A picnic in the mountains equals more than the sum of its parts. Fact: No matter how crusty the baguette, how buttery the cheese or how bittersweet the chocolate, each will taste better outside in the mountains.
Strafe Outerwear co-founder and avid ski mountaineer Pete Gaston knows a well-executed Alpine picnic can elevate a mountain adventure to something memorable. When he proposed to his wife, Jordan Agamie, in 2016, he surprised her on a trail run by pulling picnic supplies and a bottle of Champagne out of his running vest (Gaston says his Alpine picnic supplies, including a cutting board and food for two, only weighs 46 kilograms—minus the bubbly). Local ski mountaineer Christy Mahon takes picnicking seriously too. Mahon jokes she climbs peaks strictly for the “summit cookies.” Heed their advice on planning, packing and enjoying the winter picnic of your dreams—whether it’s on a ski tour, a cross-country ski loop or on one of Aspen’s four ski resorts.
Backcountry skiers should look for an obvious high point for the view and to avoid any avalanche hazards. Nordic skiers can often find civilized picnic tables within valley trail networks. On Aspen Mountain, Buckhorn Cabin offers outdoor picnic tables with views of Castle Creek valley. Rather than scarfing a quick energy bar at the top of Highland Bowl, why not whip out a picnic spread? Bonus points for scoring the two seats on the chairlift swing. On Snowmass Ski Area, ski to the bottom of the secluded campground lift for a quiet picnic looking out to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Buttermilk offers numerous warming huts to picnic near, or, with uphill equipment, hike beyond the West Buttermilk Warming Hut to the top of the ridge for one of the best views in the valley.
Gaston prefers prosciutto over salami, but Colorado’s Elevation Meats (elevationmeats.com) pairs barley wine and mustard seed in a humanely raised salami that rounds out any charcuterie spread. For cheese, Gaston recommends Beaufort d’Alpage, a firm, raw cow’s milk cheese from France in the Gruyere family. Other packable options include Challerhocker and any cave-aged Gruyere. “I’m a big fan of mixing cheese with dates—natural energy food,” says Gaston. “Dates that still have their pits are more durable.” He also packs pre-cut apples. Opt for a hearty, sturdy bread (like the loaves found at Meat & Cheese) over flimsy crackers. And Gaston recommends saving one-time use packets of high-quality German mustard to spread. Mahon opts for packages of smoked salmon, seeds, nuts and dried fruit. “Finish it with dark chocolate, preferably with salt, because it’s a ‘superfood,’ doesn’t melt easily and can take a lot of beating in the backpack,” she says.
Gaston recommends leaving the alcohol for after the adventure (with wedding proposals as an exception). But if the adventure proves tame enough to enjoy a libation, Mahon recommends Bandit boxed wines. Or consider purchasing a Platypus PlatyPreserve collapsable carrier (rei.com), which means wine lovers can empty even their nicest bottle of wine into a lightweight tote to be enjoyed in the backcountry—where everything tastes better.
Proper picnicking requires lightweight titanium wine glasses and a small wooden cutting board like the local, handmade creations by Glenwood Springs’ Colorado Wood Slice (coloradowoodslice.com). For backcountry skiers, blades from an avalanche shovel do the job. Pack the cutting board along the back panel of an Opinel knife (opinel-usa.com). “It’s in every French mountaineer’s backpack,” says Gaston. “I use the No. 6, the smallest of the ones that lock open.” If wine is part of the picnic, the Opinel No. 10 has a corkscrew built into the handle.
Keep picnic supplies contained within a ski backpack (or waist pack for cross-country skiers) in Osprey’s Ultralight Stuff pack (osprey.com), allowing skiers to drop packs and shoulder picnic supplies to higher ground.