This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
PARK CITY - Joy and Geir Vik like to tell guests that when they serve dinner, it's at "a whole new altitude."
The play on words helps convey that their restaurant, The Viking Yurt, offers a winter-dining experience at 8,000 feet above sea level - the last 1,000 of which are ascended by a snowcat pulling an open-air, 32-seat sled.
It is a moonlight adventure and gourmet meal wrapped together in one long, sparkling evening offered from December until March above The Canyons resort in Park City.
The Viking Yurt is just one option for those seeking to combine the season's natural beauty with an excursion and elegant repast - not to mention the luxury of someone else doing most of the work.
How about an invigorating snowshoe or ski into dinner; revving up an appetite for a gourmet picnic behind the controls of a snowmobile; or enjoying a close-up view of wildlife from the back of a horse-drawn sled, followed by a prime-rib feast?
Even with the hefty price to dine at The Viking Yurt - $100 to $150, plus tax and tips - it fills to capacity almost every night between Thanksgiving and late March, says Joy Vik, who started the venture with her husband six years ago.
They run the business as independent contractors with The Canyons, buckling customers into their sleigh and transporting them above the resort's Red Pine Lodge at midmountain. The ride's sometimes steep pitches are rewarded with incredible views of the electric city below, and finally with the forested isolation of the yurt's mountain setting.
For a more aerobic adventure, visit on a "tour night," when the snowcat stops at the lodge, where patrons don snowshoes, Nordic skis or even tandem skis for "date skiing" the final 500 yards. The yurt itself is based on the model of round, domed tentlike structures that have been used by nomadic Mongolians as their portable homes for 2,000 years. From the frigid outside, the yurt looks simple and rustic with the glow of a woodstove fire illuminating the walls. But technological advances, including state-of-the-art insulation and solar-powered energy, keep diners warm and cozy inside.
So, too, does the steaming glogg that is served in heavy pewter mugs as soon as diners shed their coats and hats.
Meanwhile, pianist Manuel Maravi treats the arriving guests to a medley of songs on the yurt's baby grand piano - an heirloom inherited by Joy Vik and delivered to the yurt with more than a little difficulty.
By the time dinner is served, chef Adam Findlay has put in most of the afternoon getting the meal's multiple courses started in the kitchen at Red Pine Lodge, where he has the luxury of running water and space to move around.
Shortly before diners arrive, he transports the food to the yurt by snowmobile, where his kitchen is cramped and the Viking stove is fueled by propane tanks.
Those hardly prove to be limitations, however, as Findlay (a former chef at Salt Lake's elegant Metropolitan) and his small cadre of servers present a picture-perfect, five-course feast for a full house of 32 diners.
On a recent night, the meal started with pumpkin bisque and chantilly cr me (a lightly sweetened whipped cream), included a buffalo tenderloin, and finished with goat cheese tarts and a huckleberry compote. Not your usual mountain picnic fare - but then the venue doesn't attract casual diners, either.
One table of eight, for example, included two New Yorkers; a couple from Yakima, Wash.; a woman from Baltimore and her former school chum now living in West Virginia; and a young woman from Knoxville, Tenn., on a ski vacation with her father, who's currently working and living in Kirkuk, lraq.
They all were looking for an eventful evening, and most said it was worth the price of admission.
"It was probably one of the most enjoyable evenings I can remember spending," said Susan Knight, of Huntington, W.Va. "It was set up in a way that was conducive to meeting others. I enjoyed the food and the fellowship."
In keeping with the party atmosphere, Joel McCausland, there celebrating the holidays with other members of Utah's Sport Court senior staff and their spouses, bumped in on the pianist to play and sing a couple of songs himself. And in accordance with "house rules," the Kaysville diner wore the viking helmet while crooning, prompting old and new friends to grab their cameras.
The fun continued back down the slope, with a sleigh ride New Yorker Anna Lui likened to a Disneyland thrill, with steep descents and snow blasting at them from the resort's snowmaking machines.
"It was definitely adventurous," Lui said after returning to Manhattan. "I don't think I could have skied those slopes; they were beyond my level."
Wayne Potter, ironically, complained about inhaling diesel fumes on the sleigh ride. Potter was on vacation from his job managing oil projects in northern Iraq. Otherwise, he said, "the food was great and the atmosphere was nice."
Children are discouraged from attending, Joy Vik explained, primarily because the food is more sophisticated than most youngsters like, and the evening lasts several hours, with no early departures. Given that much of the cost is due to its unique setting and transportation expense, the price is the same for everyone.
"It's a long, elegant evening to sit in there and enjoy all the courses," says Vik. "Most young children would have a hard time sitting that long."
This year, the Viks are trying out a "mini yurt" to accommodate families and small parties. Parties of up to 10 can book the mini yurt on nights that The Canyons' gondola is running, which is how diners get to and from the smaller, more rustic version of The Viking Yurt.
Other options: The Solitude Yurt offers a similar dining adventure, but there's no getting around strapping on Nordic skis or snowshoes to get to this destination.
Diners get fitted with their choice of gear, plus a headlamp, to make the 20-minute trek about three-quarters of a mile on a groomed forest trail, said yurt manager Dorothy Kuhn. She also serves as guide and server several nights a week, assisting chefs Matt Barrigar and Eric Moore, who rotate between the Solitude Yurt and the resort's St. Bernard's restaurant.
As at the Viking Yurt, there is no running water or even electricity. Propane is the key to success in presenting the five-course gourmet meals to a maximum of 20 people every night except Mondays. The cost is $75 per person, plus tax and tip.
"It's rustic, intimate, relaxed," said Kuhn. "The food is always wonderful, and that's the main attraction."
A close second are the starry skies and full-moon nights, which are generally booked well in advance.
Elk and eats: Moonlit nights and a prime rib dinner are draws at Hardware Ranch, but the elk are the major attraction here. In winter, they head down to the ranch meadows from the mountains surrounding Cache Valley.
The ranch, up Blacksmith Fork Canyon about 15 miles east of Hyrum, is owned by the state and managed by the Division of Wildlife Resources. In winter months, when food at the higher elevations is scarce, the division operates a feeding program that attracts the elk to this safe reserve and away from farmers' fields and busy highways.
Visitors to the ranch can take horse-pulled wagon or sleigh rides among the herds throughout winter. On Saturday evenings until late February or mid-March, the moonlight ride is paired with a buffet of prime rib and chicken paprika, "plus all the fixin's," for $25 per adult.
Children are welcome here, says assistant manager Marni Lee, with those under 3 free, and children 4 to 8 years admitted for $17.50. The dinner is prepared by Stock Crossing Catering, a private concessionaire that also operates the ranch's Sunrunner Ridge Cafe.
Newest addition: Deer Valley is branching out into snowmobile excursions this year, offering one- to three-hour trips, with the longest including a gourmet lunch or supper.
The guided tours take place at the Garff ranches in Brown's Canyon, less than four miles from Park City's Main Street, according to Deer Valley spokesperson Erin Grady. The $119 cost includes brief instruction on how to operate the snowmobile, then three hours of blasting through acres of meadows, with frequent sightings of deer, elk and moose. It ends with a Deer Valley classic - turkey chili - as a staple of the picnic spread.
Shorter trips that don't include a meal are less expensive, as is the cost to include a passenger on a rented snowmobile.
Whether you're into speed or moonlight, the options for winter adventures are out there and, for the time being, so is lots of great snow.