Winter is a complicated time of year. Some people love the beauty of snow, the cool, crisp air, and sweater weather. Others don’t. I live in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes and two seasons: winter and road construction. Ok, we have spring, summer and fall too, but road construction generally encompasses those other three. A few years ago, my husband and I were talking about our four seasons, and we came to the realization that the best way to survive our long winters, soggy springs and short summers, is to find something we like to do in each. If I remember correctly, this conversation was specifically around filling our springtime with maple syruping, but it holds true for winter in particular. For some people, this might mean taking up an indoor hobby in the winter, like quilting, woodworking or reading. Of course, you can engage in these pastimes any time of year, but sometimes the cold weather and unexpected snowstorms are an excuse to stay inside and do fun and creative things.
Alternatively, there are many wintertime outdoor activities to adopt. Snowshoeing, snowmobiling and skiing are just a few. Skiing has an interesting history, as there are many types of skiing: water, cross-country, downhill—did you know you can even ski down sand dunes?! Anyway, people have been strapping boards to their feet and letting gravity help them down mountains for thousands of years. My research suggests the first chairlift was installed in 1936 in Idaho, which then allowed skiers to make multiple trips down a mountain in the same day.
Over the years, ski technology and designs have changed and undergone multiple iterations to become the light, strong, and resilient equipment we use today. In the 1980s, snowboarding began gaining traction and popularity. Ski hills continue to work to become family friendly, adding tubing hills for young ones, and of course, offering food. Having onsite dining helps skiers to enjoy a full day on the mountain without packing and preparing food. Here in the Northland, we’ve got several options for slopeside dining at Lutsen Mountains, as well as further south in Duluth at Spirit Mountain.
Lutsen: Papa Charlie’s Tavern
Named one of the best après-ski bars in the Midwest by On the Snow, Papa Charlie’s is located at the main entrance of Lutsen Mountains. With a spacious seating area, enormous ceilings, and large windows giving you a slopeside view of the ski hill, Papa Charlie’s has space for everyone. You may want to sit with your family by the windows and catch a view of the hill, grab a drink at the bar top with friends, watch a game on the big screen, or shoot some pool to loosen up after a long day on the slopes. Papa Charlie’s also features live music and some fun events, like their annual Ski Party and Music Festival in early January.
Of course, you don’t have to actually go skiing to enjoy a meal at Papa Charlie’s. You can just saunter in and grab a table if you feel like it. As of the writing of this article, the winter menu is not out. The fall menu includes some basic starters, like walleye sliders and cheese curds, as well as your pizza and burger fare. If you’re staying nearby, feel free to grab some Papa Charlie’s to go.
Lutsen: Summit Chalet
The Summit Chalet is located right where you might imagine. . . at the summit of Moose Mountain. You can take the gondola to the top and catch the wonderful views. My husband and I took a trip up there this fall during the peak of the colors, and the views were breathtaking. They are equally impressive in the winter.
Inside, you’ll find high ceilings with rustic décor and a giant fireplace to keep you toasty warm. The Summit Chalet is open for lunch, with soups, sandwiches and snacks. Grab a meal and catch a view—you won’t regret it. You can sit indoors by the large windows or outdoors on the deck. In any case, you’ll find stunning views of Lake Superior.
Lutsen: Moguls Grille & Tap Room
Moguls Grille and Tap Room is located just outside of the Lutsen Mountain ski area in Caribou Highlands Lodge. Moguls Grille boasts access either the traditional way, by car, or you can ski there. Simply divert off the run to take advantage of their unique ski-in ski-out access. Incidentally, if you’re into one of those “other” winter sports like snowmobiling or hiking, you can get there too.
Moguls has fantastic mountain views and serves a variety of food. The menu is very inclusive, with gluten-free and vegetarian options available and clearly marked on their menu. Moguls has lighter options like soup, salads and sandwiches (with gluten-free buns available), and they also have heartier platters with your choice of pulled pork, smoked chicken, brisket, or rib tips. All of their tap beer and cider are Minnesota or Wisconsin-brewed, and they have an extensive wine list as well. If you’re looking for a to-go option, pizza and wings are at your service.
Spirit Mountain: Riverside Bar and Grill
Spirit Mountain will not be open seven days a week this year. Make sure to check their hours before you pack up and head to the hill, but don’t let that stop you from getting out there. The Riverside Grill offers a variety of options, many recognizable, but with sassy names. I’m a fan of Avenue Tacos, much like street tacos but served on Grand Ave. Riverside also serves salads and flatbreads like the Sprung-a-Leek, which is ironically garnished with scallions. Riverside offers Happy Camper meals for the kids, appropriately sized and appropriately priced.
Spirit Mountain: Mountain Top Café
The Mountain Top Café is a great place to take a minute and grab lunch or a snack mid-day. Mountain Top serves easy lunches like burgers, chicken and sandwiches, providing grab and go snacks as well. It is open daily during operations, so make sure to stop in if you’re needing some refreshments.
Skiing is a wonderful winter activity to get yourself out of the house and catch some vitamin D and fresh air during the long winters. Each of these restaurants is here to serve you and make sure you’re properly fueled for the occasion. On the other hand, if you don’t want to strap wooden planks to your feet and you just want dinner with a slopeside view, Lutsen Mountains and Spirit Mountain both provide the views and food you are looking for.