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Ski Lodge Food: The Highs And Lowdown On Mountainside Dining

By Heather Burke, Boston.com Correspondent

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We have all balanced that cafeteria tray while wearing ski boots, trying not to drop that overpriced, under-whelming cheeseburger on the hard wet concrete floor. Why does ski area food have to be so banal? Skiers are sophisticated people who enjoy tasty, healthy, locally-sourced food. Sure, I have skied with a sandwich and Snickers bar in my pocket for "chairlift dining," but I have also come to appreciate a table-service lunch, especially one with a ski slope view. Here are a few ski resorts where I have discovered exceptional on-mountain dining, and for not much more money than that base lodge burger.

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In Vermont, Okemo Mountain Resort has a “Culinary Team,” indicating its commitment to fresh locally-sourced creative food served on the slopes. How does Salmon Carpaccio or Duck Quesadillas for lunch at Epic sound? A Vermont Turkey, Cheddar and Bacon Panini at Sitting Bull? Okemo even serves Asian food at the summit. At day’s end, ski down to Jackson Gore’s Coleman Brook Tavern for après ski, where you can enjoy a martini by the fire while the kids eat s’mores. I have to give Okemo two ski poles up for elevating the New England ski food scene. Prices range from $8-$15 for lunch entrees with table service, water glasses, real plates, napkins, and utensils – a real treat for snowboarders (skier joke).

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Killington’s new Peak Lodge is impressive. It offers a minimalist setting to frame the mountain views from 4,241’ (picture Starbucks goes skiing). The Beast’s café food court features fresh Vermont meats, cheese, and produce served at chef stations. The bar, comfy couches, and free Wi-Fi may make it hard to leave this $5 million summit lodge and go ski. You can always download the K1 gondola.

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Stowe has always been a favorite of mine, for the formidable Front Four trails followed by Alpine fondue at the scenic 3,625’ Cliff House Mountain Lodge atop the Gondola (which has brand new gondi cars this season).

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For the best Vermont cheddar cheeseburger, I suggest skiing down Gondolier and taking Stowe's other gondola, “Over Easy,” to Spruce Village. The Stowe Burger in the swank Stowe Mountain Lodge is fresh, local, and delicious.

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You can’t request a corner table at the slopeside Timbers at Sugarbush, since it’s a Vermont round barn in the heart of Lincoln Peak ski village. Lunch on pork belly tacos or locally-grown beet salad after serious calorie burning skiing Organgrinder or Castlerock.

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Stratton's Grizzly Bar, above the base lodge, serves brick oven wood-fired pizza with a slope view. It's open for lunch and a lively après ski. Stratton Mountain is the place of Bogners, boarders, and a great ski village. Discover Vermont-sourced eateries at Verde, Bar 802, and Firetower, to name a few.

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Much more casual, but so amiable and authentic, I love the Swig and Smelt at Saddleback Maine. The upper floor of this post and beam lodge (the second highest base in New England at 2,460’) has a huge horseshoe bar and tables. It has a homey lunch and après ski menu and views of the Rangeley Lakes region below. After skiing Muleskinner, try the Poutine -- a super decadent Quebec-inspired dish of French Fries topped with gravy and Maine cheese curds for $7.

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Another casual fun ski bar is the Cannonball Pub at Cannon Mountain. It’s everything you want in a ski bar: ski in location, slope view, and silly ski memorabilia décor with a huge beer list, pub fare menu, and friendly table service. The Cannonball rocks with live music on weekends. This is Bode Miller’s original stomping grounds.

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That’s just a sampling of ski resort restaurants above the norm. I hope to report back on more. See you on the slopes.

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