Let’s get real: how many of you hit the slopes for the skiing, and how many hit the slopes knowing that, come day’s end, regardless of snow conditions or tram laps completed, the good times will roll on a sun-washed deck, in a stuffy dive bar, or across a sprawling base village “beach” complete with local draft beers and live band playing pop country covers? Yeah, we thought so. All the more reason to be grateful to our Nordic ancestors who invented après-ski, our friends in the Alps who coined the term, and our European adventurers who brought the time-honored tradition to the slopes of US ski resorts.
Perhaps to your disappointment, après ski is not simply the art of getting sloshed with friends after a day on the slopes. The tradition comes from a much more refined practice of ending a long, cold day with spiked cider or mulled wine, huddling with friends to unwind before heading home for household responsibilities. Granted, it later shifted into the more raucous scenes of the popular Alps and the Andes, where some skiers went the way of massive parties, swanky clubs, and even the practice of all-day après. Today it can take on many forms: from a Glühwein on a slopeside hut in Chamonix to shotskis on a bar in Colorado. Regardless, après ski is a part of ski culture to be enjoyed by all. When it comes to après skiing like a pro in North America, there are some key things to consider to ensure the best possible experience. Keep reading for our top 6 rules of après ski.
6. Look for live music.
The best après parties are the ones with live music – always. Whether it’s a favorite local band rocking out under the tram dock or solo pianist jazzing in the Four Seasons lounge, there’s something about live music that sets the stage for good après times. Stick to bars with outside venues on sunny spring afternoons, and opt for those raucous ski bar classics on chilly weekends in January. If throwing back shotskis of Jaeger on the bar isn’t your scene, head to luxury hotel lounges, which often boast super crafty cocktails, outdoor fire pits, and comfy couches.
5. Follow a local.
By now it’s a well-known fact that the best way to find the most happening spots on a ski getaway (or any vacation, for that matter) is to simply follow the locals. Ask around. I know it’s more comfortable to sift through reviews and insider guides on your iphone, but this is the time to strike up a conversation instead. In mountain towns, the residents who live and breathe the skiing lifestyle always have the low down on the best places to après on any given day – and trust me, this can shift weekly. One slopeside bar may have been “the place to be” last Friday, but a little-known hole in the wall dive tucked away somewhere in the base village may have the best specials this week. If you want the hottest party, this is your best shot.
4. Get the bar’s best drink.
At the Spur in Jackson Hole it’s the spicy margarita, at The Montage in Deer Valley it’s the spiked hot chocolate, and anywhere out West it’s the happy meal: a shot of whiskey and a PBR tall boy. Wherever you are, resist the urge to get your usual happy hour libation and opt for the bar’s specialty cocktail. It’s the best way to (literally) get a taste of the mountain town culture, and probably a story behind the drink as well.
3. Bring your sunnies – and maybe your shoes.
Back in the day, après was always enjoyed boots-still-on. These days, après can be an all-day (or all-night) affair, and it’s best to be prepared. Stash sunglasses for sunny spring days, warm layers for chilly evenings when the sun goes down, and comfortable shoes so you can party long into the night sans clunky ski boots. In some swanky spots – like 39 Degrees in Aspen – you’ll even want a swim suit. If you happen to head to a luxury lounge, there might be a boot check and slippers available. Most resorts have small day lockers where you can stash your stuff – snag one early before they run out on busy weekends.
2. Know the way home.
When I was a kid I remember going to Vail for closing week, and watching in awe from Vail Village as hard-core après skiers made their way down from the mid-mountain lodge – more than a little tipsy in their turns down the mountain as the sun went down. Towards mid-March especially, you’ll find more and more après happenings on the mountain: whether they’re official gatherings at lodge decks or unofficial shindigs in secret woodsy spots. Regardless, remember that you need to ski down – and if you’re in a slopeside rental that requires lift access, be sure you’ll be able to get there after lifts close.
1. Kick back, connect, be happy.
As you know, après ski started with the sole purpose of connecting with friends after a great day on the slopes, reliving the good moments and laughing about the others. Après is the time to let go, to recognize that a day on the slopes is a good day, to enjoy good music, good drinks, and good stories with great company. Let the tradition live on.