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Utah's Park City Offers Hope for Hungry Skiers

January 12, 1986|RICHARD PIETSCHMANN | Pietschmann is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

PARK CITY, Utah — Today it's grilled bratwurst with sauerkraut, a couple of beers and a piece of Hans Fuegi's marvelous homemade apple strudel.

Oh, and a small piece of Swiss cheese pie cadged from a neighbor outside on the deck at the Mid Mountain restaurant, halfway up the mountain at this popular Utah ski resort.

As far as I'm concerned far too much in skiing is made of the sport's macho esoteria-- vertical drop, percentage of pitch, depth of untracked powder snow and frequency of challenges. Conversely, not nearly enough attention is paid to the creature comforts that can make skiing a pleasurable experience for those of us who are the snow-bunny-at-heart sort.

It's nice, for example, to ride enclosed gondolas or trams up the mountain rather than being exposed to all that potentially nasty wind and weather on an open chairlift. Tissues are a welcome touch in a lift line, handy to snare when you need one most. A cheerful soul assigned to sweep accumulated snow from chairlift seats is a lovely service indeed.

A Matter of Timing

And the languid, right-minded "Crack of Noon Club," pioneered at Aspen, puts exactly the right perspective on skiing. Why battle for breakfast and fight the bright-eyed hordes to the slopes when you can sleep in?

But best of all is a great place to have lunch--or breakfast--on the mountain. Unfortunately, it's also almost impossible to find.

I have eaten the best and the worst at altitude. A gourmet sit-down repast was served by liveried waiters on napped tables high above a village in the Alps.

Any ski day turns immediately glorious even before the alpenglow after a few glasses of civilizing wine, a vinegary salad, some good minced meat in cream sauce with those terrific rosti potatoes and a bit of pastry.

But there was also the rubber cheeseburger flung across the steam table (actually there are several of those) and the chilblain-accompanied "picnic" in the snow at Whistler Mountain, Canada.

After far too many mountainside meals of decidedly offhand culinary value and much too much mealtime crowding, I have become a disciple of Dave McCoy, the crafty fellow who built Mammoth Mountain in California's Sierra. His advice for increasing the quality of slope-side dining and for throng avoidance: "Put a sandwich in your pocket."

Nevertheless, there are exceptions to the Sandwich Rule. And, at least in this country, both are in Utah. These are very different ski lunch places, but they are both very good. Perhaps others can learn from them.

Hans Fuegi came to the United States from his native Switzerland in 1979, spent his first winter working at Gretl's restaurant on Aspen Mountain and cooking in the evenings at various places in town. He arrived in Park City in 1980, where he worked for a fellow Swiss at Adolph's restaurant. In 1982 Hans took over Mid Mountain restaurant, an overlooked and hardly three-star place right on Park City's Bonanza Run and practically underneath the gondola line.

Sausages and Pastries

Almost immediately the rejuvenated Mid Mountain became a hit as Hans juggled his sausages, specials and fresh pastries (the Swiss cheese pie is his mother's recipe) to the delight of skiers unaccustomed to eating well several thousand feet above sea level.

Although the decor is, well, somewhat understated, running to what is usually called rustic and equipped with a truncated chow line, the food draws modest crowds.

"I know what a skier's eating desires are," says Hans, who once taught skiing and has worked in ski resorts for 10 straight winters.

We don't really ask for all that much, with edibility being at the top of the list. And if Hans Fuegi gives us edibility and then some, Franklin Biggs spreads opulence before us.

Biggs is executive chef at Deer Valley, the ultra-posh ski resort just a mile up the road from Park City. Comfort and cuisine are two very high Cs here, because it is a venture of Edgar Stern, the New Orleans businessman who runs San Francisco's elegant Stanford Court Hotel.

I had the best ski breakfast I'd ever encountered at Deer Valley's Huggery, in the parking lot level at Snow Park Lodge--a vast buffet of choices. But the mid-mountain place is Silver Lake Lodge at about 8,000 feet, and the food here may be better than down below.

Grand Buffet Lunch

At Silver Lake Lodge, the Snuggery has a grand buffet lunch that equals anything most of us have seen at sea level. But it is the Cafe Mariposa that is chef Biggs' pride and joy. Here a sybaritic skier can enjoy the ultimate--a sophisticated, served, sit-down meal that features the best veal, lamb and seafood dishes. But reservations may be needed.

"I want it to be known as the best restaurant in Utah," Biggs says of Cafe Mariposa. And it may well be that already.

Biggs grew up in San Francisco, went to cooking school in Paris (he followed a girlfriend there), returned home to cook in San Francisco restaurants, and then came to Utah (he followed that girlfriend once more).

Now he loves it at Deer Valley, where the standards are the highest and his boss is Bill Nassikas, the son of well-known Stanford Court Hotel food and beverage director Jim Nassikas.

Problems cooking at 8,200 feet? "Well, water boils at 194 degrees," Biggs says. "It's all a sense of feel."

I hate to contradict, Franklin, but no it's not. It's a sense of taste . Mine and several thousand other starved skiers. Thanks, Franklin, Bill, Hans and anyone else out there who's making things more palatable on the slopes.

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