Snowshoe Mountain Resort, W. Va.
If there's anything that Margaret Ann Ball loves more than cooking, it's being "up on the mountain," where, for the past 20 years, she and her family have run The Red Fox restaurant at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. "When I first came up here, it was May and it was snowing," she recalls. "I took one look and said, 'Why would anybody want to be here?' But I haven't left since."
It was a natural fit for the West Virginia-born-and-raised chef, whose globetrotting grandfather encouraged her to push at the walls of her culinary world by eating exotic dishes, such as brains and tongue. "He'd say, 'Try it, and if you don't like it, you don't have to eat it,'" she remembers. "Well, I found out I did like it, and everything else, too."
You're not likely to find brains or tongue at The Red Fox, where the most popular dishes on the menu are red meat and wild game. The restaurant's setting is well-suited. It features rustic brick archways, timber ceilings, hand-carved furnishings, country antiques and 18th-century prints. Guests enjoy dinner in the cozy tavern (Ball's favorite room), the greenhouse, which has a view of passing snowcats, or the convivial main dining room.
To each, Ball sends plates of dynamic alpine cuisine prepared with classic European techniques. The "Huntsman's Grille"-venison, pheasant and wild boar sausage dressed with a maple sauce-is a favorite, as are noisettes of buffalo and barbecued quail. Ball also encourages trial of her favorite Chilean sea bass, halibut or the ahi she has flown in fresh from Hawaii. For dessert, it's tough to beat her miniature bundt cakes, filled with chocolate mousse and topped with homemade caramel ice cream and "wet walnut" syrup.
The topper? The Red Fox wait staff is required to attend a 10-day "boot camp" to learn European-style service. "Our guests travel through little two-mail-pouch towns and up a mountain to get here," Ball says. "To find a restaurant with world-class food and service really shocks them."
What are skiers really eating when they take a break from the slopes to refuel. We queried savvy chefs, restaurateurs and food-and-beverage experts from some of the finest resorts. Here's what they told us.
Dinner on the Hoof
Meat eater or not, it's part of your responsibility as a visitor to Sun Valley, Idaho, to stop by the Pioneer Saloon. Get there early: Serious eaters often fill the place by 6 p.m. For the 20-plus years he's owned it, Duffy Witner has worked hard to stay true to the saloon's turn-of-the-century roots. Western posters, period firearms and an 1875 "bullet board" adorn the walls, along with classic game heads, the most notable of which is a 43-point deer named Fred. While huge servings of beef are the main attraction (the restaurant serves more than five tons of prime rib, steaks and ribs a month), pork chops, fresh trout and enormous baked potatoes (this is Idaho, after all) ensure you won't go home hungry. Finish with a towering wedge of homemade mud pie, and stagger out.