One of the great things about traveling to ski is not just the snow and the people you meet, but the different regional dishes you can find to eat.
In fact, skiing and food go hand in hand (or rather ski glove in ski glove) simply because we work up such appetites on the slopes.
Some areas of The Alps and Dolomites in Europe have such high restaurant standards, claiming to offer more gourmet-rated restaurants in leading guides like Michelin than any other town or city. Megeve in France, Lech in Austria and Alta Badia in Italy all have this distinction.
What’s more, if you really want to immerse yourself in local food culture, many ski regions dedicate special weekends to celebrating the local speciality.
Here are some of my favorites unique local foods at ski resorts:
1. Pigs on Snow – Switzerland, France & Aspen
Are you achin’ for some bacon? There is, in fact, lots you can do with pigs besides eat them. In the Swiss resort of Klosters, for example, there’s an annual New Year’s Day ‘Hotschrennen,’ hosted in the town centre where prize piglets go head-to-head in an annual race on snow.
The French Pyrenean resort of St Lary is famous for its black pigs, or ‘Porc Noir de Bigorre.’ On the third Saturday of January each year, the resort celebrates black pig appreciation day, which mostly involves eating the pigs in a gourmet lunch or dinner. There are also people dressed in pig costumes with activities like sausage-making demonstrations hosted in the morning before the banquet begins.
Aspen in Colorado doesn’t waste time thinking about pigs too much but goes straight to what the pig fans want – an annual Bacon Appreciation Day, happening on the same day as Buttermilk’s closing day this year on Sunday 3rd April, 2016. Almost every variant of bacon is served, from bacon waffles at the summit, bacon samples around the mountain, bacon wrapped scallops at Patrol Headquarters, bacon desserts, happy hour at Bumps restaurant, as well as a bartenders brawl featuring the best bacon inspired cocktails.
2. Sugar Shack – Quebec
This remarkable, naturally sweet treat is made when maple sap is harvested in late winter and early spring – usually between February and April. Sugar that is stored in the tree roots during the previous autumn is drained from the trunks when the sap rises. The sap is then poured onto a stretch of clean snow, which the sugar shack proprietor has laid on a bench or table. With the cold, it turns into a toffee-like substance, then twisted around a stick to make a lollipop. The sugar shack season changes from year to year, but it’s usually a safe bet by late March.
3. The ‘Sheep’s Head Meal’ – Voss, Norway
Perhaps not immediately appealing, the coast town of Voss in Norway, which has two ski areas nearby, has struck culinary gold with their traditional sheep’s head meals, known locally as “smallahove.” These were traditionally a Christmas treat for peasants, but are now regarded as a delicacy for all.
Essentially, a whole sheep’s head is baked to a traditional and reportedly tasty method. Its popularity has even drawn the attention of academic study, with one university saying, “Participation in these may give a sense of symbolic proximity to traditions and historical roots.” The measures taken to make the meal an enjoyable adventure trigger the feelings of courage, mastery and inclusion in the “in-group” of sheep’s-head eaters.”
4. Gourmet Ski Safari – Italy
Italy’s Alta Badia region does perhaps more than any other ski region to focus on quality regional cuisine, on and off the slopes.
They start each season with “A Taste for Skiing,” focusing on typical local products and the best South Tyrolean wines. They highlight, what is for them, the winning marriage between winter sports and cooking.
Seasonal highlights include the Gourmet Skisafari, a cooking tour on skis that has run for the past three winters, discovering ancient Italian culinary traditions with dishes to try in 14 Alta Badia mountain huts staffed by top Michelin-starred Chef.
One of these chefs is Norbert Niederkofler, who cooked at the Col Alt hut last winter and served up sweetcorn cream, braised lamb shank and onion salad.
“I chose lamb because it’s typical in this area. And because it reminds me of my childhood. We only used to eat meat once a week; either a roast meal, braised or in the oven,” said Norbert who is also the head-chef at the St. Hubertus Restaurant in Atla Badia’s Relais & Chateaux Hotel Rosa Alpina.