Let's raise a toast to a bit of local history as Gwyn's High Alpine restaurant on Snowmass Ski Area closes at the end of this season. It would be easy to toss around words like iconic, classic, vintage, old-fashioned, all-American, cozy, toasty, family and quintessential. But I don't need to do that.
How many lives has Gwyn's High Alpine brought together? Millions. After 40 years of feeding and hiring people the number must be staggering. I put in a couple of seasons working at Gwyn's in the mid-’80s. I still know several of my co-workers from those magical days.
Gwyn's High Alpine was a fun place to work. My roommate worked as a waiter on the fancy side but I stuck to the cafeteria working at the steam table and often at the microphone, a job that was suited to me. I was born with a microphone in my hand. I was working at KSPN as a DJ so it was only natural that I would take the grill orders and announce them over the microphone for the line cooks to prepare.
These days you don't need a “barker.” Computers, robots and automation have made jobs like that obsolete. But at Gwyn's if you wanted a “Gorgeous George,” you had to go through me. I never got tired of singing “Gorgeous George!” into the sound system. If I recall correctly the Gorgeous George was a grilled chicken sandwich with a slab of pineapple and cheese, surprisingly tasty. If the line for the cafeteria got long it was my job to keep people smiling patiently.
The restaurant was rebuilt and opened in the new setup in 2017 and by all measures it's more efficient and beautiful than ever. In the old days you would walk beneath record-setting, long-distance gliders suspended from the ceiling. The ski patrol had their corner in the cafeteria and there was always a bit of scuttlebutt to be had.
From the beginning Gwyn had the vision to include a high-end component to the High Alpine experience. She must have realized that for some visitors Snowmass was about luxury and leisure and not so much about skiing. People could eat gourmet food, drink heady wine and take a leisurely lunch while enjoying top notch service from well-behaved, well-dressed waitstaff. Deals were made!
The menu at Gwyn's was ambitious and high-end and some of that quality spilled over to the cafeteria side. Desserts and baked goods were of the highest caliber and there were always tantalizing smells coming from the kitchens. The menu at Gwyn's High Alpine looks as good as ever and Gwyn should be as proud of her culinary victories as she should be for leading the whole kit and caboodle for 40 years.
I had the grand fortune of working for both Bonnie Rayburn at Bonnie's on Aspen Mountain and Gwyn Knowlton and George Gordon at Gwyn's High Alpine at Snowmass Ski Area. I am so thankful for the chance to be part of those teams. I'll never forget going up the lifts early in the morning before the resort opened and seeing vistas and views and weather that no one else was getting. We got to ski down at the end of the day, which was always a blast.
Both restaurants were family affairs with children working along with their owner parents. Whitney and Tracey Gordon were little kids back then but they buzzed around Gwyn's like busy little bees. So nice to see that Gwyn's grandkids have taken over some of the serving and bussing duties. Visitors loved seeing the kids participating in the family business.
Resort life is not for everyone and some mountain restaurants could take a few management tips from Gwyn and Bonnie for their playbooks. I know I'm glossing over the pains of encountering thousands of tourists on a daily basis but the employees had a bond and it was not unusual for most of us to work until the bitter end of the season. Karen Kunzer and Norm Sattler are still the kitchen managers at Gwyn's High Alpine after all these years! They are doing something right.
It's possible that Gwyn's High Alpine may be reinvented at the base of Snowmass Ski Area. I would also understand if Gwyn just wanted to kick back and be waited on for a while. She's earned it. Three cheers for everyone who made Gwyn's High Alpine a spectacular restaurant!
Steve Skinner wants a Gorgeous George right now. Reach him at email@example.com.