The ski report: a guide to refueling on the slopes
From the waffle house and the hot dog stand to the region’s best tasting menus, here’s a quick gastronomic guide to the Swedish ski season.
There’s plenty to do in northern Sweden whatever the season, but in winter the region is at its peak. Between skiing and snow-kiting, snowmobile safaris and wolf-tracking, yoga, sledding, heli-skiing and running with huskies, one could stay busy until midsummer. But whether you escape to a remote ski station or glide into a popular after-ski, one thing is certain: you won’t go hungry.
Sweden’s resort towns follow the Caledonide Mountains along the Norwegian border, beginning with Sälen and Idre in the south. In Sälen, patrons have been happily gnawing on shanks and racks at Lammet & Grisen (“The Lamb and The Pig”) for more than 20 years. Perched above the slopes of Lindvallen, the restaurant offers something for everyone – even a special buffet for kids. In nearby Idre, the panoramic view from the dining room at Grövelsjöns Fjällstation is compelling, but the food is the main draw. They’ve been serving officially organic fare at this mountain station since 1996.
At Fjällnäs in Härjedalen, those who like exclusive hideaways will find exquisite service, a spa and a chapel “for spiritual experiences between sea, mountains and sky.” Established in 1882, this is Sweden’s oldest mountain hotel. One menu this season included tartar of arctic char and caviar; reindeer entrecote with celery cream and porcini mushrooms; and blueberries with yogurt from a local dairy.
Take the road from Fjällnäs, past the world’s longest continuous trail system (the Nordic Ski Center), turn left and drive until the road ends. Here, at the base of the Ramundberget ski slopes, restaurant Agaton passionately serves up local ingredients in their cozy dining room. The 6-10 course tasting menu might include a plank of fried potato spaghetti with bone marrow or a steaming pot of hay topped with shellfish. During their award-winning coffee service, choose from ten different beans and watch the sommelier brew your coffee tableside. At the top of the mountain is another foodie destination: Restaurang Tusen. The façade of this tepee-shaped haven was built using thousands of locally sourced birch logs and the food here is as award winning as the architecture.
If you’ve always been curious about the lives of the Sami people, Hävvi Glen serves up some of the best Sami food in Sweden. Elaine and her reindeer herder husband Thomas Johansson pick, catch or hunt most of their ingredients. Expect their chef to serve you a dish of smoked reindeer heart or a dessert with birch sap syrup. Multi-course tasting menus are not the only experience on offer: if you’re making the trek, you may as well fish for char, hunt grouse, or herd and feed reindeer.
Just outside Åre is Sweden’s largest waterfall, Tännforsen. During winter you can tour the ice caves carved behind the falls. The structures are so massive that weddings and concerts are held inside. The tourist station is also known for its Elk Feast, complete with shredded elk, cold-roasted elk, elk bouillon and elk heart.
At an altitude of 1420 meters, Åreskutan is Sweden’s most popular peak. It is located at the heart of Åre, which boasts more than 30 ski lifts. While Swedes have been skiing at Åre for almost a century, Jämtland was vastly unknown until Magnus Nilsson put it on the map. His world-famous 16-seat restaurant, Fäviken, is just down the road and it has a strong influence on the region’s chefs.
This year Åre hosted its first “Gastronomy Week” in February. The agenda included a dessert show, the opening of a rum bar, and whiskey, champagne, wine and grappa tastings. Guests could sample cheese and charcuterie spreads, and local ice cream. Restaurants served multi-course meals of local and sustainable products. There was even a snowshoe tour that ended in a meal of pancakes cooked over an open flame. If you missed it, never fear – there’s plenty more good food to be had in Åre.
Visitors who return from Blåhammaren talk spiritually about how it provided rejuvenation “for the body and the soul.” Though the rooms at this rustic locale lack private showers and toilets, of the handful of mountain stations that offer overnight lodging and meals, Blåhammaren is the most beloved. At 1086 meters above sea level, they are famous for their view, their sauna and their fruit soup – which is made with the same recipe as it was in 1913.
Few experiences are more magical than rounding a bend in an expanse of snowy white wilderness and catching the scent of freshly made waffles. “Lillåstugan,” a cottage hidden away behind Åre’s Ullådalen ski slope, has been greeting hungry skiers with waffles and homemade cloudberry jam since 1933.
Another popular ski slope fare is “korv.” It’s not uncommon to see a handful of skiers hunched over in the middle of a powdery landscape, roasting sausages over an open fire. For those who forgot to plan ahead, there’s Kastrullens – Åre’s version of a hot dog kiosk nestled in the slopes.
If picnicking in winter sounds daunting, a company called Explore Åre will handle all the logistics for you. They’ll organize an outdoor cooking competition, fix a simple lunch or fika (coffee break) or even grill a whole reindeer!
Then again, maybe all you really want is to sit down and be served. Located at the top of the mountain, Buustamons Fjällgård is consistently rated one of Åre’s best restaurants. Those who don’t get there on skis come escorted by snowmobile. Dine on elk carpaccio and braised lamb. Finish with a dessert of fluffy pancakes, goat whey and lingonberries. Then light a fire within by sampling the brännvin from their distillery.
You know they’re having fun in the kitchen when the server pours a thermos of wild meat bullion into your bowl, when the horse dish is called “My Little Pony” and the cheese course arrives on a mousetrap. Down in the village of Åre, a gastropub called Ölbaren (“the beer bar”) is getting attention for both its handcrafted beer and edgy cuisine that’s a surprise and delight to the senses.
Other options in town include Villa Tottebo, long-revered for its savvy sommelier and delicious food. Dahlbom på Torget continually reigns as the best year-round tavern as well as the perfect after-ski venue. After a night of live music and libations, why not spend your Sunday eating freshly baked scones at Hotel Ganen’s afternoon tea?
Drive 300 kilometers north of Åre and you’ll find Korpens Öga (The Raven’s Eye), an Old Norse-inspired building with a turf roof perched on the Norwegian border. Each year proprietors Ola and Elin ride more than 5000 miles on horseback giving visitors an intimate experience of life in the Swedish wilderness. In addition to downhill skiing, the agenda could include wildlife tracking in snowshoes, a tour of Sweden’s longest cave or a snow scooter safari to go ice fishing on a frozen lake. Ola and Elin are also known for their delicious and hearty homemade meals made with local ingredients like reindeer and elk, served either in the great outdoors or inside around the open fire.
Virisen in Lappland is even further off the beaten track. Everything here is locally sourced: the trout is from the lake; the liver pate is made from lambs in their own herd; the vegetables are homegrown; and the berries and mushrooms are foraged nearby. Virisen offers hunting, cooking and fly-fishing packages – but why not stay long enough to learn timbering techniques so you can build your own house? After all, once you’ve experienced ski season in one of the world’s few remaining wildernesses, you might not want to leave.