Every chair lift ride up Pats Peak in Henniker looks full on this mild winter day. Skiers and snowboarders are coming down the mountain, one after the other.
Joni Aubin and her colleagues spent much of the day before getting ready for these crowds – and not just on the slopes, either. Though she manages the snow sports office, Aubin helped out in the Tradewinds Café, wrapping up stacks of a Pats Peak specialty: the giant M&M cookie.
The famous cookie is one of the questions Aubin gets most often. “When you talk to people about Pats Peak, they’ll say, 'I learned to ski and ride at Pats Peak. And do you still have the giant cookie?'”
It’s not hard to see why these cookies are so memorable: each one is as big as a dinner plate. They’re crumbly and golden brown; they’re studded with color from the M&M’s and they have chewy spots in the center.
It’s a recipe, Aubin says, that goes back some 50 years, almost as long as Pats Peak itself.
“I remember Sally, the owner, Patneaude," she says, "she always said they would come in with their kids, they wanted a sweet treat, and they developed the cookie, and over time it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger.”
And so have ski resorts – they’re destinations now, and there’s a lot of money in providing secondary services like food and drinks. Skiers who are also diners bring in more money, a full-on food and beverage service can also have benefits in the off-season, like for resorts who host weddings.
And signature foods can help resorts stand out. Apart from its cookies, Pats Peak points to its hot dogs and burgers, which are Certified Angus Beef; it also has a new made-to-order grilled cheese counter. Cranmore in North Conway hosts chili cook-offs, while Ragged Mountain in Danbury offers brick-oven pizzas.
But food at ski resorts isn’t simply about dollars and cents. The concept of apres-ski is about creating experiences and memories – and what’s more memorable than burning up the slopes, then refueling with a cookie that’s bigger than your head?
Those memories, Aubin says, are why she and other Pats Peak staffers sometimes ends up taking cookie orders from far away places.
“I had one," she remembers, "they wanted stickers and cookies – and they actually gave me a credit card over the phone... I think it was [sent to] Florida. [It] made somebody very happy.”
We’d like to hear which ski resort foods make you happy – share your favorites in the comments below.