The Afterglow of Après-Ski
When the lifts shut down, the lodges heat up. On cold nights in N.H., the mountains really rock. Here’s our guide to where to go and what to wear, plus a recipe for a DIY après-ski hot toddy.
Prologue:The light fades outside the frosty panes of glass and you are finally, blissfully warm. Unforgiving ski boots are replaced by cloud-like Uggs lined in soft, thick fleece. The chatter of strangers and friends is background to your toddy glasses clinking a toast to the adventures of the sparkling day gone by. A taut arm pulls you near. You lean in, feeling warm breath on your neck when, suddenly, two yowling creatures appear before you, dripping wet and swatting each other with snow-encrusted socks.
“He put snow down my back,” screeches the smaller one, clad in orange Gore-Tex and a helmet fit for jousting. “He pushed me first,” whines the larger, smellier one in head-to-toe camouflage. At this, the taut arm detaches for a moment, breaking the spell. Then it reappears, this time with a few green bills in its outstretched palm. The creatures accept these, giggle something about hot chocolate and saltwater taffy and vanish. The magic is back, the flames in the enormous stone hearth warming more than just your nose as you snuggle in close to your companion who whispers, “The night is still young.”
At the end of a long day on the slopes, there’s refuge waiting for the skiers and snowboarders who’ve made their way to New Hampshire’s ski resorts. Oversized fireplaces, live blues music, microbrews and brick oven pizzas served with homemade sweet potato fries — these are the things that can make après ski far more than the 19th hole of winter sports. These are the things can make a day of braving challenging terrain in frigid winter temperatures worthwhile.
As any après ski aficionado will tell you, the pub in the lodge isn’t just the reward for hours spent carving through New Hampshire’s loose granular, it’s a whole other reason to show up. For families, après ski is the perfect transition between the lift and the SUV bound for home, a place to exchange stories and make sure all gloves and scarves are accounted for. After four, when most parents and kids depart, après ski becomes a bona fide scene. For singles, New Hampshire’s resort pubs are a treasure trove of possibilities, akin to discovering a place full of people who share one passion in common, two if you count a love of winter cocktails. For couples, reconnecting in the lodge after a day of chasing each other through the glades is the perfect way to cap off the day and kick off an evening of grown-up fun.
These days, New Hampshire’s mountain resorts are giving skiers and riders more of what they want, challenging and diverse terrain outside, and a cozy place to unwind with good food, drinks, and live music after the last run of the day. At the best of these, après ski isn’t just for the adventurous, but a place anyone can come to capture the magic, and if they’re lucky, perhaps even discover a little fireside romance in the indigo twilight of a cold winter’s day.
Ragged Mountain is arguably the only resort that’s easy to get to from everywhere in New Hampshire, but the question they hear most often is, “Where are you, exactly?” Tucked in scenic Danbury, between routes 93 and 89, Ragged is just 45 minutes from Concord and a half an hour south of Hanover and west of the Lakes Region.
With a laid-back and unpretentious atmosphere that belies its impressive elevation and high-tech operation, Ragged strikes the balance between a satisfying time in the snow and an accessible family feel, capped off by its excellent pub and restaurants, which provide ideal après ski atmosphere.
At the Overlook Bistro, Ragged’s newest restaurant, guests experience a more refined dining experience, enjoying beautifully prepared food with a stunning view. At Off-Piste Pizza, a wood-fired pizza oven and a variety of local brews on tap are tailor-made for a fast and hearty meal or between-run snack.
Tallulah’s Tavern, Ragged’s signature après ski pub, features an enormous three-sided fireplace welcoming enough to sit on, and large enough to incinerate whole logs. Tallulah’s is the place to swap ski stories, listen to music and scarf the kitchen’s delectable panini sandwiches. Friday nights feature free Buffalo wings. Live bands, most of them local, play on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Open until 8 (or later if it’s hopping), Tallulah’s is for the 21 and over crowd, although kids accompanied by parents are welcome. Better yet, parents can come in and relax with a great view of the mountain while the kids stay outside and play. This year, Ragged is debuting their all-natural terrain park Wildwoods, featuring jumps made from stone and rails cut from split logs. The bar features a great view of this fabulous new attraction.
With a six-person high-speed detachable lift, a friendly and committed staff and millions of dollars of recent improvements, Ragged is an undiscovered gem, an ideal place to spend a fun-filled day in the snow, and an even better après ski afternoon.
As one of New Hampshire’s largest ski resorts, Loon enjoys a reputation as a true destination mountain. Many skiers and riders say it’s their favorite in the state for the sheer variety of terrain and the world-class operation the mountain offers. With multiple peaks and a large-scale infrastructure, Loon is grand in every way, and is surrounded on all sides by the stunning White Mountains of northern New Hampshire.
Though it’s not a small resort, Loon does its best to provide the comfortable après ski atmosphere New Hampshire’s more quaint mountains come by naturally. Like everything else at Loon, there’s more than one option, in line with the resort’s “something for everyone” sensibility.
