looking ahead, the one big thing A-Basin is working on is getting the word out. Apart from that one small sign I saw at Black Mountain Lodge, there was little to tell me - at the ski area, or on their website - that GF dining options were available. If you weren't in the loop, you could very easily miss out. And so improved signage at the ski area dining facilities, as well as info posted on the website, will help to raise awareness.

Photos courtesy of Arapahoe Basin.

- Pete


Justie Coyne said...

Deby's also supplied the GF goodies at the Coors Field GF stand last Rockies' season. I find Deby's crusts, buns, etc. to be disappointing in general, but they'll do in a pinch. However, the brownies and cookies are quite good. Who'd have thought we'd get to skip to the BAKED DESERTS first! As an avid skiier, I am very glad AB is offering this option. Do you know if any other Colorado Ski resorts are realizing their potential for a new GF market?

peterbronski said...

Hey Justie... Yes, other Colorado ski resorts are beginning to offer on-mountain GF dining options. I'm confirming some of the details and finishing up interviews. Stay tuned for more posts on this topic, each focused on a different resort.

Cheers, Pete

Renee said...

I was out there 2 weeks ago and we skied Beavercreek, Vail and Keystone. A-Basin is too big and steep for me! Beavercreek had items labeled gluten free on the menu boards at Spruce Saddle. I had the chili and it was tasty. Reminded me of my mother's chili. I always bring my 'lunch' with me regardless so I didn't pay attention to Keystone and Vail. The menu boards weren't obviously labeled. Breck Brewery has a gf menu and gluten free buns for their burgers. They were probably Deby's but I didn't ask. Mine was good, not too crumbly. First one I have enjoyed in 15 years at a restaurant so that was a novelty in itself.
Check out GF snowboarder blog too...

peterbronski said...

Hi Renee... Sounds like you had a good trip! Hope you enjoyed the three mountains you skied. I like them all for different reasons (Beaver Creek is also the host venue for an Xterra race I do each summer). You definitely hit the nail on the head with regard to communication and menu labeling - getting the word has been the achilles heel of ski areas. Improved signage would go a long way toward letting folks like us know that options are available!

Cheers, Pete

camper said...

I just made the trek from Telluride to ski some Summit County resorts this weekend. I've leared to just keep my pockets full of snacks. I did ski AB but we didn't even try to grab lunch. At Copper I just ate my snacks while everyone had burgers and hot dogs all around. I'm glad to know that there are options and look forward to hearing more on this.

peterbronski said...

Hi Camper... Yeah, I often carry a small Camelbak pack (or similar) with food when I ski. Easy enough to do (and cheaper than on-mountain dining!). But sometimes it's nice to have a hot meal. =)

Cheers, Pete

cooperkelly4 said...

This is so great to hear. My 4 kids eat gf (and I usually do too. WE are vacationing in Breckenridge next month. I know of the local stores that carry gf stuff (thank goodness for Vitamin Cottage!) but any ohter restaurants like Breck Brewery that have yummy gf options? I just found your site and am loving it! Kelly

Anonymous said...

Hi, I bought your cookbook and plan to mix up the flour tonight and bake some cookies for my folks. When looking at the flour recipe, I noticed that following measurement equivallency in the quadruple batch. If this cookbook ever gets reprinted, you should probably change this to make it easier for people to measure.

1/4 cup + 4 tsp (57g) potato flour=
1/3 c. potato flour

Here's the math:
1 cup = 16 Tablespoons
1 Tablespoon = 3 tsps.
So, 1 cup = 16T x 3tsp/T = 48 tsps.

So, 1/4 cup = 4 T. = 12 tsp.
add to that the 4 tsp.
Total: 16 tsp.

So, since 1 c. = 48 tsp.,
16 tsp. = 1/3 cup, so

1/4 cup + 4 tsp = 1/3 c. potato flour

Thanks for all your work to come up with these recipes and publish the book. I like your little stories about the recipes.
Heather in Bemidji

peterbronski said...

Hi Heather... Ha! You're absolutely right! That equivalency has been right under our noses. We didn't catch it, nor did our publisher, nor have any of our readers (until now). Thanks for bringing it to our attention. The cookbook is due go into another printing in the near future, so we'll be able to incorporate the change. Thanks again.

Cheers, Pete