Mountaintop architectural wonders offer fine dining, cocktails and DIY adventures
Yurt dining has come a long way since Genghis Kahn and the Mongolian hordes swept down the Asian Steppes.
It’s no surprise that the distinctive silhouette of the classic yurt can now be found at destinations all over the globe, especially in mountainous regions like Utah. The circular shape and low-slung structure of traditional yurts (also called ger in Asia) are well suited to cold and windy climates. Not only were they built to withstand extreme weather from the flat grasslands of Asia to the rugged Taurus Mountains, but they were designed to be transported by a nomadic culture. Hence, the collapsible framework and foldable felt or canvas walls that can be dismantled quickly and packed into light sections distributed among a few pack animals. Famously (or, notoriously), Genghis Khan’s elaborate 30-feet-in-diameter yurt was never completely disassembled but lifted onto a large wagon platform and towed by 22 oxen from camp to camp.
And as far as dining goes, yurts were designed with extended family food preparation and comfort in mind, with the central vent of the roof peaked to accommodate a central fire pit and (in more recent times) a wood stove as the means of heat and cooking. Fortunately, for modern diners, cooking fires are more often built using wood or compressed pellets than dried yak dung or coal. For the experience of sharing a meal on-mountain with Old-World ambiance a world apart, a Utah yurt adventure can’t be beat. Try these on for size:
The Viking Yurt
Since 1999, hosts Joy and Geir Vik have invited guests to participate in an exceptional mountain adventure, with a snowcat-pulled sleigh ride up the hillside followed by an elegant six-course feast at The Viking Yurt.
Park City native Joy and her Norwegian husband, Geir, developed the yurt fine-dining concept at the original Canyons location with inspiration from Europe’s après-ski culture. The yurt has since been relocated to its current spot on Park City Mountain at the five-way intersection where Homerun merges with the top of Crescent.
No reservations are required to ski or snowboard in for a cozy Scandinavian-esque lunch, with full table service and outside seating on deck chairs on sunny days. However, the popular reservations-required evening sleigh-ride dinners sell out weeks in advance, where they host 40 participants nightly during the winter season for a pianist-accompanied meal.
“We want to make it a unique experience for guests every time,” Joy says, noting that many of their diners return every year. The logistics of serving dozens of guests each night on a mountaintop are complicated. “Our chefs go all-out with every course.” she says. “And they bring all the food up fresh on snowmobiles,”
making sure to avoid freezer burn on the food and insulating the wine bottles. There is a limited wine and beer menu, and guests are encouraged to BYOB (corkage is included with a reservation).
After seeing a metal heart sculpture popularly used as a photo-op while skiing in France, the Viks installed a similar red heart outside the yurt this season. Having already been featured on national television as one of the West’s most romantic spots, this eminently Instagram-able addition to the experience will no doubt add to the many marriage proposals made at The Viking Yurt.
Park City Mountain Resort435-615-9878
Après Lounge Yurt
True to the Montage Deer Valley experience, the Après Lounge Yurt ticks off all of the “finer things in life” boxes, from the luxurious Mountain West-inspired furnishings by Gorsuch to the drinks menu featuring limited-edition Veuve Clicquot Champagnes.
With a desirable ski-in location snug between the Express and Ruby lifts (you’ll spot the distinctive Veuve Clicquot yellow-hued canvas even in the heaviest powder dump), the Après Lounge yurt is open to the public throughout the winter season from noon to 4 p.m. and is accessible by foot via the Montage resort. Order Champagne by the glass ($32 and up) or by the bottle, and pair it with gourmet snacks like white truffle popcorn, cheese and charcuterie boards, and for very special guests, caviar.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll spot Montage’s Bernese Mountain Dog “Canine Ambassadors” frolicking in the snow nearby. The cozy yurt accommodates up to 34 guests and is available for private events.
Montage Deer Valley
9100 Marsac Ave., Park City
The Yurt at Solitude
Getting there is half the fun of a Solitude yurt dinner. Meeting at the Powderhorn Adventure Center at Entry 2, guests 13 and up are fitted with snowshoes and start the lantern-lit ½-mile moderate climb up to the traditional Mongolian-style yurt. With seating limited to 26 diners, everyone gets a great view of the chef preparing the multi-course meal on the yurt’s wood-burning stove. Many guests BYOB, but a nice wine and beer menu and suggested paired wine flights are available.
True to Solitude executive chef Craig Gerome’s hyper-seasonal approach, the menu changes often, making for fun repeat visits. And, the experience has become so popular that the resort added an additional weeknight (Wednesday) to this year’s calendar.
The prix fixe evening includes the guided trip, snowshoe equipment, a gourmet four-course meal and corkage fee while the easy downhill snowshoe following such a delicious and unique meal (and yes, a few glasses of wine) makes for an unforgettable evening. Word to the wise: full moon dinners sell out fast.
Solitude Mountain Resort
12000 Big Cottonwood Canyon Road
DIY Yurt Adventure
From Gooseberry Mesa outside St. George to the Bloomington Canyon in far northern Utah, DIY yurt options for self-powered excursions abound. To get the most out of a yurt adventure from a culinary perspective, I spoke with Harmons Grocers executive chef (and intrepid explorer) Evan Francois, a veteran of ski-in and snowmobile-accessed jaunts. Most yurts available by reservation have wood-burning stoves and a supply of firewood available. “It’s the best way to heat a yurt and very easy to cook on,” Francois says. “Some yurts will also have propane stoves, which is a great addition if you have a large group.” He likes to pack his own small Jetboil stove for emergencies and convenience, when you just need to make coffee or tea without re-igniting the stove.
For meal prep, Francois advises doing much of the work before you hit the trail. “My
first yurt trip, I packed way too much food,” he admits. “I wanted to go too big, and getting everything to the yurt was a nightmare,” not only for the amount of space the food took up but for overall weight considerations. Time and space savers like cutting up ingredients ahead of time and pre-cooking some components helps.
“Make a good plan,” he advises. He suggests meals that warm you up from the inside out on a cold day, such as chili, curries and, his favorite, butter chicken. “They’re easy to prep ahead and taste better the next day,” he says. A hearty breakfast potato-and-veggie hash is his go-to one-pan meal.
We agreed that the benefit of a yurt-based or hut-to-hut adventure is that most basic cooking gear (pots, pans, serving utensils) is available on-site. However, “I always bring a knife I like,” Francois says. “Everything is just easier with a nice sharp knife.” As far as his bucket-list Utah yurt adventure, Francois says Grizzly Ridge Yurt in the Ashley National Forest is a must-do: “I would love to take in that view in the middle of winter.”
For a listing of private and public yurt options and booking information, check out the online directory compiled by recreation author Lori Lee at YurtsOfUtah.com.