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In Utah, a Yurt Worth Falling For

By Amber Older
The Washington Post
Sunday, January 3, 1999; Page E04

At Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah's Big Cottonwood Canyon, Nordic skiers and snowshoers can make tracks to a meal worth sweating for.

It happens at the Yurt, a traditional Mongolian dwelling made of canvas and wood. Solitude's Yurt is nestled in the woods, less than a half-mile from the ski resort. Getting there is one-third of the fun.

Every evening throughout the winter, up to 20 guests slap on complimentary cross-country skis or snowshoes, don headlamps and trek for 15 moonlit minutes through the woods. We joined a raucous bunch, ranging in age from 25 to early sixties. You don't have to be a skier. Anyone can do this: After a quick cross-country ski lesson from our guide, Brandon Carlile, we ventured into the woods, guided only by our headlamps and the stars. Three small hills and a good bit of flailing later, we came upon the Yurt.

It looked inviting, if incongruous -- an oversize, dome-shape tent in the middle of nowhere. Inside, multicolored Tibetan prayer flags hung from the insulated roof, black-and-white photos adorned the walls, and large pots simmered on the free-standing stove. The air was warm, the lighting soft and the smell of dinner tantalizing.

As Carlile uncorked eight different bottles of red wine (the Yurt is BYOB), chef Andy Agardy welcomed us like old friends. The largely self-taught 34-year-old has presided over the Yurt for eight winters, serving always-changing, five-course gourmet meals. Within minutes, our group pushed individual tables together to create a single large one. We drank each other's wine and sipped Spanish liqueur from a communal bota bag.

If the surroundings were surreal, the meal was magic. A creamy basil bisque complemented a fresh salad of organic greens tossed with orange-hazelnut dressing. We started the meal with an appetizer of butternut squash ravioli covered in a tarragon cream sauce. A choice of two entrees -- beef tenderloin and a vegetarian timbale -- featured Gorgonzola butter. By the time Carlile served us persimmon creme bru^lee, we were heady with food, wine and the pleasant sense of being without time or place.

Getting back to the resort, the crusty conditions proved challenging for 25-year-old Nicole Bagley, a birthday girl and Yurt first-timer. Though she crashed-landed several times on our homeward descent, Bagley was unfazed. "Can you think of a better way to spend your birthday?" she said, struggling to her feet for the third time.

The Yurt at Solitude is open seven nights a week during ski season, which usually runs from Thanksgiving to April. Reservations required. Cost: $65 per person Monday- Thursday, $70 Friday-Sunday. Solitude Mountain Resort is a 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City. Information: 801-536- 5709; Those staying elsewhere can book meals at the Yurt.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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