Words by SMG Hut Cook and Hiking Guide Lara Antonello
My watch alarm cuts through the lulling crackle of the wood stove. I grope in the dark for a headlamp and glasses. My red light scans for slippers and I make my way to the stove to light the kettles for morning coffee. Time to get the wood stove crankin’. Many of my most treasured days spent in the Sawtooth Mountains have started at the Williams Peak Hut with the brush of sleep-warmed skin against a cool puffy coat at dawn. Steam rises from mugs as we discuss plans for the day and chuckle over the night’s (mis)adventures to the pee tree.
In winter, I work as the hut chef on guided catered hut trips. This involves planning, prepping, packing and portering food for a group’s stay at the yurt. Splitting firewood, stoking fires and shoveling are some of the chores that make up the rocky-mountain-crossfit regimen performed by a hut cook. In between chorin’ I can be found buzzing around the yurt kitchen getting ingredients ready for our daily feasts. Our guests enjoy 5 meals per day– three standard meals with the addition of appetizers and dessert (our favorites!). The long days with packs and gear build the appetites of senders and cruisers alike. It’s no wonder we all take snacking so seriously!
I started with SMG as a porter hauling loads up to the hut. Over time, porters often move into the hut cook position as a way to get more time shadowing for their guiding resume. What started as a way to “get in my days” quickly turned into one of the most special and beloved jobs I’ve held. Seeing people let their hair down without the normal fronts that we put up in our default life is a treasure. Watching folks be warmed from the inside out by a piping hot meal after they just skied the best run of their life lives in my mind rent-free. We wear our favorite cozy layers for the third day in a row while belly laughing at another hilarious tale. People who claim they aren’t tea drinkers at home go for their third cup of the day because “it just feels right up here.” I often joke that, as cook, I have a free subscription to the best podcast– unfiltered and undistracted round table conversations that go deep into the night among friends and family alike.
From the bucket list trips to the boys trips, fueling people on their adventures is a privilege that I do not take lightly. To paraphrase author Erin French in her book Finding Freedom, food’s greatest power is to take taste and turn it into a long lasting memory; it’s a way to show love, even when you might not have the words to say so. The warmed homemade gingersnaps I serve with coffee and the special hot sauce I picked out for fiesta night– this is my way of showing just how much I value sharing this experience with you. It’s my way of letting you know yes, this place completely blows my mind and takes my breath away too.