Yurt - a circular tent of felt or skins on a framework of poles, used by nomads of Mongolia.

Thank goodness for Webster's. I admit a four-letter word, buried in the back of the dictionary is one I would have missed in Reader's Digest, "Increase Your Word Power" quiz. Yurt is not an American household word. And even with four letters, it missed inclusion in your first-grade reading primer. Neither did you practice the word for the school spelling bee.In its native Mongolian environment a yurt protects a nomadic family, housing the portable contents of a yak-transported lifestyle. Mongolian herdsmen travel from used pasture to unused pasture, packing and unpacking their mobile home.

In Big Cottonwood Canyon's Solitude resort, the yurt is unpacked and settled for the cross-country ski season.

Settled along the Nordic track and filled with food and dining ambience.

Solitude is introducing a combination cross-country skiing/gourmet dining adventure for the winter season. The ski trek covers a half mile, distance enough to work up an appetite but close enough to accommodate novice skiers. Snowmobile transportation is available for non-skiers.

The evening adventure is available for group parties or individual diners with advance reservations, at $37.50, including ski rental, ski guide and instruction, dinner and gratuity. Beverage service is extra.

The dictionary fails to adequately describe the extraordinary sensations attached to this distinctive dining experience.

Imagine a starlit sky peeking through the pines as skiers glide along the track. Anticipate the bumps and climbs of the trail, smoothing out in the downhill slide to the destination. Absorb the warmth of the wood-burning stove as the yurt flap is lifted.

Then relax. Dinner is served.

Surrounded by canvas and lodgepoles, chef Steven Seftel creates a series of ethnic dining experiences.

Seftel, acknowledged the challenge involved in preparing a five-course dinner on the trail. "Part of the preparation is done is advance, then we transport everything to the yurt via snowmobile. I like a challenge and I like the unique opportunity to have so much influence on the menu and total dining experience. It's a new idea that's never been done here before and I'm excited to be a part of it."

The local yurt dining adventure was inspired by a similar experiences in Idaho and Colorado.

Bob Jonas of Sun Valley Trekking operates two yurts featuring a variety of menus. "We find this night out tops the seasonal to-do list of our destination skiers and our local residents. A once-a-season adventure, our guests describe it as a `can't miss event' at Sun Valley. People who come here ski Baldy and do the evening tour."

Jonas' experience guided Chris Allaire, nordic center director, in the establishment of Solitude's facilities.

Then Gary DeSeelhorst, resort owner, recalled his experience with a Colorado concession. "I traveled with a man named Mace in Ashcroft, Colo. He ran dog sleds in the Army, then, after retirement, set up the rides near the ski resort in Telluride. For years, we'd go with Mace, he'd cook in a yurt, fix a simple meal and read poetry to you. The experience was so exhilarating that it filled me with a desire to do something like it here."

But the Solitude yurt was stationed in the back country near White Pine Canyon - too great a distance for general purpose use.

"When we decided to move the yurt and implement this idea, we had three sites in mind," De Seelhorst explained. "We wanted the beginner to be able to get here, but we also wanted the yurt to be convenient to groups interested in a longer ski workout. The final site is about 20 minutes from the lodge and covers a fairly straightforward route but is also located on the longer track."

With environmental approval secured, the yurt was relocated.

"As we looked at the angle of the newly laid plank floor, we laughed," Allaire recalled. "I remember asking `Are we operating a fun house or what? Will the dishes really stay on the tables?' A friend and I took the jack from my car, cranking the foundation up in different places and stuffing rounds of wood under it to make it workable. We finally decided a slanted floor would be part of the uniqueness of dining in the yurt."

Another unusual feature of yurt dining invites guests to surround Seftel, who is also chef at Brighton's Blind Miner Restaurant, as he completes meal preparation.

Allaire explained, "We intend to put the chef in the middle of the group; that's part of the ambience of the dinner, to have access to that intimate contact with the man cooking dinner. Preparation of the meal is a focal point, but it's also fun for Steve to interface with the dining public."

Whether you find a yurt dictionary definition or not, you will find an unsurpassed encounter with a mountain trail, an unusual winter shelter and a five-course gourmet dinner at Solitude this season.


Recipes listed:

Yam Mouselline

Braised Cabbage Stuffed with Mint

Jicama, Roast Pepper and Goat Cheese Salad with Lime Chili Powder Dressing

Fruit Chestnut Custard Cups