Inside Aspen’s Cloud Nine: Where a World’s Wildest Ski Party Happens Twice a Day, Every Day
March 24, 2016 - accent chair
What competence be a biggest dance celebration in North America happens any day during 11,000 feet above sea level. Perched adult in a clouds, permitted usually by skiing or snowboarding, Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro occupies an artless former ski unit strew on Highlands Mountain in Aspen, Colorado.
“Why am we topless and drizzling in champagne right now?” mused a chubby immature snowboarder on a new Friday afternoon, as he took a impulse to examination a scene. Surrounded by organisation and women of all ages in ski rigging and in swap states of undress, a throng of 130, who had skied in for lunch during 2:00 p.m., were now dancing on their chairs in ski boots (a fraudulent and sleazy task), spraying champagne, gyrating, and screaming Icona Pop’s “I don’t care—I adore it!” during a tip of their lungs.
Smoke from a effervescent cheese in a raclette griddles on any list filled a atmosphere and expel a mist by a room. The smell of barbecuing garlic and sizzling potatoes wafted toward a rafters—now drizzling with Veuve Clicquot. Reliable hits drawn heavily from a ’90s pumped on a high-octane sound system. Rosy-cheeked revelers bopped and fist pumped with glee.
At 3:45 p.m., one of a servers, who’s also a proprietor DJ, got on a mic to announce a final strain and to remind a sensualist lunchgoers to get down a towering safely. The throng poured behind out into a sunlight, clicked into their equipment, and glided down a middle turf to a bottom of a mountain, hooting and hollering all a way.
The initial thing anyone asks when visiting Aspen these days seems to be, “Did we get your Cloud Nine reservation?” The heightened jockeying for a desired list during one of a restaurant’s twice-daily seatings (at noon and 2:00 p.m.) has reached a feverishness pitch. Recent boldface visits embody Lance Armstrong, Will Ferrell, Chelsea Handler (she’s a large fan) and musician Seal, who belted out his “Kiss From a Rose” with a room full of associate skiers. After spending a not-insignificant volume of time there this season, it’s easy to know a popularity. The high-end bistro with a European-style après-ski vibe has a prolonged and storied story of bringing a party.
Aspen is a desirable aged mining city initial determined in a 1880s during a Colorado china rush. Reinvigorated in a postwar epoch by a investment of nobleman Walter Paepcke, Aspen Skiing Company, aka Ski Co., was founded in 1946, along with a world-renowned egghead and informative institutions: a Aspen Institute and a Aspen Music Festival and School. By 1950, Aspen was personification horde to North America’s initial ubiquitous ski competition, a FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, as good as luring other immature WWII veterans to a maudlin towering hamlet, not a slightest of which, my possess grandparents.
Fast-forward 8 years to 1958 when a small all-American foe entered a valley. Whip Jones began building Aspen Highlands, a apart ski area adjacent to town. “Highlands was always my favorite mountain,” reminisced Cloud Nine’s stream ubiquitous manager, Tommy Tollesson. “It had a dirty small chair; it was a down-and-dirty locals kind of thing.”
For a subsequent 3 decades as Aspen grew a repute initial as a counterculture celebration town, afterwards as a luminary playground, Highlands and a Aspen Skiing Company waged a conflict for customers. The foe culminated in an antitrust brawl over lift-ticket wrapping that wound adult in a U.S. Supreme Court. In 1985 Whip Jones of Highlands was awarded $10 million in damages.
As a loser mountain, Highlands was arguably a some-more inventive during formulating attractions for visitors. For a past era or two, a towering has been presided over by a executive of ski patrol, Mac Smith. That design of a skier jumping a Cloud Nine building with a toboggan? That’s Smith. From 1973 to 1993 a ski unit put on 80 “shows” a season, ski jumping over Cloud Nine in front of hundreds of spectators.
Photo: Robert Brandes / Aspen Historical Society
The building itself was half unit shed, half warming hut/picnic spot. “Every board would sell a wine-and-cheese cruise as a partial of their ‘Highlands day’ package. It had a repute of people celebrating adult there . . . Even during that time, we would spasmodic have to assistance people down a towering during a finish of a afternoon,” pronounced Smith.
“Partying in a 1970s compared to merrymaking in 2016? It was usually as abounding afterwards as it is now,” Smith recounted, as a wily grin shaped underneath his fuzzy gray mustache. As a immature patrolman, his favorite time of year was open break, generally when a LSU Tigerettes came to town. “Pretty girls carrying fun on a good balmy day, that hasn’t changed.” Listening to Smith, an picture of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused flashed opposite my mind.
By 1993, Highlands was finally incorporated into a Aspen Skiing Company, and, in 1998, a ski unit vacated a Cloud Nine building to be closer to a expanding consultant turf on Highland Bowl. What happened subsequent was primitive serendipitous magic. Enter Austrian-born Andreas Fischbacher, an executive prepare for a Ski Co., who took over operation of Cloud Nine in 1999. Remembering a Alpine bistros of his childhood in a Vienna woods, Fischbacher remade a warming hovel to a full-service European-style bistro with a three-course lunch, excellent wine, white linen, and some temporary speakers. Every unit of food, any dump of H2O had to be ecstatic adult daily on a snowmobile. The logistics were staggering.
