Happy in Hartsel 

With ski season about to drop in on us, it's once again time to discuss the most often overlooked, yet most basic element necessary to a productive day on the slopes: breakfast.

If you're like most devoted snow people, you hit the road ridiculously early to make it to the slopes to catch the first chair up. You might actually manage a cup of coffee for a jump-start, but unless you still live with your mom and she's Mrs. Cleaver, chances are that a good home-cooked meal, or any meal, doesn't happen.

Who wants to get up any earlier to prepare it? And besides, you can't eat that early. The only problem with that reasoning is, that about an hour into the drive, your stomach starts to rumble, and you get a little shaky. And that's no way to begin a day on the snow.

Halfway between Colorado Springs and Salida, 47 miles west of Woodland Park, 39 miles out of Divide, lies the answer to that breakfast dilemma -- the town of Hartsel.

Possibly, Hartsel is best known for being the last good bathroom stop on the way to the slopes if your chosen route is via Highway 24 West. Most likely, you've stopped at least once to use the bathroom at the Conoco station and afterward, got back into the car and continued on your merry way, not realizing what else Hartsel had to offer or, most importantly, that breakfast salvation was just mere feet away at the HOB Caf and Saloon.

The HOB is nothing too fancy from the outside. In fact, except for a few neon beer signs in the window, there's not even a sign on the outside of the wood building announcing its name. But we know what really counts is on the inside, and on the inside of this cafe are possibly the best homemade biscuits and gravy, exceptional down-home and friendly service, endless coffee refills and entertaining banter back and forth among the locals.

Some say the HOB stands for Hartsel's Only Bar. The real story is that it stands for Hartsel's Only Bitch. Honest. "She's my mother-in-law and the one that cooked your food," a waitress once told me.

She's a damn good cook. All breakfasts -- omelets, pancakes, French toast, eggs, steaks and, definitely, the biscuits and gravy -- are home cooked, served in huge portions. By far, this is the biggest, best-tasting and most reasonably-priced food to be had before entering the realm of icky, overpriced ski-lodge food.

As far as breakfasts go, this beats anything June Cleaver could ever cook up. But if, for some reason, you're still opposed to actually stopping for a meal that takes longer than 90 seconds, try the ol' Conoco station two buildings over. And not just for a potty break. The fine folks there have actually anticipated your type and stocked their shelves with energy bars. Many flavors.

Next to the Conoco station is a place called Bayou Salado Trading Post. Unless you really try, you can't miss it. There are teepees in the front yard, and the building itself is bright yellow, with a life-sized carving of a guy on a rocking chair out front. There's some tacky stuff for sale inside, but by golly, this place has top-notch lattes and cappuccinos. Unfortunately, it's not open until 10 a.m., but it is open for the ride home and an excellent place to refuel on caffeine to get you down the pass.

However you look at it, Hartsel is like a mountain oasis, offering many amenities for the skier. So go ahead and deprive yourself of breakfast on the way up or caffeine on the way down, because you always get one more chance in Hartsel.



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