Short Stops

Crystal Mountain's Famed Snorting Elk Bar Sold to New Owner

But the nachos aren't going anywhere at the classic post-ski spot.

By Allison Williams February 21, 2023

The new company behind the beloved bar plans to turn the classic wood-trimmed space into a Starbucks. (No, not really.)

The nachos are unreal. You think you know what "big nachos" means, but every imagining pales in comparison to the mound of chips blanketed in cheddar, chorizo, beans, and jalapeños served at the Snorting Elk Cellar Bar and Deli. The platter overtakes the table, dining companions disappear behind cheese still hot to the touch. There are bunny hills at the ski resort outside smaller than this veritable tortilla chip mountain.

Fortunately, these nacho Matterhorns aren't going anywhere, even though Crystal Mountain's Snorting Elk Bar—or just "the Elk" to locals—has a brand new owner.

John Rimelspach, best known as Remi, has worked at the Snorting Elk since 1989 and proudly notes that little has changed what he calls a "truly authentic watering hole for locals" since then. Open 58 years, the Bavarian-themed drinkery still has the low arched ceilings and brickwork that have defined the space for decades, the wooden chairs all hand-carved by original owner Leo Scheiblehner. Old-fashioned wood skis and woven snowshoes hang from the walls, and a real wood fire crackles in the corner, the hearth almost always scattered with drying ski gloves and helmets.

Split into a small food-service deli (kids allowed) and a bar with seats inside and out (adults only), the Elk sits close enough to the slopes to be ski-in but not really out; here the tradition of apres-ski starts before lunch. Besides nachos, the kitchen dishes pizzas, sandwiches, and European classics like schnitzel and goulash. In summer, the vibe shifts to a quieter tone and some closures.

The Snorting Elk is named for the animals who roam the region northeast of Mount Rainier—and a ski run called Snorting Elk Bowl.

The restaurant may form a quintessential part of the Crystal Mountain ski experience, but it sits outside the resort's ownership. In February, hospitality company Loge Camps acquired 70 percent of the bar, with the remaining piece retained by three local families. Loge brands itself as an outdoorsy place to stay, retrofitting tired motels into funky hangout spots in Bend, Leavenworth, and Westport, where amenities are more likely to be a wetsuit drying station for surfers than turndown service.

"We are very, very well aware that it is not to be touched," says Slate Olson, executive vice president of marketing for Loge Camps, of the new acquisition. "It is a monument that we want to respect and revere." The hotel brand also gained the trio of hotels at the ski hill base (The Village Inn, the Alpine Inn, and Quicksilver Lodge), as well as a hotel 11 miles down the road, formally Alta Crystal Resort. The hotels will get a deep refresh this summer, says Olson, but stresses that the only Snorting Elk  updates will involve back-of-house equipment: "I don't think we're even going to touch the carpet."

Locals nights, with beer specials and Trivial Pursuit games, remain, but Rimelspach sees a difference since Crystal Mountain Resort leveled much of its employee housing last year to build another parking lot. Lift operators, snowcat drivers, and maintenance crew now mostly reside an hour away in Enumclaw, unwilling to down booze before a snowy mountain drive home. A framed explanation of a practice called "auger" still sits on the bar—a complex set of rules for how ski patrollers buy rounds for each other when they mess up on-slope—but red coats have fallen away this year. 

Still, some things are constant. Sometimes when Remi enters the kitchen before the workday begins, he sees the "literally hundreds of bags of chips," waiting to be turned into nachos. "It's mind-blowing," he says. He stays at the Elk because of how locals and tourists mix, of how deep its history runs, and the adjacency to the slopes. "I smile at work because I skied for two hours before coming on," he says. When customers enter with similar grins, he recognizes the feeling.

Snorting Elk Cellar Bar and Deli

33818 Crystal Mountain Blvd, Enumclaw
Travel time from Seattle: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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