If you live in Denver and aren’t a skier or snowboarder, you may feel left out of a lot of weekend plans. Even in a year where most of the resorts require a reservation to ski or board, that hasn’t deterred most Coloradans from taking part in the activity. While skiing is one of Colorado’s biggest attractions for locals and tourists alike, there are other options for a winter weekend that get you out of the house, get your heart pumping and make for an enjoyable day in nature. The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse — just outside of Leadville — offers a fun, unique experience where diners can snowshoe or cross country ski to a secluded yurt and enjoy a warm meal in the mountains.
Upon arriving at the Nordic Center at the base of Ski Cooper, you’ll pick up your snowshoe or ski rentals and hit the trail. Of course, you are welcome to bring your own gear but the rentals are included with a dinner — not lunch — reservation. Be sure to check the weather and dress warm as temperatures can drop into the single digits in the evenings. You can also arrive an hour or two early for your reservation to explore the trail system and work up an appetite for your meal to come. The trail that goes directly from the Nordic Center to the yurt is about one mile and should take about 30 minutes. Even though the hike is rated as easy, it will still warm you up.
The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is “off the grid” in the truest sense of the phrase. It was built in 1994 and at the time could only seat eight to 12 guests at a time. Now it can seat up to 45 at full capacity. When you arrive at the yurt you’ll be welcomed by the warmth of the wood-burning stove, propane lights and flickering candles that evoke feelings of what the Danish call “hygge” — a feeling of coziness and contentment. General Manager, Erica Curry, describes it as “the most quiet, serene, peaceful place to be. It’s the perfect escape from the chaos of the city.”
The menu at Tennessee Pass changes seasonally and is different for lunch and dinner. The winter lunch menu — served on Saturdays and Sundays — is simple. Guests have the choice of a Grilled Duck Breast Sandwich ($35), Bison Burger ($19), Pork Bahn Mi ($17), Greek Gyro Sandwich ($18), Quinoa Salad Bowl ($16) and Soup and Salad ($12). For dessert, you can — and should — order at least one of Roxanne’s cookies ($4) served with homemade whipped cream.
Dinner at the cookhouse is a pre-fixed menu including appetizers, soup and salad, a main entree and dessert for $95 per person. Entree choices include a Colorado rack of lamb, barramundi, grilled elk tenderloin, oven-roasted pheasant and pan-seared duck breast with vegan and vegetarian options available upon request. The cookhouse sources its ingredients from local farms and ranches as much as possible. The pheasant and lamb are both from Colorado ranches while the elk is from a sustainable ranch in New Zealand that’s been producing consistent, high-quality meat for the cookhouse for decades.
The food at the cookhouse delights in a way that is rarely seen at fine dining restaurants in the mountains. Everything is cooked fresh to order, the service is great and the atmosphere is incredible. It provides an intimate and unique dining experience you won’t find almost anywhere else.
If you’re too full to snowshoe or ski back down to the Nordic Center you also have the option to stay in one of six sleep yurts nearby. The sleep yurts sleep up to six people in three beds and include full linens and down comforters, a wood stove, a stocked kitchenette and a few games to play. There’s an outhouse about 20 feet from each yurt. “It’s such a fun, affordable getaway,” said Curry.
Normally, the cookhouse will host public events like fat bike races, snowshoe races and full moon ski nights but due to COVID restrictions most events this season are private. It’s also an incredibly affordable venue for weddings and corporate events.
Next time you’re wondering what to do over the weekend, make the trek over to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse for an incredible escape you won’t soon forget.
The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is located at the base of Ski Cooper on E. Tennessee Pass Rd., Leadville. Hours are seasonal and reservations are required. Visit the website and call 719-486-8114 for reservations. Summer Reservations are available June 24 – October 4 and winter reservations are available November 26 – April 18. The Nordic Center is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.