Earned Turns

Snowbird’s top chef works hard to play hard

Earned Turns

Snowbird’s top chef works hard to play hard

THE STAT SHEET

Snowbird by the numbers

Snowfall: 500 inches
Acreage: 2,500
Vert: 3,240 feet
Trails: 169
Lifts: 15
BC Gates: 6
Parks: 1

TRAIL BREAKDOWN
Beginner: 27%
Intermediate: 38%
Advanced: 35%

SLOPE ASPECTS
North-facing: 50%
East-facing: 16%
South-facing: 13%
West-facing: 21%

You’re on a perfect ski trip out in Utah, slaying the steeps and deeps at Snowbird and somebody starts that conversation—you know, the one on the lift where your buddy says, “we should just quit our jobs and f#cking move here.”

A noble idea, indeed. Before you put in your two weeks and load up all of your belongings in your rig, though, George Lackey has a few words for you: “There’s nothing easy about this job.”

Lackey is the executive chef of Snowbird’s Summit Lodge—the king of Utah resorts’ two-story crown, perched at 13,000 feet above sea level, atop Hidden Peak. For 17 seasons the man has been working hard and shredding hard on his way to the top.

Every morning, while you and many other Snowbird-goers are still sleeping off last night’s Patron shots, Lackey is up at 6 a.m. loading carts of food and supplies into the tram, which is how they get all that stuff up to the lodge. What were you thinking… magic?

When that first tram docks, his crew pushes through the snowdrifts on the upper tram deck to the lodge. They open up the doors, stamp off the cold and—you better believe it—head straight for those industrial-sized coffee makers.

“We’re on top of the mountain, totally exposed to the winds coming from the west,” he says. “It feels like we’re halfway to the jet stream.”

Lackey is in charge of the whole shebang at Snowbird’s show pony lodge. This isn’t some dude in dreadlocks on the patio flipping frozen burger patties. Lackey is a full-on, Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and his restaurant is modeled after the fine Alpine dining customary in peak lodges in Switzerland and France. Check the rotisserie and carving station where you can’t miss the mouthwatering tang of Lackey’s secret recipe smoked brisket. There are wine flights and frothy mugs of beer, real plates, real silver and real glasses. Plus, the wood-fired pizza oven. Lackey makes beautifully crispy, yet still chewy ‘za crust work at high altitude. Do you even know how tricky that is?

Photo: Snowbird

Lackey is part of a long line of skiers who came to The Bird as younger men and women, and actually did the thing that you and your crew talk about doing. We’re talking about the early 1980s, with long-ass skis, “what the f#ck is a Chinese Downhill?” day-glow Bogner onesies, Duran Duran on the radio and Ronald Reagan in the White House. Lackey was working at restaurants in Detroit and he’d save up every second of vacation to spend it all on trips to Little Cottonwood Canyon.

“I’d be reading ski mags back then, and just dreaming about The Bird,” he says. “I’d come out and stay up here and loved that feeling of being so removed from the hectic city life. I still love that feeling of being away, the elevation, the cold, the steepness and open terrain and un-groomed runs.”

He finally pulled the cord in 1985 and bummed around, picking up restaurant gigs and living lean for Utah’s fat winters. Gradually, he worked his way onto the Snowbird crew in the late ’90s, met his wife, had kids—the whole bit. He has worked in every kitchen at the massive resort, bringing his hard-headed, Midwestern work ethic to match his massive stoke.

And now, after 17 ass-busting seasons, his office, unlike your cubicle in the corner, is on top of Snowbird. The Snowbird. The one and only. Steep, deep and blessed with 500-plus inches of snow every season. And he’s got nearly two decades of arcane knowledge about how and where to ski here. That means, while you‘re scratching your head in front of the trail map wondering where to start, he’s zeroed in on the perfect run—every time.

When he sneaks off to poach a few turns between the breakfast and lunch rush, he knows exactly where to go. The Cirque on a powder day (duh) but he can hit it before anyone has mucked it up and the same goes for the fluffy stuff below Knucklehead Traverse.

His favorite trick, and one you should heed well, is to take the road less traveled. From the tram take the Cirque Traverse and instead of following the crowd to the right, head left and drop into the Gad Chutes, the appropriately named “Restaurant Roll” or test out the Wibere Bowl runs into the Gad Valley.

“Everyone who heads down the ridge below the Tram sees that groomer [Regulator] or heads for The Cirque on the Peruvian [Gulch] side,” Lackey says. “But if those chutes above mid-Gad are looking good, I’ll run out there.”

It’s the perfect set-up for a guy like Lackey, who enjoys the semi-isolation of his workday at the Summit lodge.

“I can’t really see working anywhere else,” he says. “The remoteness up here spoiled me. I like being away from things.”

And Snowbird’s top chef has some advice for the guys and girls down below—the 19- and 20-year-olds scrubbing dishes, waiting tables and washing glasses behind the bar: You have to work hard to play hard.

“There’s nothing easy about this job,” he underscores. “But every morning on the tram I see the sun poke its head up over the mountains to the east. It’s like I’m riding right into the sun. That’s a pretty spectacular start to a day.”

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