Ski area chefs have to be exceptionally nimble when it comes to feeding their guests. From family-friendly nachos, chili and chicken fingers to the high-end dinners expected by urbanites at day’s end, they have a lot of culinary ground to cover.
Still, until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of a resort dining experience even remotely akin to Ledgewood Yurt. During a reception at Killington Ski Resort’s new Peak Lodge, food and beverage manager Scott Harrison described it as a “Mongolian yurt” with five-course meals, nestled in the woods and accessible only by a 15-minute sleigh ride. I pictured a tent strewn with colorful tapestries and rugs, the sound of horse-head fiddles wafting from inside. Whatever the reality, I had to go. Even for Killington — practically its own mini ski metropolis, with every variety of eatery on site or close by — this sounded wild and exotic.
I reserved a date weeks in advance — dinner is only served at the yurt on Friday and Saturday nights — and counted down the days.
When the appointed Friday night arrived, my date and I wended our way through the labyrinthine Snowshed Lodge and found our 30 fellow diners sipping spiked hot apple cider. As the sleigh must leave promptly at 6:30 p.m., the staff tries to gather everyone early in the Vermont Fresh Café.
We filed outside and trudged up a small hill to the waiting sleigh, which was tethered to a snowcat. Once all were seated on the sleigh’s benches and nestled under woolen blankets, the snowcat rumbled to life.
The icy air whipped our faces as we chugged up the wide, dark Snowshed trail, lift chairs frozen overhead and the lights of Killington scattered below. The ride could border on unpleasant when the temperature dips into the teens, but this night we were blessed with a relatively balmy 28 degrees.
About 10 minutes into the ride, the snowcat banked left and entered the woods on a much smaller trail. Pine boughs closed in overhead. Moments later, the Ledgewood Yurt came into view: a round, tentlike oasis slightly sunk into the snow and sparkling with tiny white lights.
We filed up the steps to the deck and into a round room with canvas walls; it was roughly 20 paces wide, and a woodstove along one side made the place very toasty. The tables pushed against the walls — fitted with pewter plates, tankards and flickering taper candles — looked medieval. A bar on one side of the room was strewn with more white lights, and the yurt’s wooden beams soared above us almost protectively.
Once we shed our coats, it was interesting to see how the other diners had interpreted the concept of fine dining in the woods. Most of us were in smart-casual getups anchored by snow boots, though one woman wore a string of pearls, and a twentysomething guy sported a navy blazer.
No two-tops were to be had here; everyone was seated at tables of four or six, so strangers quickly became acquainted. “Well, here we are,” said Michael Joseph, a member of Killington’s media staff and our escort of sorts.
This is the Ledgewood Yurt’s first season on the Northbrook Trail, Joseph said. It used to operate in an even more remote location on Bear Mountain but was moved so staff could serve ski-in, ski-out lunches of soups, lobster salads and smoked-meat sandwiches. (This explained the tables on the yurt’s expansive deck.) The lunches have been popular, but the yurt is primarily known for its five-course dinners.
The servers filled our pewter cups with water, set down baskets of warm bread, and delivered wine and cocktails. The Vermont Maple Shake I ordered was a pint-size blend of milk, local maple vodka and Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur; the glass had an alluring smoked-sugar rim. I took a swig and felt as if I were starting with dessert.
In short order, the first course — or “First Experience,” as the menu deems it — arrived at our table. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the moon. The yurt’s setting is so rare in itself that I’d wondered if the food might be an afterthought.
That assumption was wrong. My first bite of succulent lobster meat — kissed by a blood-orange-honey-truffle sauce — was tender and super-fresh, a dose of buttery goodness. Along with a cloudlike sunchoke purée, bits of chanterelle mushrooms and microgreens, it cleansed my palate. This was a promising start.
Each “experience” followed in the same vein. Chef Greg Lang clearly enjoyed layering sweet, smoky and fatty flavors, and each dish showed a playful sensibility. Where the first course was briny and light, the second was intensely earthy: Salty, silky slices of duck “bacon” were fanned out on a plate beside an intense, salty-sweet jam of caramelized shallots and red wine. A dusting of fleur de sel added texture and — well, more saltiness. And what was that luxe-y flavor lurking in the dish? Hello, white truffle oil.
The third course was a sort of intermezzo, a relatively traditional plate of Vermont Creamery Cremont, salted almonds, black fig preserves and crunchy wafers of lavash made with the spent mash from Long Trail Brewing Company Imperial Pumpkin Ale. I dragged all of it through a tiny puddle of orange-blossom honey.
These comparatively petite courses were trumped by the largesse of the fourth: a fist-size hunk of beef tenderloin whose 50 days of wet aging intensified its umami-ness. Since it was probably impossible to cook each steak to order, the chef wisely served them juicy and rare. He topped each with squares of Stilton cheese and garlicky gremolata, then drizzled the meat in a savory WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey reduction laced with a hint of Chinese spices.
I wondered if the chef was dreaming of warmer weather: Creamed corn, flaky sweet-potato galette and a few spears of white asparagus shared the plate with the meat. My only issue with the dish was that it was lukewarm.
That was most likely because every course was carried from a separate kitchen a few steps from the yurt. In fact, the line seemed to extend into the snow, where a table was used for prep. During a trip to the bathroom, I walked past a chef filling molded-chocolate cones with chocolate mousse.
Those cones anchored a veritable playground of small desserts: The mocha-like mousse was joined by a moist banana-bourbon cake and praline and white-chocolate creams. A dollop of Asian port-wine-and-plum syrup and some guava semifreddo added tropical brightness.
By the end of the nearly three-hour meal, I felt like the chef had taken us all on a flavor adventure as enchanting as the one we’d experienced getting to the yurt. When he appeared with his staff at the end, we offered genuine applause.
Then it was back into our hats and jackets and onto the sleigh. The group was quieter, probably as distracted as I was in my sated state. As we pulled away, the staff waved at us from the yurt’s entrance, then disappeared back inside and pulled the door closed behind them. It was easy to imagine them waiting there among the pines till their next visitors arrived.
Ledgewood Yurt, Killington, 866-809-9147. killington.com
The original print version of this article was headlined "Secluded Supper"