Travel Guide for Top Apres-Ski Destinations

Aspen, Colorado is a world-famous ski destination. It’s equally famous for its après-ski scene. You’ll find countless hangouts within blocks of the Aspen Mountain gondola. Several are legendary—in part because you never know when someone will walk in, pull off a stocking cap, unwind a muffler, and reveal a famous face.

But celebs aren’t essential for great après-ski. Great après-ski is 25% good food and spirits and 75% camaraderie. And as many skiers and snowboarders know, the nature of their sports creates quick and easy camaraderie among perfect strangers.

In other words, anywhere there’s skiing, there’s the potential for great après-ski. Here are some restaurants and pubs we think you’ll enjoy on your next ski vacation.

Aspen/Snowmass, Aspen, Colorado

The phrase “if walls could talk” was coined with something like the J-Bar in mind. This classic downtown saloon inside the historic Hotel Jerome, built in 1889, was the original après-ski party spot at the crazy dawn of “hot dog” skiing almost 50 years ago. But even before ski bums came to Aspen there were silver miners, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the J-Bar was the gathering spot for “après-mine.” Today it’s known for its splendid pub cuisine, its unpretentiously upscale aura (especially the super-casual section aptly called The Living Room) and its knack for attracting celebrities. It’s also the only place you can order an “Aspen Crud,” the most famous cocktail in town since Prohibition. Back then, the hotel could legally serve only vanilla milkshakes. But folks who whispered instructions to add “the crud” got their shakes spiked with 6 ounces of bourbon. Today you get just 2 ounces, but it’s ’s still mighty potent.

apres-ski-beerJust a few blocks farther from the resort is the epicenter of Aspen—the base of Aspen Mountain. Personal shoppers and window shoppers buzz in and out of stores like Gorsuch and Loro Piana. Skiers and non-skiers line up at the Silver Queen Gondola depot for 20-minute rides to the top of the mountain. And celebs and non-celebs crowd the iconic outdoor patio of Ajax Tavern. Ajax Tavern is hailed for signature lunch, dinner and après menu items, highlighted by the Ajax Double Cheeseburger with Truffle Fries, created from sustainably raised meats and fresh local produce. Its après hours are 3 to 6 p.m., during which time you can enjoy seafood and raw bar selections and toast your day’s adventure with stylish cocktails and trendy microbrews. But the bar also is known as a magnet for famous visitors. And admit it, there’s no better feeling than telling friends how you bumped into a sports star with his family—except maybe from bragging where. Indeed, you’ll find Ajax Tavern on many lists of the world’s best après-ski destinations.

Of course, Aspen is pricier than other destinations. But the best part about ski vacations is that wherever you ski, there always are other skiers. And wherever skiers meet and mingle, you have the potential for great après-ski experiences to enhance your ski vacations.

Loon Mountain, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Loon Mountain is a popular family ski destination, but its terrain parks draw young adults as well. The top après-ski spots here stay successful by making both groups feel welcome. On the mountain, nobody’s done it better longer than The Paul Bunyan Room. Located at the base of the gondola, the Bunyan Room is the area’s original après-ski haven and a favorite of locals for decades. Some of the true stories originating here rival the Tall Tales of the lumberjack whose imagined likeness graces painting after painting on the walls. During the day, the place is abuzz with folks stopping in on their way to the gondola, huddled for a fireside lunch, or toasting fellow skiers from the wraparound deck. But when the slopes close, the energy ramps up—especially on Saturdays, when “Bunyan’s Legendary Nights” bring live music from some of the best bands in New England.

Saturday night patrons often turn up early the next day at another slope-side après hangout, Babe’s Blue Ox Lounge, for “Bloody Mary Mornings.” It’s like a salad bar for bloody Marys: Add shrimp, celery and other goodies. Fix your drink your way.

If you’re looking for a restaurant in town, you’ll enjoy The Common Man—a converted family home with a huge fireplace—warm and welcoming to families off the slopes.

ski-restaurant-boyneBoyne Mountain, Boyne City, Michigan

Boyne Mountain skiers keep late hours. Therefore, so do most of the best après-ski establishments there. Selected runs on the mountain are lit and stay open till 9 p.m. four days a week; places like Everett’s Restaurant & Lounge at the base and Pierson’s Grille & Spirits in the Pedestrian Village accommodate late arrivals. Both keep full dinner menus wide open until late, but they provide complementary après experiences. They represent two great choices based on your mood.

