Beyond the perfectly groomed slopes of Beaver Creek, Colorado, Amiee White Beazley sets out on the ultimate cold-weather, hot-cheese adventure
Snowshoe & Fondue in Beaver Creek, Colorado
A one-pot meal enjoyed family-style, fondue is the ultimate comfort food to share with friends and family after a day in the cold. Photo by Alex Farnum/August Image.

It’s the last run of the day, and my quads are torched. At 7 a.m. that morning, I had rolled out of my warm king-sized bed at The Osprey resort and pulled back the curtain. Just out my window the lift was already running and there was 6 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I had dressed quickly and run downstairs, where a ski butler handed me my snowboard.

With a White Glove First Tracks pass, I had been one of the first on the mountain, lapping the powder of Larkspur Bowl with my guide, instructor John Bell. After a full day I could easily go back to my room and take a nap, or have a massage, or spend hours in the outdoor heated pool, but there is another side of Beaver Creek I still need to see.

Snowshoe & Fondue in Beaver Creek, Colorado
Photo by David Neff.

After riding down the mountain to the bottom of Strawberry Park Express lift, I drop my board and swap my helmet for a wool hat, my snowboard boots for waterproof hiking boots, and turn around and walk the 100 yards to the Beaver Creek Nordic Sports Center. There, the center director, Nate Goldberg, is waiting for me with a pair of Atlas snowshoes and Leki poles. I am here to experience one of The Osprey’s rotating lineups of gourmet snowshoe experiences: Shoe and Fondue. For the next 90 minutes, I will be guided along the hidden trails of Beaver Creek, an activity then followed by a fondue-and-wine experience at The Osprey Fireside Grill.

The reward for an expedition through the snowy backcountry of Beaver Creek, Colorado: warm, savory cheese fondue. Photo by merc67/thinkstock.

“This is a way to take in all the things you don’t see when you are skiing fast down the mountain,” Goldberg says. “You can experience those senses — the sound of wind through the pine trees or just the sound of silence. You can slow down and really experience the beauty of nature.”

Nick Fickling, our group’s guide, has been taking people through the mountains of the Beaver Creek Resort for 15 years. After a quick ride up the Buckaroo Express Gondola, we slip our feet into our snowshoes and start our hike.

From the time of the first settlers crossing the Bering Strait, there have been those who needed to travel atop the snow in order to stay alive. Although the stakes may not be so dire today, snowshoeing is still used by some as winter transportation, and even more for winter exercise and exploration.

Its popularity is growing among both the young and old looking for areas off the beaten track and for cardiovascular benefits, which I quickly discover as our group makes its way to the top of Nottingham Ranch, the site of the original ranchland that eventually became Beaver Creek Resort. The snowshoes are stable and agile, and soon every pole plant and step is in sync.

Snowshoe & Fondue in Beaver Creek, Colorado
Photo by David Neff.

As we follow Nick, my heart pumping and packed snow crunching underfoot, he tells us stories about the settling of the American West, pointing out the old barbed-wire fencing and wood posts that once divided the ranch, a feature I had no doubt passed earlier that day without so much as a passing glance.

Soon we are traversing into a dense old-growth forest known locally as Aspen Glade. Against the white bark of the aspen trees, I make out dark markings left by the elk where they had rubbed felt off their antlers in the fall, and chunks missing where new mothers had bitten into the trees to access the natural painkiller inside the bark. Some trees have bear claws and others just the signature ocular knots that seem to watch us as we quietly pass through their world.

“Who wants to give the powder a shot?” Nick asks. I raise my pole in the air and step over the edge of the groomed run down a steep embankment and into the glade where snow had been accumulating all winter long. For a second I’m floating, but on the second step I fall forward and am completely engulfed in white.

“There’s nothing like fresh powder,” Nathan Goldberg of the Nordic Sports Center reminds me later. “You go from a groomed trail to powder and its the same thrill skiers get. It brings out the kid in everyone.” With help from Nick, it takes some time to pull myself free from the weight of the snow, our hearts racing and breaking a sweat from the happy struggle.

This January and February, Beaver Creek is offering the Winter Wine Excursion, a snowshoeing adventure that takes advantage of the resort’s snowshoe trail system and culminates in with a charcuterie and wine-pairing feast. Visit Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts, Inc.

After an hour of exploration, following the tracks of small alpine animals like fox and ptarmigan birds on the snow, we make our way out from the glade. The sun is setting, sending hot pink streaks across the Western sky. The Rockies are illuminated around us. We hike toward the setting sun, the Beaver Creek village below seemingly unaware of the life and activity on the mountain after the lifts had closed. A light wind makes my eyes tear and my wind-burned face sting — but more than that, I’m hungry.

I hand my snowshoes off to Nick and say goodbye to the cold midwinter chill in exchange for the warmth of a roaring fireplace and a glass of pinot noir at The Osprey Fireside Grill. I feel worked to the core, but with it, the elation of knowing I have pushed my body and my senses to their limits. Now it is time to pamper, nourish and give thanks with the ultimate alpine après-shoe feast: fondue.

If you ask me, fondue is to skiing as cold beer is to mountain biking, the peanut butter to jelly, the ketchup to fries. There is something about sitting around bubbling cheese and wine with a group of friends — dipping toasted bread, cornichons, gougères pastries and raw veggies into the pungent, bubbling, golden lava that makes any distance worth the hike.

As if something besides a fire, wine and fondue could please me any more, there isn’t just one round of fondue to be shared but three: a three-cheese blend of aged Gruyère, raclette and fontina; roasted artichoke; and medium-sharp cheddar from Colorado. Each is paired with wine selections from Oregon to South America.

Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts, Inc.

When it comes to fondue, I lean as close to traditional as possible. The sharp smell of Gruyère, white wine and garlic is a bouquet that one’s nose, over many après-ski sessions, not only becomes accustomed to but craves. Losing track of every small bite full of warmth and creaminess, cut by sour pickles, green apple skin, or surrendering yourself to full comfort-food mode when edging a chunk of crusty bread into the boil. I know eating a bowl of melted cheese is contradictory to all my hours of exercising in nature, but this is the balance. Good for bad — and God knows how good fondue can be.

At the end of the night I walk down the hall to my room where the lights have been dimmed, classical music is playing and the linens are turned down to welcome me home. There is nothing better than the feeling of having sucked the marrow of life from its bones, or in this case, the cheese from the bread, and falling into a deep sleep, dreaming of deep powder and then doing it all over again.

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