LEADVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – Dinner at the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse can be quite romantic. Cross country skiers and snowboarders leave from the nearby nordic center and arrive at dusk and take two to three hours to relax in the yurt and enjoy a fine meal at 10,800 feet up in the mountains.

When it’s time to go home guests are provided with headlamps to make their way back a mile down the trail to their cars.

Diners say the food is fantastic at the cookhouse, and you “get to kind of burn the calories before you have the big meal,” as one visitor said.

“We prep everything down at the nordic center but everything is fresh, everything’s made from scratch, our soups, our buffalo burgers we marinate the meat, we stuff them with feta cheese; hand-made burgers every day; the chicken same way, homemade teriyaki sauce, wild rice mix that we do with that — our red potatoes, sweet potato hand seasoned,” chef John Fulton said. “And then everything is brought up here fresh and then cooked to order as people get up here.”

There are two seatings for lunch — noon and 1:30 p.m.on the weekends. Dinner is served every night of the week.

“For dinner we have elk tenderloin, rack of lamb, oven-baked chicken and wild Alaskan salmon,” Fulton said.

Cross country skiing on Tennessee Pass (credit: CBS)

Roxanne Hall teaches cross country skiing at the Tennesse Pass Nordic Center, which maintains the trail system that includes the path to the cookhouse.

“The trails are very good for beginners. We also have intermediate and very difficult trails as well,” Hall said. “The best part of this nordic center is we don’t have a lot of crowds, so it’s wonderful.”

Skier Dave Bott says it’s rare not to have the trails all to himself when he’s out on Fish Flats, an open part of the trail system. He’s been going there for years.

“When it started up, it was definitely a little handful of crooked, narrow trails, and over the course of those years that I’ve skied here, the product in terms of trails has just unfolded beautifully into what I consider a top nordic experience,” Bott said. “We just never have taken it for granted and we’re never not awestruck at our surroundings.”

CBS4 found during a recent visit that descriptions of the trails and the cookhouse tended toward the superlative.

“This is the nicest place on Earth,” skier Emily Ellingson said.

Long-time visitors to the area probably remember an old trailer that was headquarters for the nordic center in the days before a spiffy building was built in 2005.

“We really knew if we could get out of that trailer and expand into a nicer building and a nicer facility, people would want to come and hang out in the nordic center,” owner Ty Hall said. “We serve lunch here, and soups and après ski with beer and wine and things like that. This new facility has been fantastic.”

The Tennesse Pass Cookhouse (credit: CBS)

Families like to make it a destination.

“This is, to us, is what Colorado used to be like when we came in the early 1980s,” Steve Tarasar from Evergreen said. “We have guests, family from out of town, so this really allows us to give them an experience of Colorado.”

And newcomers find their way there as well.

“This is our first time. We’re snowshoeing firsts. We’re beginners … at the end of the day we’re going to be pros,” a newcomer said.

The trails are also home to the Blue Dragons Special Olympics team from Colorado Springs.

“This is the best place in the world to come to,” Blue Dragons coordinator Joan Sharp said. “We’ve come here for 25 years and we come up every weekend for skiing.”

Additional Resources

Tennessee Pass Nordic Center and Cookhouse is located at the base of Ski Cooper north of Leadville. The nordic trails are rarely crowded. The new nordic center building has rentals and sales, soups, sandwiches and drinks. It’s about a mile trail from the Nordic center to the cookhouse. Go to www.tennesseepass.com for prices, menus and information about the trails.

To get there, take Highway 91 from Copper Mountain to Leadville or Highway 24 from Buena Vista to Leadville. Go north on Highway 24 about 10 miles to the Ski Cooper turnoff. The nordic center is right in the parking lot of the ski area.


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