The result? A place during 11,000 feet where one can lay down to a friendly dish with friends, surrounded by primitive inhabitant forest, with one of a many fantastic towering views in North America. “At a finish of a initial year, a hint was flying. The word was out. Holy macaroni, a place got popular,” Fischbacher reminisced in his thick Austrian accent.
Expansion was destined to accommodate a demand—it was a unchanging logistical conundrum. “The kitchen was so undersized, we had to figure out what to do. So we said, let’s make raclette and fondue. Let a people prepare themselves, so a kitchen can keep up.” The usually problem was that raclette griddles need utterly a bit of electricity to feverishness a cheese and griddle a potatoes (over that a cheese is oozing-ly, deliciously poured). “We blew circuits all a time. Ski Co. Engineering hated us,” Fischbacher remembered with a disobedient wink in his eye.
And so, a bequest of a spring-breaking Tigerettes lived on. After some uninformed soup and schnitzel, some booze and a small schnapps, parties would casually erupt. “The conservatives would see a unruly groups and wish to join in, and all of a sudden, everybody is dancing. At some point, people started entrance adult usually for a party.”
Something about a DIY suggestion in a aged unit strew resonated with visitors. “When iPods came out, people would come adult with their possess music. We had a raggedy aged stereo and people would quarrel to have control of it for 10 mins each. Everybody had a square of it. Everybody had something to do with a success of a party. It was not sterile. It was unequivocally a live mammal with everybody involved.”
The early business was and is fiercely constant and kept flourishing a celebration to friends and friends of friends. “Once we started holding reservations, infrequently we would come in and have 100 phone messages.”
One early group, “very wealthy, really spirited,” started spraying champagne during their private parties, and this sold countenance of fun usually held on. “It was not something we encouraged; not everybody indispensably wants to be doused in champagne.”
Photo: Courtesy of @powderandbubbles
Eventually, a Ski Co. took notice of a furious success Fischbacher had combined for them. “Andreas is such a character,” remarked Lynda Edwards, handling executive of food and libation for a Ski Co. “His celebrity and his following done that place successful. So when he left to start his possess restaurant, we used his symbol as a place to grow from. We indispensable a impression to follow him. Andreas indeed suggested Tommy.”
Cloud Nine is now in a third year underneath a instruction of longtime Aspenite restaurateur Tollesson. “Being Swedish, a initial thing we did was put in a genuine sound system,” remarked Tollesson. This deteriorate suggested a $1.2 million renovation. Keeping a same footprint, a once distant dining bedrooms have been assimilated and enhanced, and new restrooms were installed. The suggestion of a space is in tact, usually a small cleaner.
As a business model, Cloud Nine contingency be one for a B-school books. Starting with a elementary prix fixe menu of soup, salad, a fromage for a table, or your choice of entrée. (The pan-seared salmon on a bed of baby kale and lentils is quite nice.) There are 130 seats inside, and if a object is shining, a wraparound rug seats an additional 120. Don’t worry, a sound complement extends outside, as does a glow pit, space heaters, and a Veuve Clicquot ice bar.
The staff is loyal, good trained, and, in many cases, has grown relations over time with their repeat customers—many of a business are repeats. These worldly groups from New York, L.A., Latin America, and Europe book their reservations good in allege of touching down during Aspen’s airport. Some don’t usually come year after year, though day after day. Last year one lady from Mexico City requisitioned his 2 o’clock list for any day of his three-week holiday.
It’s interjection to Tollesson that champagne has turn a splash of choice for a Cloud Nine lunch. “I had an ex-girlfriend who always drank champagne adult there, and it done clarity to me. It’s light and crisp. It’s lunch. It’s celebratory. I’ve never listened of anyone who drank ethanol and didn’t like champagne. So we contacted Veuve Clicquot, and we done it a apparent choice.”
The wait staff keeps lane of how many bottles are sprayed during a roof during any use with a clicker counter. Rumor has it, a record for spraying so distant is 140 bottles—at $125 a pop—it’s a resources ejaculation on a absurd scale. “We’re a series one comment of Veuve Clicquot in a country. For a grill that’s usually open 4 months a year, that’s a flattering estimable statistic,” suggested Tollesson.
While a spraying can be a bother (hide your goggles, censor your dungeon phone), it has helped sale a little bistro to a top-earning Ski Co. grill of all their restaurants combined. “We do really good there,” responded Edwards, when asked about a financials. So, we have a finish restaurant, with a ardent and constant following, a over-abundance of demand, and a unchanging mode of function that inspires business to literally chuck income during a roof.
The grill has even begun to enthuse new recruits to a sport. we was recently during lunch with a lady who had flown to Aspen, purchased all a claim apparatus and attire, hired a ski instructor for dual days to learn her to ski, all to come to Cloud Nine. At a finish of lunch, it took her an hour and 10 mins to ski to a bottom. She desired it. The best (most expensive) lunch, ever!
Is a C9 entrance to a city nearby you? Tollesson recounted a knowledge of a immature male from Singapore who recently visited for his initial time. “Can we make a Cloud Nine in Singapore?” he asked. “No,” Tollesson responded, “We can't pierce a towering to Singapore; Cloud Nine can't be franchised.” The immature male woke adult a subsequent day in despondency that he had no approach to constraint and relive his experience. So he bought a residence in Aspen. Problem solved.