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Insider tips: Our experts’ recommendations on dining, après-ski and alternative activities

Tracy L. Barnett
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Plank family

(From left) Michael, Kendall, Jared and Susan Plank. The Plank family bought their second home in Mountain Village, a town that runs alongside and interconnects with Telluride. 

Editor's Note: Writer Tracy L. Barnett gathered specific tips and recommendations from Buzz residents who were featured in March 2016 Travel Buzz. Read the story here. 

Whether you’re a hardcore skier or snowboarder, or just someone who likes to play around in the snow, there are so many activities in most ski resorts that it can be hard to choose. Our veterans from three different resorts share their picks to help you get started.

Telluride, Colo.: Michael and Susan Plank

The Planks bought their second home in Mountain Village, a town that runs alongside and interconnects with Telluride. “We think Telluride is a hidden gem, and to a great degree we’d like to see it stay that way – but it’s getting harder and harder to hide,” said Michael.

The sister towns have different personalities: Telluride, a charming historic mining town, is the place if you want to walk out your door and be in the middle of the social action with restaurants and cafes, boutiques and galleries, festivals and nightlife; Mountain Village is more your style if the action you want is on the slopes, with ski-out luxury resorts, condos and spacious private estates, although it has its own European-styled plaza with abundant restaurants and boutiques, as well. 

“Mountain Village is more of a family-friendly environment,” said Michael. “You’ll find ice skating, the ski school, what I call a second homeowners community, with strong family ties.” The golf course located on that side, as well. And whichever side you end up staying at, the other side is easily accessible, as the two towns are connected by a gondola, a spectacular form of free mass transit that quickly whisks you to where you want to go. Within Mountain Village, there is also the free Dial-a-Ride service

“It’s very unique gondola,” said Michael. “It’s good for both families and kids alike, but especially good for children as it gives them a lot of freedom to go to town for free, do their thing, then take the gondola and come back home.”

For fine dining, Michael offers a word to the wise: “Be sure and get your restaurants nailed down well in advance.” Here are their favorites in Mountain Village:

Alpino Vino, where guests can arrive by snow coach to enjoy a five-course authentic Italian experience with expansive views of the Wilson Range. “It’s more of an adult experience, as opposed to young kids,” said Michael. Dinner reservations should be made at least a week in advance, although for lunch you can sometimes get in with just a day’s notice. 

Allred’s at the top of the mountain. Nonskiers can take the gondola and meet the skiers for lunch. Diners take off their boots, put on a nice pair of slippers, chill out and take in the spectacular view – “a very high-quality, civilized way to take a lovely break on top of the mountain,” according to Michael. Opens for drinks at 3, dinner at 5:30. Reservations are important here, as well. Lunch is available but only for Tellski members. 

Bon Vivant French Bistro, also high on the slopes, is great for lunch, if you want a place to just drop in – “something more casual, a place to just hang loose – a family-type place.” Burgers, chili, barbecue, live music, outdoor fireplace, games, things to entertain. “It’s a bit more casual, a tiny little place where you can grab yourself some spaghetti, charge your batteries and head back down.”

Giuseppe’s – On-mountain diner offers Italian and Southern comfort food. “Unbelievable vista, super casual” – on a clear day, you can see all the way to Utah. No reservations necessary, but be prepared to wait – it’s not unusual to see 15 people lined up outside the door. 

Tomboy Tavern – Casual bar-and-grill at Mountain View core with big-screen TVs, craft beers, beer garden and patio, and another amazing view. 

Siam’s Talay Grille Asian Tapas and Seafood – this Thai-inspired contemporary restaurant at the Inn at Lost Creek has its counterpart in Telluride, as well. 

Black Iron Kitchen and Bar – “A hidden gem; good après ski or lunch.” Tucked away in the Madeline Hotel, offers live music, indoor and outdoor spaces, multiple TVs and signature fire tables. 

And here’s a hidden gem for you, but Michael asks that you keep it to yourself – he doesn’t want it getting too crowded. “If you’re looking for quieter place I would slip over to the M Club in the Madeline hotel – that’s a bit of an insider’s deal. It’s a great little place to sit in there and shoot pool, play shuffleboard – and it’s not nearly as crowded as other places in Mountain Village.” 

Their favorite hotel in Mountain Village is, no surprise, the Madeline Hotel – but they also like the Inn at Lost Creek  and Lumière

Now for their favorites in the town of Telluride. “The beauty about the town of Telluride is that you’re right in the middle of the shops and the restaurants – there’s much more of a vibe,” says Michael. “If you’re looking for nightlife, or you’re a young couple looking for a getaway, you’ll want to be in Telluride.”

