Scandinavians may have invented the sport of downhill skiing, but the French perfected it. Après-ski, which literally translates to “after-ski,” is a time-honored tradition, as essential to skiing as dodging moguls on a double black diamond run. At ski resorts around the world, powder hounds, ski bums and park rats can be found socializing and celebrating their success on the mountain with a round or two in classic après fashion.
This late-afternoon activity is so popular that many snow bunnies skip the lifts altogether and simply show up for the après part of the day, creating a winter drinking culture unto itself. Whether skiers are looking to cool down, warm up or simply test out their ski jargon, après has something for everyone. We asked six professional ski bums from the Rocky Mountains to Japan to tell us which cocktail is best after a day on the slopes.
Yard Sale (Horn & Cantle Saloon, Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Mont.)
In ski jargon, a “yard sale” is when you wipe out on the mountain and your stuff (poles, skis, goggles) goes everywhere. “What I want after skiing all day is something that goes straight to the face,” says Stephen Gill, the bar manager at Horn & Cantle Saloon. “The whole premise of the drink is that it’ll give you the confidence to get back up after you yard-sale.”
His high-octane concoction is made with bourbon, rye, calvados, sweet vermouth, bitters and sugar. It’s served on a single rock and garnished with a lemon twist and a cherry. To make it more Montana, Gill barrel-ages the finished cocktail for about three weeks. It’s served at the resort saloon but, he says, “it’s like a secret-menu kind of deal.”
Cache Stash (Bore Tide Bar, Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska)
For serious skiers, Alaska is an undiscovered playground. Those lucky enough to be in the know, however, flock to Alyeska Resort, 40 miles outside of Anchorage. It’s home to 76 trails and more than 1,600 acres of powder perfection, made possible by nearly 700 inches of annual snowfall. The resort is also home to world-class food and drink offerings, including the mighty Cache Stash.
“This cocktail was originally designed for our annual Blueberry Festival in August,” says Heather Ruhle, the beverage manager at the resort. “The Valley of Girdwood explodes with amazing blueberries every year, so we wanted to celebrate that and incorporate it in a cocktail. The drink comes out a beautiful deep purple. It was so popular we decided to keep it year round at Bore Tide Bar at the top of the mountain.” Plus, blueberries are an antioxidant superfood, so technically it’s healthy.
Flinn’s Après Steazy (Jimmy’s, Aspen, Colo.)
“The days of après everywhere are over compared to 20 to 30 years ago,” says Jimmy Yeager, the owner of Jimmy’s. He says that high-speed lifts and other technologies have shortened the ski day, causing skiers to wrap up on the mountain earlier. Yeager’s favorite après cocktail is the Flinn’s Après Steazy (created by Flinn Pomeroy). “I chose it because it’s delicious and balanced. The amaro is fortified by the rye whiskey and balanced by the bitter and sweet of the Campari and St-Germain.” The drink evokes the surrounding area perfectly. “Like Aspen, this cocktail is highly cultured and at the same time very approachable.”
Porter's Old Fashioned (O.P. Rockwell, Park City, Utah)
Park City is a place where everyone gets in on the après action. “You want to have a great evening out on the town, but if you wrap things up too late or let it go too far, it could jeopardize snagging that first chair the next morning,” says Xania Woodman, a bartender at O.P. Rockwell. “So the après hour is a great time to have a drink, unwind, warm up and chat about vertical feet, total snowfall and that last run.”
Woodman says the Porter’s Old Fashioned is the cocktail to sate your après thirst. “It’s strong, sweet and simple—perfect for post-exertion and easing into the evening,” she says. “Alpine Traveler's Rest American single-malt whiskey is 90-proof, which is perfect for standing up to the smoky aromatic bitters and malty beer syrup. Combined with good ice—hopefully, the only ice one has seen all day—this Old Fashioned riff hits all the right notes.”Continue to 5 of 6 below.
Rumplesnuggler (Caliente, Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe, Calif.)
“The après scene in Tahoe is different all around the lake,” says Grace Rainwater, a bartender at Caliente. The North Shore, where Rainwater bartends, is known for having a more local, less corporate feel. “As a local, coming down off the mountain has a mellow feel to the day, compared to summer when the sun stays out later and people are usually more in a party mode.”
Nothing can compare to a warm, boozy cocktail to reheat your frozen bones. The Rumplesnuggler is made with hot chocolate, Baileys and Rumple Minze peppermint schnapps, plus whipped cream on top, if you want it. “It tastes like winter in your mouth,” she says. “And it definitely screams Lake Tahoe. Rumple Minze is one of the top sellers in the area, as is Baileys for coffee in the morning.”
Local Old Fashioned (Bar Gyu+, Niseko, Japan)
Japan has incredible skiing, but après-ski culture is just making its way to the Land of the Rising Sun. “Ski holidays were made super popular during the Japanese boom (the late ’80s and ’90s) by the film ‘Watashi Wo Ski Ni Tsuretete’ (loosely translated to ‘Take Me Skiing’),” says Hisashi Watanabe, the founder and bartender of Bar Gyu+, aka The Fridge.
Bar Gyu+ is one of the oldest bars in town, its entrance an unassuming fridge door almost buried under snow. The Local Old Fashioned consists of a blend of Nikka whiskies, including locally distilled Yoichi, as well as citrus sourced from southern Japan. “It’s a bit strong at first,” he says. “But you can sit with it and let the ice melt while you talk over your day on the slopes.”