I don't know where to look first.
Above us, constellations glitter in Utah's clear night sky. But right in front of us Chef Joe Walker lights up the backcountry another way -- by putting on a spirited fire show in the snow, twirling torches impossibly fast in each hand.
We snowshoed in under lantern light to the small yurt (no more than 20 guests!) at Solitude Mountain Resort for a five-course dinner (the $100 per person tab would have been considerably more in a major city) that was all the more impressive when Chef Joe explained that he cooked without electricity, starting with tomato black bean lentil soup, continuing with baby kale salad topped with salmon and goat cheese, pan seared scallops, duck breast with polenta and finished with a pomegranate reduction. Dessert? The best bread pudding I've ever eaten -- made with apple and topped with ice cream and caramel sauce.
Maybe you'd rather dogsled to lunch or dinner -- you can at Snowmass where you are served game and fresh fish. Boy, how food in ski country has changed -- on the mountain as well as off -- especially for kids.
Forget mac and cheese, unless it is homemade with local cheese. Forget chili, unless it's vegetarian or made with local grass-fed beef. The kids -- and you -- have your choice of free-range chicken, homemade soups, pizza baked in a wood-fired oven and quinoa salad, not to mention artisanal beers and spirits. (Even Park City, Utah has its own High West Distillery where, incidentally, kids love the food as much as the grown-ups. And no worries if you want gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian choices. "These days, they expect that we will have those and we are ready for them," at each meal, said Deer Valley chef, Jodie Rogers.
Gone are the days of overpriced greasy burgers and fries, says David Scott, the executive chef at Colorado's Keystone Resort, which is piloting the National Restaurant Association's Kids Live Well initiative for Vail Resorts this year. The initiative has been implemented across 120 brands and in some 33,000 restaurants around the country and is designed to get kids eating more fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean proteins while limiting fats, sugar and sodium. (Participating restaurants and their qualifying items can be found on healthydiningfinder.com and via a free Kids Live Well app in the Android Market and iTunes app store.)
At Keystone's Mountain House base lodge that means a chicken taco or teriyaki chicken noodle bowl at the Ripperoo Kids Station (designed so kids can reach to order themselves).
There isn't a chicken finger in sight. And with the scary statistics about childhood obesity -- the American Heart Association reports that one in three kids is overweight, leading to many health problems -- that's certainly a good thing.
"Kids are much more adventurous eaters and parents are looking for healthier options," David Scott, the father of a 9 year old, explained.
Chef Jodie Rogers notes that at the resort's multicourse Fireside Dining, kids are often more enthusiastic than their parents about the raclette -- the Swiss cheese melted over the roaring fire and served with boiled potatoes and an assortment of locally crafted charcuterie. All of the food -- from the veal and wild mushroom stew and fire-roasted lamb to the different kinds of dessert fondues are cooked over open fireplaces and kids love that they can pick and choose. (It's a good deal too at $58 for adults and $28 for kids under 12.)
At Snowmass' new on-mountain Elk Camp Restaurant with its killer views, kids can chow down on a kid-sized portion of freshly made rotisserie chicken and smashed potatoes rather than fries. There are lentil, couscous and faro salads on the expansive salad bar, as well as meatloaf made from Colorado grass-fed beef.
Ski school meals at a growing number of resorts have been overhauled to make them healthier too. Think baked potato and salad bar at Deer Valley, or a veggie burger at Smugglers' Notch (www.smuggs.com) in Vermont.
Hotels and fine-dining restaurants in ski country have gotten on the bandwagon too. Hyatt Hotels, which has recently revamped all of its kids' menus "For Kids By Kids," complete with a new kids' website to encourage healthier eating, now is offering complimentary tween cooking lessons with the chef to encourage kids to eat healthier. At the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, the kids' menu includes whole wheat pasta, fresh crudities and shrimp skewers.
I love that Hyatt and Fairmont Hotels invite kids to order half-portions from the adult menu when possible. Fairmont Hotels also has recently revamped its kids' menus as part of a broad initiative to focus on healthier and locally sourced foods -- think Quebec pork filet with blueberries at the Fairmont Tremblant in Quebec, or broiled British Columbia salmon served with brown rice at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
At Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont, kids can even order the dish that won the Destination Hotels and Resorts 2012 Healthy Kids Recipe Contest -- Hidden Veggie Pepperoni Mac and Cheese.
Vail celebrity chef, Kelly Liken, meanwhile, known for embracing locally sourced and in-season ingredients and founder of Sowing Seeds, an edible schoolyard program, welcomes kids to her restaurant with a four-course tasting menu ($35) that changes with the seasons and is culled from the freshest ingredients, just like her adult menu.
"It is just the right amount of food for you to enjoy alongside of your family, without having to eat 'boring adult' food with them," she promises kids.
Can grown-ups have a taste?
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.