Chop House Restaurant at the New Sheridan Hotel: For a more formal upscale restaurant; mountain western game teamed up with aged beef at the heart of lively Telluride makes this a steakhouse to remember. Su

Cosmopolitan – Chef-owned award-winner features fusion cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, when possible. 

Hongas – Italian-Japanese-American fusion with flair. “One of our absolutely favorite Italian places,” says Michael.  

Telluride Bistro – The Plank family’s “favorite family hideaway place of all in the town of Telluride.” 

Siam Telluride Asian Tapas and Seafood – Award-winning contemporary Thai fusion, housed in a rambling historic home in downtown Telluride.  

If casual, family-type dining is what you’re going for, there are lots more options.  

Brown Dog Pizza – Award-winning pizzas range from Detroit Square Pizza to American Classic to Sicilian. And don’t just take it from the Planks; Brown Dog won first place last year in the Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy. 

Smugglers Brewpub – Farm-to-table menu shows the hard work of supporting local producers, with a wide range of award-winning craft beers.  

Floradora Saloon – Casual, family-oriented – American comfort food since 1973. 

Nightlife is not the Planks’ usual focus when they go to Telluride, but they did enjoy the specialty drinks and cocktails at a new little locals hangout, a speakeasy bar called simply “There.” 

As far as hotels, their top three in the town of Telluride are Camel’s Garden, Hotel Columbia and Hotel Telluride

But Michael points out that private home rentals are a very popular option in Telluride as well, and he recommends the owner rental site Telluride Rentals

And though it’s not recommended for beginners, for those who value their privacy, there are a couple of options: heli-skiing, for one, in which a helicopter will take you out to fresh powder and set you down at the top of the mountain. “They’ll fly you to local terrain, unload you, give you a briefing, and let you take off and carve up fresh powder and ski in the backcountry of Telluride,” said Mike. A cheaper way to get the same effect: snowcat service, which loads you and your gear onto the same equipment they use to groom the mountains. “They’ll load you up in a heated snowcat and go up the face of the mountain, and you can go ski the back terrain – some of the undisturbed pristine terrain that the ski lifts aren’t able to reach. That way you get a mountain to yourself.” In Colorado, try Helitrax or Powderhounds; Utah has Powderbirds and PC Cats. 

Aspen/Snowmass, Colo.: the Finnegans

When they’re not out on the slopes snowboarding, the Finnegans are out exploring Aspen, sampling the many flavors this picturesque mountain village has to offer. There are four different mountains – besides Aspen and Snowmass, there’s also Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain – and the free Aspen mass transit system makes it easy to explore it all, says Susan. 

“Dining in Aspen is one of the big selling points in going there,” she said. “The restaurants are just so good.” Here are her top 15 restaurants and bars. As in Telluride, it’s important to reserve ahead of time in most cases, especially during high season. 

Matsuhisa – “A really good sushi place – special, special fun.” 

Jimmy’s – An Aspen institution, a neighborhood restaurant and bar popular with the locals. 

Wild Fig – “A pizza place that’s cozy and delicious,” the Wild Fig’s Mediterranean-inspired cuisine features items from Spain, France, Italy and Greece. 

Cache Cache – French-American bistro with an extensive wine list. 

The Limelight Hotel – “the best pizza in town.” Susan says it’s fun to order there in the Lounge because a live combo band is usually playing and their hand-thrown pizzas are delicious. “A lot of times we just pick them up and take them back to our place.” 

CP Burger – “Real good burger spot, fun, casual for kids.” 

But their very favorite lunch spot: “Everyone loves the White House Tavern.” It’s just a little house on the corner with great salads, great sandwiches and a great bar. No reservations; unlike most restaurants in town, it’s first-come, first-served, so there’s usually a wait, but the Finnegans say it’s worth it. 

Perhaps the most romantic restaurant for Susan is L’Hostaria, an intimate and elegant Italian spot. She also gives high marks to Aspen’s newest steakhouse, the Monarch

Susan isn’t big on the bar scene these days, but she gleaned some tips from her kids.

“What we like to do is we come back from skiing or snowboarding, and sometimes my kids will stop and get a beer at the Red Onion or when they feel like people watching they go to Little Nell – that’s where the movie stars stay in Aspen. I don’t do that, I come home and take a rest.”  

The bar in the vintage Jerome Hotel is another of their favorites, and a sleek, modern dance bar called Eskobar; there’s Eric’s, where they like to shoot pool, and Belly Up, a state-of-the-art music venue which draws big-name artists. 