Pierson’s, smaller and more heavily ski-themed, generally will attract you fresh off the slopes. Still bundled, you’ll come in to enjoy a meal, then maybe grab a drink and migrate to the patio to swap more stories. You might even line up a few friends, literally, for a “shot-ski”—enjoyed from four glasses affixed to a ski blade.

Everett’s, meanwhile, is more likely to be your après après destination. You’re welcome to come in right off the mountain, but you’d also blend in if you first stopped at your villa to shower and change. Everett’s is named for Everett Kircher, who brought skiing here in 1947 after buying the mountain for $1. Its décor reflects the great innovator’s interests as an all-around sportsman. You can dine next to a 600-gallon tank full of trout from the Boyne River.

Unlike Pierson’s and Everett’s, the Snowflake Lounge on the mountain switches to pub fare later in the evening. But chances are if you’re dropping in then, your après appetite is for music and nightlife—and you won’t be disappointed. Super casual during the day, with a big, comfortable seating area and a mountain-view balcony, the Snowflake amps up at night and usually stays that way till 1 a.m. closing.

Finally, it would be difficult in any review of après-ski to omit an establishment called Apres-Ski Pub. But what’s truly unique about this family-friendly spot is its location—inside Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark. You and your ski goggles well might find yourself seated next to someone wearing pool goggles!

Christmas Mountain, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Mulligan’s Sports Bar N’ Grill, the year-round restaurant at Christmas Mountain Village, gets with the spirit during ski season. Come in after a fun day on the mountain to relive your exploits with fellow skiers over drinks—including shot-skis. You can also pick a seat location with a view of the hill and warm up with a hot meal. And if you need a quick midday bite but don’t want mealtime to cut too deeply into ski time, pop into Jolly’s, located on the first floor below Mulligan’s. You won’t find entrees or as broad a bar selection as upstairs, but you’ll get the quick refueling you’ll need before hopping back on the lift. You might also favor Jolly’s at the end of the day if your après ski habits include burning off leftover energy on arcade games.

altitudes-ski-barArizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff, Arizona

The uniqueness skiing or snowboarding in the San Francisco Peaks of north central Arizona justifies the two-hour drive from Phoenix. Still, it’s a long ride back, and you’ll need to stop for a bite somewhere. Here are three reasons to recommend family-friendly Altitudes Bar & Grill. 1) It’s right on your way back through Flagstaff (and there’s plenty of parking, a rare perk downtown). 2) There’s a wide menu of burgers, salads, pastas, homemade soups and other pub favorites, plus intriguing craft brews. 3) The ski ambiance is authentic because the husband-and-wife co-owners love skiing and understand their clientele. Co-owner Lynda Fleischer is a certified instructor who coaches the local junior team.

The place has a ski lodge look and feel, with ski-themed specials such as “train shots” (shot-skis served in salute every time a freight engines roar by). Still, Altitudes generally doesn’t get too wild. That’s good, because you couldn’t join in anyway given the drive ahead (unless someone volunteers to be designated driver).

Snow Summit/Bear Mountain, Big Bear Lake, California

You’ll find excellent options after a day on the SoCal slopes. One is reliable and time-tested. The other is fairly new and promises to be a great après gathering spot of the future.

Nottinghams Tavern is a large two-story complex featuring several distinct dining areas and lounges, some family-friendly. The building itself dates to the 1960s, but its furnishings come from various times and place. Some examples: a revolving door set from the old Marshall Fields in New York; a 120-year-old structure now functioning as hostess station but previously porte-cochere to the New Jersey home of a reputed mobster; a bar salvaged from a Prohibition joint on Chicago’s notorious Rush Street; and a Nickelodeon player piano reportedly once owned by Don Ho. You’ll find a full selection of pub fare and entrees, and live music. And upstairs in Friar Tuck’s Tavern you can even enjoy darts tournaments and shuffleboard.

Big Bear Lake Brewing Co. opened in 2014 and has locals excited about its long-term après potential. The microbrewery’s draft selections include in-house labels from an award-winning in-house brewmaster and fermented in tanks on public display. Its gourmet menu features entrees, burgers and brick-oven pizzas.

Photo Credits: Robert Scoble and teofilo via cc