Skiers and snowboarders at Arapahoe Basin can now take refuge at il Rifugio, billed as the highest-elevation restaurant in North America, which reopened this week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Perched at 12,456 feet, il Rifugio serves beer, wine, charcuterie boards and flatbreads to pair with 360-degree views of the Rocky Mountains. Given its location at the summit of the ski area, the eatery is only accessible by ski lift – it’s a short walk from Lenawee Express, Zuma Lift and Beavers Lift unloading areas – and once you’re done dining, the only way down is, well, down the ski runs. There’s no beginner terrain up at the summit, so skiers should feel comfortable on blue or intermediate runs if they intend to visit and descend thereafter.
Il Rifugio, which means “the shelter” in Italian, opened in early 2019 in a building called The Snow Plume Refuge, which also doubles as ski patrol headquarters, said A-Basin spokesperson Katherine Fuller. More than a decade ago, the building housed a restaurant selling grab-and-go lunch items, she said, but most recently it was a warming hut for skiers braving the alpine conditions.
“When we built the Beavers Lift and now we had three lifts top out at the spot, our food and beverage director thought maybe we should bring the restaurant back now that there will be more people passing through there,” she said.
The European-style bistro served skiers until March 15, 2020 when Gov. Jared Polis closed all ski resorts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A-Basin used the years since to expand the space to include additional seating and space for operational staff. The space was also renovated to transition from counter ordering to table service.
Meanwhile, A-Basin also added a new quick-service food spot called The Steilhang Hut, a German-inspired eatery that serves locally made sausages and strudel alongside German and Austrian beer. The Steilhang Hut, located below il Rifugio but above the mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge, also offers indoor dining and an expansive deck patio.
“You come here to ride, but we also want people to have a really good meal and have options and to be able to have that really good meal in a cool, unique setting,” Fuller said.
Both food spots operate with sustainability in mind, Fuller said. Il Rifugio does not have running water, which means reusable flatware, plates and bowls are carted down by chairlift in special bins daily. Snowcats drive ingredients and supplies to il Rifugio a couple times per week, and the entire operation runs on solar energy.
Il Rifugio is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., while The Steilhang Hut is open Friday through Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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