Sam's

Plates containing various forms of Italian cuisine cover a table at Aspen Skiing Co.'s remodeled Sam's restaurant on Snowmass Ski Area. The eatery at the top of Sam's Knob formerly specialized in barbecue. Invited guests and media got a sneak peek of the new restaurant concept on Wednesday afternoon.

Aspen Skiing Co. has added another global flavor to its dining repertoire: Italian. 

Opening today, the lift-accessed restaurant, Sam’s — which sits at 10,620 feet at the top of Sam’s Knob on Snowmass Ski Area — offers a modern Italian concept on the high slopes. It’s the first new on-mountain restaurant for SkiCo since Elk Camp opened in 2012.

The new restaurant replaces Sam’s Steakhouse. The space was remodeled at a cost of $2.5 million and now features a marbled open bar, live-action kitchen, fireplace and outdoor patio.

“It can be a choose your own experience,” said Jim Butchart, culinary director for SkiCo. 

Sam’s will open in the morning for breakfast with items like pastries, espresso and egg sandwiches. For lunch, guests can either grab something quickly at the bar or patio, or sit down — sans ski boots courtesy of a slipper room — for a multicourse experience. 

Two years in the making, the Italian idea came from Butchart and Andrew Helsley, executive chef of SkiCo’s restaurant mountain division. Both have traveled extensively in Italy.

“When we were asked to come up with a new concept, Andrew and I both zeroed in immediately on what we’re calling mountain Italian,” Butchart said. “It’s the food we like to eat.” 

Both say they wanted the food to speak for itself.

“I was fortunate to go to Sicily moving into this project, and there’s no fuss with the food there,” Helsley said. “It’s ingredient-driven and flavor-focused.”

He also grew up eating Italian so the menu feels like home. To that end, the main ingredients are limited, but excellent. 

“Something may be flavored with just Parmesan and olive oil, but it will be really good Parmesan and really good olive oil,” Helsley said. 

For the frutti di mare, the seafood is profiled only by lemon and olive oil. 

The most impressive feat, however, is that the restaurant team will make all of the pasta and bread fresh and on-site — no small accomplishment for baking at high altitude. That meant getting specialty ovens approved to make breads like sourdough. 

“Between the pasta program and the bread program, we developed the restaurant around that,” Butchart said. 

Diners sitting down for lunch may opt for a sharing experience, starting with prosciutto di parma and burrata with Sicilian caponata. Pastas like rigatoni Bolognese might accompany a traditional thin-crust pizza. A wine list heavy on Italian but sourcing from France and California rounds out the experience, as well as Campari spritzes and an amaro tasting menu. 

Montagna, the former restaurant at The Little Nell, had an Italian focus, but it closed in 2012. Sam’s will now house the only Italian culinary concept in the company. The Cliffhouse, atop Buttermilk, is known for its Mongolian grill; the Sundeck serves Asian-inspired items like wok-fired bowls; Cloud Nine serves high-alpine European fare inspired by Switzerland, France and Germany.

Walk-ins are welcome but reservations can be made at (970) 923-8715. Hours at Sam’s are daily from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.