An adventurous picnic at Taste of Vail |

An adventurous picnic at Taste of Vail

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
CVR TOV picnic KA 4-6-12

VAIL, Colorado – Not even winds gusting as high as 50 mph could keep the foodies away from the Taste of Vail’s iconic Mountaintop Picnic.

It was one thing after another Friday afternoon as the popular so-called picnic began to feel more like an apocalypse. Pine trees swayed back and forth as sustained winds of about 20 mph and higher ripped through Vail all afternoon with gusts more than double that speed.

As Taste of Vail guests arrived to board the gondola just after noon, Vail Mountain announced the gondola was closed due to high winds. So the foodies gathered at the bottom, gazing up toward the top of the mountain at what should have been a fantastic picnic featuring some of Vail’s best chefs. The delicious food and wine that guests paid $130 a ticket for was up at the top of the mountain, and there was no way to get to it unless the gondola reopened.

The mood was optimistic an cheerful at the bottom, though. People laughed as their hair blew in the wind, and some of the wine and liquor distributors who were hauling up booze to the picnic broke out their plastic cups and started pouring samples for people in line. They shouldn’t have been doing it, but at that point there wasn’t much else to do other than wait, and in some cases, drink.

More than an hour passed and people began thinking of backup plans. Some Taste of Vail ticket holders headed to nearby restaurants with patios while some sipped wine and spirits discreetly in the gondola line. Others waited patiently for positive news from Vail Mountain staff.

Teresa Austin, of Eagle, waited in line with her boyfriend and hoped for the best.

“If this is canceled, I don’t know, hopefully they’ll redo it tomorrow maybe,” she said.

Austin said the staff at Vail Mountain was keeping everyone informed, so at least she could keep up with the updates.

“Every 10 minutes they’re coming on the microphones and telling us what’s going on,” Austin said. “Safety comes before anything else – you can’t send people up on the gondola (in dangerous conditions) just for food.”

Stephen Smith, of Jack Rabbit Hill Farms in Hotchkiss, said if the gondola remained closed all afternoon he and his colleagues would “go sit in the sun and probably start our own Taste of Vail.”

David and Muriel Leavitt and Tandi Donaldson figured they’d create their own wine tasting somewhere in town. They held out hope for the event to start, however.

“You can’t mess with Mother Nature,” Donaldson said.

Luckily, the gondola cables started moving shortly thereafter.

“Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate and we are glad that it was simply a delay (and) not a cancellation,” said Kristin Yantis, spokeswoman for Taste of Vail. “We couldn’t have done it without our partners at Vail Mountain who did a helpful job of keeping guests updated in the gondola line as everyone waited for the winds to die down.”

Once the gondola cars reached Eagle’s Nest, however, the adventure continued.

Some trekked through the slushy snow to walk down to the picnic, which was located below Eagle’s Nest this year because there wasn’t enough snow to build the snow wall that typically encircles the event. Some chose to take a short snowcat ride down to the picnic.

Once you arrived at the front entrance, that felt like enough of a reason to celebrate. The food, however, had yet to be tasted.

The Bistro 14 beef sliders with blue cheese were rare and juicy, the seared Ahi tuna with tangerine and lemon olive oil and micro greens from The 10th packed some heat, and the duck confit spring rolls from Kelly Liken offered crunch and flavor. Blu’s served up a tamale with a delicious cascabel (pepper) mole sauce, and this year’s Mountaintop Picnic featured desserts aplenty.

Desserts including dueling bacon-themed cupcakes from separate bakers. Liz Rackoff, owner of Batter Cupcakes, and Lauren Smith, owner of Mountain Cupcakes, both created very different bacon cupcakes.

Mountain Cupcakes did a chocolate version, using a chocolate cake, maple frosting and a piece of chocolate-covered bacon as the garnish. Batter did a banana cupcake topped with peanut butter frosting, candied bacon and chocolate ganache. Both recipes were inventive and tasty, with Rackoff scoring the extra points for flavor and imagination.

As the picnic went on, the wind didn’t stop gusting. It sent paper plates, napkins and cups flying through the air at times, and just when the wind seemed to have calmed down, another gust would rush through. A dead pine tree swaying above the picnic caused some Taste of Vail officials enough concern to move people away from it after they heard the tree make a cracking noise.

That’s just the kind of day it turned out to be – wild, windy, fun and adventurous. It might not have been the perfect weather Friday, but there wasn’t much to keep this crowd from eating, drinking, laughing and just generally having a good time.

Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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