Play, eat, relax at Tennessee Pass
if you go ...
What: Tennessee Pass Nordic Center & Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts.
Where: Located off of Highway 24, across from Ski Cooper. It’s roughly 30 miles, or a 40-minute drive, from Minturn.
When: Both the Cookhouse and the yurts are open until April 13. They will be closed for mud season and are set to re-open June 26.
Cost: A four-course dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse is $85 (includes trail pass and rentals); the sleep yurts are $225/night plus tax (includes trail pass; rentals are available for half price); trail passes are $15 a day and dogs are allowed.
More information: Reservations are being accepted now for the summer. Visit http://www.tennesseepass.com to learn more.
The wall of enormous, snow-covered peaks surrounding Leadville always captivates me.
Earlier this winter, we hiked into the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center & Cookhouse and Sleep Yurts at dusk, so it wasn’t until the next morning’s hike out that the view sucker punched me.
It was one of those clear, blue-sky mornings where you can’t help but whisper “thank you, thank you” skyward. As we emerged from the cover of Douglas fir and lodgepole pine trees, I took a deep breath. The highest spot in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Elbert, loomed large in the distance as sunlight sparkled on the snowfield in the foreground.
We’d snuck away mid-week, which meant that except for the sound of my own trudging feet and the whisper of my husband’s skis, it was completely silent and still.
Though only a 40-minute drive from Minturn, up winding U.S. Highway 24, Tennessee Pass Nordic Center and nearby Ski Cooper feel a world away from the resort life here in Eagle County. Surrounded by the Sawatch Mountain Range on the west and the Mosquito Range to the east, Lake County is home to four 14ers and dozens of 13ers.
IN THE BEGINNING
Ty Hall and his wife, Roxanne, a lifelong Lake County resident, opened the Nordic Center two decades ago to take advantage of the local trails. The 15.5 miles of trails are machine groomed. In the winter, along with snowshoes and cross-country and skate ski rentals, they offer private lessons. You can also rent pull sleds for the kids or even a fat tire bike made to ride on snow. In the summer, you can hike into the Cookhouse and yurts, or people often times bring their mountain bikes, Randall said.
Roxanne worked as a teacher in the early years.
“They basically lived off of her salary as a schoolteacher in Leadville while they built the business as they went along,” said Stephanie Randall, the marketing and events director for the Nordic Center.
What used to be a small modular trailer is now a cozy log cabin complete with a rental shop and a cafe with homemade breakfast burritos, soups, sandwiches and a full coffee bar (the beans are roasted at the stellar City on a Hill on Leadville’s Harrison Avenue).
The Halls opened the Cookhouse a decade or so ago.
“They noticed with the people going out skiing on their trails that there was a picnic bench where people would stop and eat their lunch,” Randall said. “They started brainstorming ideas on what they could do as far as some sort of food venue up there and starting looking into larger yurts and other things.”
That picnic table is now the Cookhouse, a large yurt with a built-on kitchen, located a mile from the Nordic Center. Inside the warm and cozy room, executive chef Dylan Brody serves up four-course gourmet dinners to hungry folks sporting hat hair and rosy cheeks. The Cookhouse has been around for a decade now. The entree options — salmon, elk, chicken and a vegetarian choice — stay mostly the same each season, though the sauces or preparations might change. The appetizers and soups rotate as well. The portions are generous and the food is tasty. Try the grilled elk tenderloin with a blueberry sage port reduction with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. The homemade strawberry rhubarb pie is the same as it has always been: fantastic, and they’ll wrap it up for you to take in case you’re too full after the main affair.
‘YURTS ARE FUN’
I’ve been to the Cookhouse a handful of times, but this trip marked my first time staying at one of the four sleep yurts located nearby. The sleep yurts were added to the mix six years ago.
“Initially they started with two, and they were so popular they were able to afford to buy a few more and put those in place,” Randall said. “This winter, we were booked every Friday and Saturday night the whole season and our weekdays started to fill up — Thursdays and most Sundays. (The yurts) have grown quite popular.”
After that four-course dinner at the Cookhouse, it’s nice to walk just a few minutes to your bed. The yurts are outfitted with some of the comforts of home, including a wood stove, a kitchenette with a sink and fresh water, a single-burner propane stove, coffee and a percolator and even solar lighting. There are three comfy double beds with down comforters. Each yurt sleeps up to six people, and the next time we hope to bring some friends with us and make a weekend of it because, as a throw pillow in each yurt proclaims in capital letters, “YURTS ARE FUN.” Indeed, they are. And the views nearby are unparalleled.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 and email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @caramieschnell.