In the Aspen Highlands at the top of the Cloud 9 Lift, there’s Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, one of the liveliest après-ski spots in the region. 

On Snowmass Mountain, their favorite dining spot is Sam’s Smokehouse – “We love it – they’ve got real good barbecue with table service, so it’s more of a dining experience.” 

And on Buttermilk Mountain, one of their favorite places is Cliffhouse. They love the make-your-own Mongolian Barbecue wok station, where you choose your own veggies, protein and sauce – but there’s also kid-friendly options chili and hot dogs. 

On their days off, there are plenty of other non-snowboarding activities besides just eating, Susan emphasized. People like to snowshoe, and there’s great fly fishing – even in the winter.

And, of course, there’s shopping. “Usually when I take a day off I love to wander through the streets of Aspen, there’s just so much to look at – from the ski shops to high designer Prada and Gucci,” she said. One of her favorite stores is Pitkin County Dry Goods, a contemporary store with cute clothes for men and women. 

“Shopping in such a small town is so entertaining; I can’t get bored there. I love it so much.”

Park City, Utah: the Mafriges

The Mafriges have been taking their two daughters, Olivia and Hallie, skiing since they were 3, and ended up buying a home in Deer Valley, near Park City, Utah. Park City has three resorts – The Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley. Deer Valley is skiing only; no snowboarding is allowed.

Their favorite restaurants: 

Riverhorse on Main, one of the oldest and most outstanding restaurants in the historic mining town’s charming downtown. Eclectic, seasonal American cuisine, a 16-year recipient of the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Award, according to their website.

Shabu – “Freestyle Asian cuisine” blends regional dishes with Asian fusion flavors and techniques. Olivia Mafrige, 10, says her favorite dish at Shabu is the hot rock (Wagyu beef that you cook in front on a piping hot rock). 

Vinto Pizzeria offers wood-fired pizzas in a casual environment that’s a little nicer than other local pizzerias, according to Joe’l. 

Handle—A tapas kind of place in the historic downtown with fresh, locally sourced cuisine. 

The Mustang—An old favorite with an “East meets West” flair. 

The Farm- Sustainably raised, made-from-scratch menu; located near the Canyons. 

Prime Steakhouse & Piano Bar – Rocky’s favorite steak house in Park City. 

The Mariposa at Deer Valley Resort —Dinner only; romantic, great food; small plates; rated one of Utah’s best restaurants. 

Fireside Dining at Deer Valley Resort – dinner only. “A really unique experience at Deer Valley—progressive dining through four different fireplaces,” writes Joe’l. 

Grappa Italian Restaurant – This Italian-styled country farmhouse is located at the top of Historic Main Street and is another of Rocky’s favorites, as is tupelo, globally inspired, fine dining restaurant. 

The Mafriges’ picks for lunch on the Mountain (Deer Valley) – Royal Street (Silver Lake). Skiers’ buffet at the Montage Deer Valley Hotel is “amazing.” The St. Regis and Stein Eriksen Lodge resorts also serve fabulous cuisine with a fabulous view on the deck. 

And Java Cow on Main Street, with ice cream made onsite and a cow-themed gift shop, takes the Mafrige award for ice cream, coffee and crepes. 

Favorite bars:

No Name Saloon is a “not to miss bar,” according to Joe’l. Festooned with antique mining memorabilia, the bar is Park City’s oldest – “Helping people forget their names since 1903,” according to the website. 

High West Distillery & Saloon – Gastro-distillery pairs in-house artisanal spirits with “Western inspired victuals.” 

Boneyard Saloon & Kitchen – Park City’s newest bar/restaurant has quickly become a local’s hangout spot; gastropub cooks up chef cuisine until midnight. The Mafriges love the burgers as well as the sports bar. 

Apres ski on the patio at the St Regis Deer Valley Resort is great fun, says Joe’l, “with a champagne sabering every evening – and an amazing view!” 

Hallie, 12, says her favorite ski run at Deer Valley is Anchor Trees. “It's a blast!”

As far as non-ski activities, Joe’l says tubing is a lot of fun for non-skiing days as well as fly-fishing – “yes, in the winter!”  

They also recommend the hair-raising Alpine Roller Coaster for year-round thrills. 

The Utah Olympic Park, training center for the 2002 Olympic Games in Utah and still an official U.S. Olympic training site, also has a bobsled run, extreme tubing, extreme zipline, a guided tour and the chance to watch elite athletes in training.  

Read more from these families in March 2016 Travel Buzz "Veterans of the slopes share their wisdom."

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