Keystone Ski Resort Dining: Above the Ordinary

Keystone, an unlikely history and a surprisingly gourmet meal BY JAMIE KRAVITZ

Just past river run village — Keystone, Colorado’s bustling, skier-packed base area — a series of old wooden signs point you to the Ski Tip Lodge, an unassuming Swiss-style chalet almost completely camouflaged by snow. It’s a refreshing find in a town known less for luxury than for fabricated ski villages, family- friendly “activity zones,” and discounted skiing. And it comes as a shock to find out that the Ski Tip holds the title of Colorado’s first ski lodge — something one would expect to find in one of the quaint historically preserved towns elsewhere in the state. Built as a stagecoach stop in the 1880s, the building was converted to its present use as a restaurant/bed-and-breakfast in the 1940s by Max and Edna Dercum — who also founded the Arapahoe Basin and Keystone resorts. Members of both the Colorado and National ski halls of fame, the Dercum’s were ski racers and enthusiasts who shared their love of the sport with friends and visitors, creating a space at the Ski Tip Lodge that embodies that love.

In an isolated chalet near a family ski resort, you may find some of the best fresh seafood you’ve ever had, but don’t fall in love — it won’t be on the menu the next night.

Their collection of ski memorabilia covers the walls of the cozy living room, where oversize fireplaces warm guests both well-heeled and mountain casual, all rosy-cheeked from the warmth and rapt in conversation. They lounge in early 20th- century period furniture — the kind often seen in ski town historical museums — sipping before-dinner cocktails. Some arrive an hour or two before their reservations, just to enjoy the ambience. Once they make it to the dining room, guests are offered a menu that is both unique and refined. There are four set courses, and the menu selections change dramatically, if not completely, every single night. As chef Kevin McCombs explains, “Writing a daily menu ojers a chance to push the creative envelope. It gives us a venue to showcase seasonal produce, as well as our own talents, on a daily basis.” The nightly entrees are centered on wild game, handline-caught fish, and creatively prepared premium chops. On any given night, the preparation might be Asian-fusion, Southern home-style, classic Continental, or all of the above. The surprise keeps the relatively small menu intriguing, and guarantees that guests return frequently throughout the season. The sommeliers’ offerings are just as eclectic, and are meant to showcase a cellar full of obscure wines from uncommon regions. As wines are paired with courses, guests may be offered choices from Greece or Washington, California or Chile, France or Colorado. The sommeliers make a particular goal of introducing their guests to a wine they’ve never had, nor even heard of before. The meal is convivial, the dining rooms comfortable, and the pace unhurried. Afterward, guests retire once again to the fire places, dining on delectable desserts, drinking digestifs, and soaking in the atmosphere of an old and vital part of ski history.