Who says designer coffee, brunching, rosé, and free-range food have no place on a backcountry winter expedition? Embrace the pretentious upper-class air and high-altitude attitude, as the fare will never taste better than that prepared around a woodstove in a glowing hut at the base of imposing peaks, a lavender-flooded sky and the corralled camaraderie of friends and family lighting up the cozy space. And not a single freeze-dried package of food on site.
Almost a dozen yurts and huts are tucked away in the mountain ranges surrounding the Wood River Valley for opportunities to adventure and explore the high alpine wilderness. A hearty meal fuels the fun of such a backcountry excursion. If you are planning a do-it-yourself yurt trip, there’s no reason hearty can’t be decadent or sophisticated.
The tips and recommendations of local guide and trekking companies provide plenty of ideas to elevate your menus, depending upon the hut location, trail route, the size of your group, and how much you’re willing to haul in. The farthest huts are about 6.5 miles in and can take 3-5 hours to reach. “Everything involves manpower to get in, so keeping the bulk and weight down is critical,” explains Joe St. Onge, who, with his wife, Francie, owns Sun Valley Mountain Huts and Sun Valley Trekking. Depending on the trail and hut location, you can utilize a pull sled for transporting bulkier food items. Some huts are only partially reached by snowmobiles and ski the remaining distance.
Each yurt or hut has a full kitchen with cooking and eating utensils, a three-burner propane stove, and a woodstove top surface for cooking and keeping things warm, but no oven for traditional baking. In a few huts, there is also a gas or charcoal grill. Dividing up meals and supplies in advance amongst your group and prepping beforehand as much as possible is essential. With a little creativity using the hut kitchen implements you can produce unexpectedly delicious meals at high altitude.
One of Joe’s favorite meals to prepare is his Salmon Pesto Pasta, using smoked salmon he purchases in bulk from a fisherman in Alaska. “The pesto is delicious and homemade with pine nuts, sauteed bacon, good cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes,” he says. Joe likes to use Aidelle’s brand chicken teriyaki frozen meatballs for an Asian meal, as they crisp up nicely, paired with good vegetables for a classic stir fry.
“Depending on the meal, I might freeze things ahead of time and transport them frozen,” says Joe. Carne Asada is a crowd favorite, a delicious and excellent source of protein and nutrients. Joe will season a lean flank steak with a dry rub and freeze it. Once transported to the hut, it’s thawed and flashed on the grill. He carefully packages delicate vegetables to avoid freezing, especially greens. Sauteed onions and peppers are easy to prepare on site, as well as the sides of Spanish rice, black beans, and fresh avocado. Fresh vegetables can also be dehydrated and then steamed in the hut.
Lily Gray, business manager with Sun Valley Guides, says they will prepare certain meat selections by braising or using the sous vide method at their down-valley kitchen for an easy re-heat at the alpine huts. “Pasta, rice, and vegetables are easily transported and cooked on site,” she adds.
Nutrient-dense foods are essential to providing lasting fuel for backcountry pursuits. “We really take the viewpoint that food is medicine,” says Hanna Curran, kitchen manager/chef/hut meister for Sun Valley Guides. “We try to provide high-quality, mostly organic food and are very selective where we buy to produce maximum nourishment for our guests.” Their dinner menus range from chicken Tikka Masala with basmati rice, garlic naan, and assorted chutneys to red wine-braised short ribs over egg noodles, served with crusty French bread.
Appetizer ideas include edamame with sea salt and soy sauce and sesame ginger egg rolls, chips and salsa, and warm spinach and artichoke dip, depending on the main dish.
Lunch on the “infill day” is as easy as picking up a wrap in town, but at the hut, the options are a beautiful mix of bagel or focaccia sandwiches or wraps. Imagine a chicken or vegetarian Italian focaccia sandwich with roasted eggplant, zucchini, squash, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini, and fresh mozzarella with pesto and balsamic drizzle, or a Mediterranean smoked turkey wrap with hummus, shredded carrots, roasted red pepper strips, sun-dried tomatoes, and crumbled feta.
Breakfasts with Sun Valley Guides are hearty. They offer a house-made granola every morning, and pre-ordered menu options include breakfast burritos, sourdough pancakes, brioche French toast, and scrambled eggs. Need a hack for transporting your eggs? Crack them into a plastic water bottle.
Catered packages spare nothing with dessert offerings as delightful as flourless chocolate cake, lemon ricotta cake, cranberry crumble bars with mulling spices, or apple pie bars, to name a few. Bring in what you love.
Beverage choices are purely preference and indulgence. Lily suggests going light on beer or not at all, as it’s quite heavy. Margheritas are always popular. “If you’re bringing wine or liquor, transfer to a Nalgene bottle,” says Lily. “You don’t want to add to the garbage that’s hauled out.” Delicious coffee is critical, though – huts use the pour-over method – and always tea and hot chocolate. Don’t forget the ingredients for hot toddies!
Lara Antonello, hut chef/porter with Sawtooth Mountain Guides, will have snacks ready when a group arrives, things like hummus and veggies, trail mix, or Dot’s pretzels. “I love providing a savory selection to help replenish guests after their long hike into Williams Peak Hut,” she explains. “When guests come back from an afternoon ski, I will have hot appetizers or a charcuterie spread with cheese, meats, and nuts.” Her passion is providing her homemade ginger snaps—warmed up on the griddle—and hot coffee before dawn. She also loves serving a breakfast berry/fruit salad with mint and lemon juice added, “Because mint is just delightful, and the lemon keeps it fresh,” she adds.
With some pre-planning and creativity, delightfully luxurious meals can elevate the incredible experience of a yurt trip, providing warmth and replenishment to fuel not only the body but also the heart and soul.
BAKED BRIE APPETIZER
by Joe St. Onge – Sun Valley Trekking
One wheel of brie
Slice one wheel of brie in half like a sandwich.Spread a layer of mango chutney between the two halves, then wrap the entire wheel back up in tin foil. Set it on the woodstove and keep flipping it over and over until it gets to a “caramelized gooey yumminess.” Serve with delicious crackers and sliced apples.
CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES
by Lara Antonello – Sawtooth Mountain Guides
2 cups of chocolate chips
Optional: 2-4 Tablespoons of coconut oil for thinning chocolate
1 container of strawberries 16 oz. (transported easily in plastic containers)
Lay foil inside a pan or pot that can be lidded. Melt chocolate in a medium metal bowl over a pot of boiling water for a double-boiler effect. When the chocolate is melted, dip strawberries and set them out on the foil, put a lid on the pan or pot and set out in the snow until the chocolate hardens.
By Sun Valley Guides. Serving: 4-6
2# red-skinned + Yukon potatoes, chopped into small pieces
5-6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 yellow onion, diced
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil (or use bacon grease)
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Minced fresh rosemary and thyme for garnish
Cook bacon slices in a skillet, removing with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve grease if needed; otherwise, cook in oven on tin foil at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a baking sheet in the oven to get it hot. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onions, herbs, seasonings, and olive oil (or reserved bacon grease) and toss well to evenly coat potatoes. Arrange in a single layer on the preheated baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, tossing halfway through until potatoes are golden brown and crispy. Top with crumbled bacon pieces and toss. Once cooled, vacuum seal
PACK: potatoes, olive oil, fresh rosemary and thyme to mince and add as garnish