The Highest Restaurant in North America Is Reopening — and It's Only Accessible by Skis

At a whopping 12,456 feet elevation, this restaurant is back to reclaim its title as the highest restaurant in North America.

It's not often you can dine at the top of a mountain with 360-degree views of snow-covered peaks, but that's the norm at Il Rifugio, the highest restaurant in North America. But to get there, you'll have to put in a little work.

Il Rifugio, meaning "the shelter" in Italian, sits at 12,456 feet above sea level at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The European-style bistro first opened in late 2019 but closed shortly after due to the pandemic. But finally, after years of expansion and renovation, the highly anticipated restaurant is set to reopen in January 2023.

Interior of Il Rifugio restaurant

Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin

"Il Rifugio and its European fare were very much inspired by its high-alpine location and the feeling of being in the Alps," Katherine Fuller, the senior communications manager for Arapahoe Basin, told Travel + Leisure via email. Fuller noted that while Il Rifugio offers table service and is considered "the ski area's highest-end dining outlet," it's far from fancy, with ski-gear-clad guests and a relaxed, après feel.

That said, the only way to access Il Rifugio in the winter is by skis or a snowboard. From the base area, riders take two chairlifts to the top and then enjoy a short ski down to the restaurant, which sits inside the Snow Plume Refuge. Those willing to make the journey, which is only appropriate for skiers comfortable on an intermediate piste, are rewarded with an experience unlike any other. 

Exterior view of Il Rifugio

Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin

Inside the cozy, high-alpine restaurant, guests are treated to a menu of soups, salads, flatbreads, and charcuterie — often featuring Colorado meats and cheeses — alongside wine and espresso drinks. The feel is distinctly European, and the views only enhance that effect, transporting guests to the Alps. A sun-drenched patio extends the seating outdoors, where lucky guests might glimpse one of the avalanche dogs based out of the ski patrol headquarters adjacent to the restaurant.

And while the adventure, food, and views are top attractions for many, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep Il Rifugio in operation. Because of its location on top of a mountain, the building has no running water and relies on a solar array (the highest of its kind in the world) for electricity. Snowcats travel up the mountain twice a week to deliver fresh food and remove waste, and dishes are transported by chairlift to the mid-mountain Black Mountain Lodge to be washed. All meals are prepared on-site.

“A-Basin is committed to sustainability, and Il Rifugio is no exception,” said Fuller. “Reusable dishes, cups, and cutlery travel the Lenawee Lift via special bins to be washed in Black Mountain Lodge at mid-mountain, significantly reducing paper and plastic trash.”

Il Rifugio is open for lunch and can accommodate up to 50 guests at a time. Reservations are not accepted. 

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