"…Feet on the ground, head in the Sky…” –Naïve Melody, Talking Heads. The Shedhorn Grill is located at Big Sky Resort near the Shedhorn Lift.
MY APPRECIATION for “le restaurant sur la montagne” was limited to the quick visits made between morning powder laps off Signal in Le Foret and afternoon couloir hikes on the Grande Balme. Sure it was cool (and certainly very French) to swing into a cozy café three lifts up, tucked into the cliffside overlooking the vast treeless expanse that is the Espace de Killy for a vin chaud (hot wine)or a croque monsieur (Mister grilled cheese?), but no American ski bum living on a season of odd-jobs (chalet janitor, part-time [illegal] guide) could make it a regular thing. Still, the simplicity and elegance of dining at the top of a mountain remained an inspiration. Soon after, I found myself back in the States, basking in the sun with a brat and a beer, views of peaks in the distance - an American version of the French hut experience. This must be the place!
The Shedhorn Grill is born of these influences; it’s one of those places that people “get” right away- good vibes, an escape from the expected. But running an off-the-grid yurt restaurant at 9000ft certainly has its challenges too.
A day at the Grill begins with a quick check for wind values at the Summit Weather Station. Strong Southwest winds with 40+ peak gusts generally assures that the Shedhorn Chair that services the Grill will be shut for windhold. Ultimately, Big Sky Operations makes the safety call, determining whether the Grill will open that day.
With calm winds, we load up the sled trailer with more than it can handle-- the day’s bison burgers, locally made brats, and microbrews making the daily snowmobile commute with us, boxes bungeed and ratcheted down, the trailer like a tiny super tanker. On cold days, lettuce rides in a Ziplock on the inside of a jacket to keep from freezing.
It’s a powder morning, and the line at Swifty looks long and anxious as we speed by. Halfway up “The Gash” on the Middle Road, the track loses its grip and we begin sliding backwards; a heavy trailer surrendering to gravity with thick trees looming below, my hands cold and heart racing, curses of despair firing off in the chaos, goggles fogged. But a beautiful morning setting up on the South Face quickly erases that. We arrive and turn on the radio. David Byrne croons through the stereo speakers: “…Guess I must be having fun.”
Overhead, little red figures scurry to safe spots on a massive face. A bomb explodes, the charge shaking the yurt, the sound a second behind the flash. We watch patrol routes on Lone Peak from the Grill in the morning, fully tuned in on the touchy days. “…You’ve got a face with a view.”
Though we have propane, the Shedhorn Grill is essentially off-the-grid, without electricity or running water. We bring all of our water to the Grill daily and cook, clean, and make hot drinks with what we have. Nightly-charged battery packs power the cash register and our MacGyvered 12V car stereo. We serve cans and plastic bottles, and recycle. For heat, a wood stove burns beetle kill standing deadwood cut close by. Mornings in the yurt start cold: We arrive to find an exploded Coke can, its top blown off, frozen contents plastered to the ceiling. Setting up, we listen to the patrol radio for lift openings.
Soon the radio cracks to life: “Be advised, Triple on mechanical, Shedhorn having technical problems, Dakota open to public!?!” Way on the back of the South Face, Dakota is unreachable to anyone this morning but us. On skis we traverse from the Shedhorn Grill to Mule Skinner, making it to the Dakota Chair in less than ten minutes. We load the chair with a smile and a nod and make memorable laps on our own private powder lift. It’s hard holding back my smirk while slinging brats later that day, the lunch crowd grumbling about crowds and broken lifts.
The song keeps playing: “If someone asks, this is where I’ll be…”
Guests arrive from a hard morning of shredding; soon the deck chairs are filled and the yurt is hopping. Our prices are more than fair: a 100% bison burger, fresh off the grill, served on a toasted ciabatta bun with a fresh heart of romaine, tomato slice, and red onion, paired with kettle chips and a fat dill pickle spear sets you back a mere ten bucks. PBR pounders are 3. “At Vail this would be three times the price,” is often the kind of comment we get from visitors conditioned to the typical gauging of poor ski resort fare.
The lunch rush today is moving along quite smoothly. Then a guy comes in, sits down at a table, and whips out a giant turkey leg. It happens to one of the biggest, fattest, juiciest, most ridiculous turkey legs I have ever seen. Surprised, I approach and let him know politely that we do not allow brown bag lunches. He opts to leave the yurt and sit in the snow, turkey leg in hand, with his buddy on the other side of the deck rail in one of our chairs, enjoying a burger, which had been purchased, like a normal person.
We’re still laughing about it as we wrap up for the day. I Look out to the East, Ramshorn, Big Horn, and Electric Peak in the distance, Pioneer and the Hilgards to the South, and Lone Peak uphill. My thoughts drift to this morning’s powder turns, the sun shines, the wood fire crackles.
The Talking Heads keep the theme alive, ringing happy through the speakers: “This Must be The Place!”
- Kevin Daily, Shedhorn Grill Owner