There's Only One Way Down from the Highest Restaurant in North America—Strapped to a Pair of Skis

The trip down is even more fun than the journey up.

Il Rufio Outside Tables
Courtesy of Il Rufio
Courtesy of Il Rufio

Apres ski culture has come a long way. What once was enjoying some libations after hours of ripping down the mountain has morphed into champagne showers, over-the-top APRES outfits, and a crowd that might seem increasingly uninterested in the sport itself. That’s why Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is working to keep the quintessential ski culture alive. Sure, there’s still a free champagne toast every Friday at 4:30 pm, but in typical Colorado fashion, they’re going to make you work for it. So strap on your boots and catch the Lenawee Express to Il Rufio, the highest-elevated restaurant in North America situated on top of the Continental Divide. At 12,500 feet, you’ll get 360 views of the surrounding mountain peaks that mirror those of the Swiss Alps and a European-style menu to complement them.

Il Rufio View
Courtesy of Il Rufio

Il Rufio at Snow Plume had a soft opening in winter 2020 but was forced to close its doors due to the pandemic. Last season, the European-style bistro (formerly a small resting outpost serving sandwiches and lunchbox fare) made a comeback, ready to serve their award-winning Bloody Marys to the mountain’s shredders for midday apres. Abasin is known for having the longest ski season of the surrounding Summit County resorts, but their base village may not be as action-packed as places like Vail and Breckenridge. That’s okay, however, because they’re hiding the real treasure at the top.

Tutto in discesa da qui, Italain for “It’s all downhill from here” reads the sign as you enter, which is meant to be taken literally as you’ll have to be skilled enough to ride Blue groomers to get back to your car—something to keep in mind as you order your third Peroni. The wall of windows faces the resort’s downhill trails so you can eye up your competition between bites of Tuscan-style salami and admire Loveland Pass’ pristine snow-capped ridgeline. In a state that gets 300 days of sunshine, Il Rufio’s patio jetting out over Larkspur run is a warm welcome for those who prefer to enjoy their spirits basking in the crisp mountain air.

Il Rufio Interior
Courtesy of Il Rufio

Being in such a remote location, the building has no running water and is 100% solar power operated, making it the highest solar project at a ski resort in the entire world. Aligned with Abasin’s mission to reduce waste, the restaurant’s dishes are sent down the chairlift to be cleaned at Black Mountain Lodge, food and food waste is transported up and down the mountain daily via snow cats, and all food waste is composted by a local landfill program that is reused during the summer months for restoration of the resort’s lifts and buildings, to plant trees, and more.

That being said, simplicity was key when it came to food and beverage director Christopher Rybak's vision for the menu, making way for meat & cheese boards and Spritz over the typical chicken finger baskets and Coors Banquet you’ll find at most mountaintop restaurants. However, Il Rugio is by no means fancy, as you’ll find yourself sitting amongst skiers and snowboarders taking breaks in between laps to enjoy espresso and flatbreads or soaking in the views on the deck with a hot chocolate stacked high with a mountain of whipped cream. Once Rybak saw how much these unmatched mountaintop views mirrored the Swiss Alps, he really leaned into the European ski experience. When the Korbel Bell rings and free champagne is served, you’ll know what were talking about.

Il Rufio Cooking
Courtesy of Il Rufio

The majority of the menu is imported from Italy, Spain, and Lithuania, which includes a specialty Pinot Noir harvested on the Romanian side of an Italian, with some specialty local Coloradoan meats and cheeses sprinkled in. You can’t go wrong with the charcuterie board featuring Spanish Quincebrio jam, Giardiniera, a spicy Spianata Calabrese, 16-month aged crushed prosciutto, a 12-month aged Manchego from Spain, green olives, marcona almonds, roasted tomatoes, roasted artichokes, and sourdough bread. For something a little more filling, you could go for the porchetta panini or a bowl of their fan-favorite crab and corn chowder, best washed down with authentic Italian amaro.

From there, skiers can choose from over a dozen runs to make their way back to the base of the mountain. Il Rugio is open Wednesdays through Sundays at 9 am for coffee and pastries, and serves lunch from 10:30 am until 2:30 pm.

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Abby Maddigan is the social media manager at Thrillistwho recently relocated to Denver and is accepting all local coffee shop recommendations. Follow her on Instagram.