Moonlit trek

Moonlit trek

It’s Christmas week in Aspen, and you haven’t made a dinner reservation yet for this busiest time of the year. Well, it’s probably not worth calling around because every restaurant in town is likely full.

Enter the Cooking School of Aspen, which this holiday week is offering affordable, gourmet buffet dinners nightly from Dec. 21-27 (except Christmas Eve, when it’s booked for a private party). For $55 for adults and $30 for kids, help yourself to a generous salad bar; entrees, including smoked prime rib, glazed salmon, Rustique’s fried chicken and Bolognese pappardelle; a range of sides that includes veggies and starches; and an assortment of mini desserts. A full bar and wine list are available separately.

“There are not enough seats to go around Christmas week,” says Cooking School owner Rob Ittner. “But we’ve got plenty of space, and we thought this would be a great thing to do, for both locals and people coming into town who don’t want to spend $200 on dinner.”

The 125-seat dining room has been festively decorated, including a Christmas tree, and a couple of community tables are set up to easily seat more people. Ittner expects to be able to accommodate walk-ins, though large parties should make a reservation (by phone or online: cookingschoolofaspen.com).

•••

Prefer to preface your holiday meal with an outdoorsy appetizer? It’s the full moon on Saturday, Dec. 22, and the seasonal kickoff of two athletic dining events.

On Buttermilk, the Cliffhouse welcomes those who skin or hike up Tiehack under the full moon. Take in a novel nighttime view of dramatic Pyramid Peak, lit up by moonlight, then enjoy free hot chocolate from 5-6 p.m. around a roaring fire. The Cliffhouse cafeteria offers its usual fare from 5-8 p.m., including its famous make-your-own Mongolian barbecue, and there’s a cash bar. But take it easy on the holiday spirits, as you still have to ski or hike down.

One of Snowmass’s most special events, the Moonlit Trek and dinner, takes place at the Snowmass Club golf course and cross country center from 5:30-9 p.m. Start with a 1.2-mile cross country ski, snowshoe or walk along a groomed trail – led by an ACES naturalist at 6 p.m. or self guided, if you prefer – and stop midway at Anderson Ranch Arts Center for cookies and hot chocolate. Then glide back to the Black Saddle Bar and Grille by the light of the moon and stars, where a hearty, family-style pasta dinner awaits. It’s easy to linger into the evening with the warm, welcoming atmosphere, the pleasing sounds of live music by local favorite Tom Paxton and a final treat of s’mores around the fire.

Dinners are $25 for adults, $15 for kids, and often sell out. Call (970) 923-9190 for reservations (required). The trek is free; rental gear is available at the Snowmass Cross Country Center shop.