Arapahoe Basin: A taste of Europe at a locals ski area

If you are an avid skier, and if you love Colorado, you probably already know that Arapahoe Basin is where you’ll find fantastic expert and intermediate runs. It’s also where locals gather at the base of the hill for old-fashioned aprés ski BYO parties. Located in eastern Summit County, Arapahoe Basin is an hour from Denver, minutes uphill from Keystone, Dillon and Silverthorne and it’s on the Ikon Pass.

Recently, A Basin (never called “A Bay” by the locals – that’s just lame) has added amenities that are a delightful surprise to those of us who think of this as a simple, stripped-down ski area. It’s not a “resort” – there are no condos, no “base village” with expensive shops and real estate sales offices. No Starbucks. But now, if you have the skills to ski or ride blue (intermediate) and black (expert) runs, and if you don’t suffer from vertigo or agoraphobia, then you will have access to two new restaurants that upgrade the A Basin experience at a surprisingly affordable price!

Il Refugio at Snow Plume

At the top of the Lenawee Express, take a right off of the chairlift and scooch a very short distance to a building that looks like a ski patrol hut. While the ski patrol does have a base here, the building also houses Il Refugio at Snow Plume, the highest-elevation restaurant in North America at 12,456 feet.

Il Refugio is now a table-service dining experience with some of the best views I’ve seen from a restaurant. While the menu currently on their website is out of date, you can get a sense of the European flair that Il Refugio offers.

A group of three of us had the lobster bisque and a charcuterie board. Along with a bottle of sparkling water for the three of us, our total cost was under $70 (which is what two cocktails with chips and guac had cost us at a cafe with no view at Deer Valley earlier in the season!) The food was a very special treat – delicious, well-presented, and just the right amount. Needless to say, we were thrilled with the value of Il Refugio. But the experience of having the manager bring slippers to the table, so that we could get out of our ski boots and relax, and of enjoying the views, was what made our visit so special. Along with soup and charcuterie, Il Refugio also offers salad, flatbreads, wine, and very classy espresso drinks. When you think about all of the pulled pork sandwiches or mediocre pizza slices you’ve had at “world class” ski resorts, this find at A Basin is so exciting I can hardly put it into words.

Il Refugio is open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday during ski season, 10:30-3:00. There are composting toilets for general use, but the seating areas inside and outside are for customers only.

Steilhang Hut

A couple days after our lunch at Il Refugio, a friend told us about the Steilhang Hut, so we stopped there for lunch during our next ski day at Arapahoe Basin. Steilhang, which opened in December 2022, offers a German-style menu with various brats and sausages, hot pretzels, and the best apple strudel I’ve had outside of Germany. The hut also has German and local beers.

From the top of Lenawee Express, take a left off of the chairlift and head down the Humbug blue run to the hut, which sits at the top of Dragon Run and Dercum’s Gulch. Like Il Refugio, you have to be able to ski or snowboard a blue run in order to access this restaurant.

The Steilhang Hut offers lunch Friday-Tuesday, 10:30-3:00. There is seating inside and outside, with views almost as amazing as those at Il Refugio.

Other options

If Il Refugio or Steilhang Hut are full or just not your preference, no worries. The Black Mountain Lodge, half-way up the mountain, at the top of the Black Mountain Express lift and accessible to beginner skiers and boarders, has lots of good options on their menu, a fun bar, and gorgeous views. It’s always been a classic Colorado experience to sit on the deck with a Bloody Mary and stare at peaks above.

At the base you’ll find other reliable options like The Legends Cafe, 6th Alley Bar & Grill, and Marnies – all great choices for a lunch with skiers of all abilities or as a gathering place at the end of the day.

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