Raising the Bar

Image: 🥂 First season at The Steak Pit, 1972

Author: Darby Doyle

Published Date: 08/24/2022

Read Time: 4 minutes

Looking into the retro roots of Snowbird's dining scene.

Advertising from Snowbird’s earliest days—featuring groovy illustrations of a gloriously mustachioed gent accompanied by a mini-skirted ingénue—shows that hospitality goals were about creating a full guest experience from the very beginning.

“The Hills Are Alive! Enjoy your evening surrounded by a majestic alpine setting… calm, cool and IN,” proclaimed a flyer from 1972.

Snowbird Archivist Neil Cohen knows a thing or two about the resort’s culinary past. In 1972, long before serving as the resort’s historian, Cohen spent his early Bird days waiting tables at the Steak Pit and managing the Golden Cliff Restaurant. Cohen says, “since our restaurants are located at a destination ski resort without a town, we needed to make going out to dinner not just a meal, but a cultural and social event.” 

Forklift 1972

Ray Hixson, former Snowbird President, sent Cohen to scope out a concept he’d seen in Aspen—the famed Crystal Palace Revue dinner theater, where the waitstaff doubled as performers. Snowbird’s resulting “Golden Cliff Musical Revue,” produced by a professional theater company, ran from 1976 through the early 1980s. “All the existing servers auditioned and were given first crack for roles in the show,” Cohen explains. “Those who were more stage-shy continued to serve tables.”

The Golden Cliff’s reputation as one of the Wasatch Front’s premiere dining and wine destinations was further enhanced by a series of Epicurean Night dinners, showcasing gastronomic delicacies. Word of mouth quickly spread that these feasts were, in fact, wine-pairing dinners. And very good ones, at that.

Annie Davies Tom Ojay

A 1978 menu touted a prix fixe $15.95 eight-course dinner including pâte and canapes, grilled oysters, beef sirloin stuffed with crab and soufflé a l’orange. All matched with some truly delectable French wines and a few up-and-coming California makers (like a Silverado Cellars 1972–73 Cabernet Sauvignon for $9.85 a bottle).

Holiday themed events were also big hits at the resort through the 1980s. A Halloween masquerade ball was a popular favorite at the the Golden Cliff and Valentine’s Day could be counted on for a “Lobster for Lovers” dinner. The Lodge Club (now The Lodge Bistro Lounge) hosted St. Patrick’s Day specials with full leg of lamb dinners.

retro valetine's dinner menu at snowbird

However, not all culinary events were aimed at the multi-course wine dinners and musical dinner theater. One of the resort’s longest running and most popular dinner series was a Western Night, showcasing a barbecue chicken and ribs buffet every Monday at the Golden Cliff, accompanied by live western and bluegrass bands. Tuesday’s Italian night buffet at the Golden Cliff was especially popular with families, featuring an accordionist playing Italian café standards. In the 1980s, bartenders at Eagle’s Nest served cheeky multi-hued or blended drinks like the award-winning “Head Plant Punch” and “Deep Powder Punch.”   

The 1980s ushered in a time of rapid growth and acclaim for Snowbird’s wine and spirits program.  In 1987, Snowbird held the first official wine festival in Utah and hosted the Grand National Wine Competition concurrent with that event. 

Couple Enjoying Breakfast at the Forklift

Beginning in 1989, Snowbird Springfest was the state’s first-of-its-kind wine and food festival, paving the way for many organizations to follow in their spirited festival footsteps.  

Salt Lake City-based food and wine critic Ted Scheffler recalls some especially memorable events at Snowbird from his 30+ years of food writing.

“Back in the mid-’90s…they threw a doozy of a wine-soaked weekend for a few years called Winterfeast.”

The event combined wine classes, seminars and tastings with nightly wine pairing dinners featuring ‘celebrity’ chefs and restaurateurs.

Aerie Wine Scott Zimmerman

Now, under the leadership of Frederic Barbier, Senior Director of Food and Beverage (who joined the team in 2005), Snowbird continues to celebrate the food, drinks, and yes, the stellar experience of dining at elevation. Some of the most popular events are the Pairing Series dinners, where guests sip and savor the resort’s favorite pairings while enjoying a specialty 4-course dinner. Now, says Barbier, “it’s a give-give celebration of winemakers and our combined love for the mountains,” with many world-renowned winemakers and attendees coming back for the resort’s famed winter spirits dinners.

The completion of  The Summit at Snowbird in 2016 created an opportunity to share the seldom-seen panoramic wonder of the Wasatch Front awash in moonlight as witnessed from 11,000 feet. The now-famous Full Moon Dinners on Hidden Peak feature seasonal foods and craft drink menus, live music and delectable views from the Tram.

Raise A Glass

Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence at The Aerie, Snowbird
Touting their expansive wine collection, Snowbird wins Wine Spectator’s 2022 Restaurant Awards. 
  • The Aerie: Best of Award of Excellence
  • The Lodge Bistro: Award of Excellence
  • Steak Pit: Award of Excellence

About The Author

Darby Doyle is a Salt Lake City-based food and travel writer continually exploring the cultural, gastronomic and natural wonders of the U.S. West for a range of print and digital publications. She firmly believes that everything’s more fun with dogs at your side and in the restorative powers of potent après ski beverages. Find more of her recent work at darbydoyle.com

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