Younger crowds are drawn to the Paul Bunyan Room, a fun bar with more than 20 beers on tap, plus numerous other brews in bottles. The Bunyan Room is a great place to gather on the deck on a sunny afternoon and watch the action in the Superpipe, a featured attraction in one of Loon’s many terrain parks. The bar is also known for its parties, which attract après ski devotees to the mountain over and over again throughout the mountain’s long season.
For Loon’s more seasoned clientele, there’s Babe’s Blue Ox, which also stocks a full bar for fans of cocktails of all varieties. Babe’s followers are intensely loyal to the bar and count among them the “old timers” who have been coming to Loon for decades. The biggest party of the season takes place at Babe’s, the après ski party associated with the Briefcase Race, a fundraiser for the Faulker Hospital Breast Center. Charity aside, it’s a great time that goes late into the evening.
Both bars cater to afternoon après ski. Last call is usually around 6 p.m.
In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt conceived the Works Progress Administration, which created projects to provide employment for state and local infrastructure and resource development. While many counties got bridges, dams and roads, Belknap County in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region got Gunstock, which still exists today as one of the state’s most well-rounded ski areas.
In recent year’s Gunstock’s Commissioners have worked aggressively to expand the mountain’s offerings to make it year-round destination. But for those who love playing in snow, Gunstock is king, and the mountain now offers night skiing, racing, and tubing, with efficient lifts that make enjoying the resort easier than ever.
But for all Gunstock’s recent improvements and expansion, one thing that hasn’t changed (most assuredly by design) is the resort’s warm and welcoming pub atmosphere. For skiers and locals alike, Gunstock is a premier destination for winter libations and après ski done right.
Gunstock offers three bars, including the Powder Keg, a full service bar and restaurant located in the main lodge featuring live music galore and serving nachos, burgers and other pub fare. The Powder Keg also features as seating four of the mountain’s original 1937 lift chairs, from the first lift ever in New England. Just upstairs is the Pistol Pub, a more laid back, old school bar with a friendly local atmosphere. At the mountain’s summit lies the Panorama Pub, replete with observation deck and woodstove, reserved for those brave enough to après between runs.
While other resorts might offer three or more bars, Gunstock boasts a higher bar-to-lift ratio than most, cementing it as one of New Hampshire’s genuine party mountains. And with gorgeous trails, a friendly staff of mostly local folks and breathtaking views of majestic Lake Winnipesaukee, the skiing isn’t half bad, either.
Fans of Mount Sunapee can sum up in two words why they ski the resort year after year: super snow. But the resort, which has earned a reputation for having some of the state’s best quality natural and man-made snow (which translates to great skiing very late in the season), also has an ace up its sleeve.
Located in quaint Newbury on the shore of scenic Lake Sunapee, Mount Sunapee has a great family-oriented après-ski scene at its restaurant and bar, Goosefeathers Pub. Goosefeathers, the only place on the mountain that serves beer and liquor, is an ideal spot to tell tales and unwind after a day riding Sunapee’s impeccably-groomed corduroy. But don’t let the bar with its six microbrews on tap fool you … this is no hard-party adults-only scene. With large and comfortable tables, a wide variety of yummy fare like nachos and pizza and a warm and friendly waitstaff, Goosefeathers is après ski the whole family can enjoy.
Located on the second floor of Spruce Lodge, Goosefeathers has table service, a big screen TV for viewing sporting events and a wide variety of live entertainment and DJs. On several dates throughout the season, radio stations from around the state broadcast and run promotions at Goosefeathers, adding to the pub’s celebratory atmosphere. On New Year’s Eve, the mountain throws a party designed for families with young children. There’s a buffet dinner at 7 p.m. and fireworks to celebrate the New Year at 9.
Goosefeathers is open seven days during the ski season from 11 a.m. to 5 or 5:30 p.m.
For lovers of family-friendly skiing without pretense, Pats is the perfect destination. For lovers of authentic pub après ski, Pats is better than perfect, it’s ideal.
The Sled Pub, located upstairs in Pats’ base lodge, has all the elements après ski addicts crave. With a high-tech draft beer system with eight ice-cold brews to choose from, the area’s best buffalo tenders and free all-you-can-eat fresh popcorn, Sled Pub has cemented itself as a great destination any night of the week for skiers and locals alike.
After the dinner crowd departs, Sled Pub turns into a bar that would be considered a good time anywhere, and all are welcome to stay and enjoy the fun. Crowds vary from the omnipresent Pats instructors and staff, some of whom have been fixtures for decades, to chardonnay-sipping girls’ night out groups taking advantage of the mountain’s evening lift ticket rate, one of the best deals in the state.
Sled Pub is open until midnight Monday through Saturday during ski season and until 6 on Sundays. This works out well for the late-night ski and snowboard crowd, some of the area’s most enthusiastic winter warriors. Daytime hours work out well for non-skiing parents, too. Some have been known to bring their laptops and take advantage of the mountain’s zippy wifi while relaxing in the pub waiting for their kids to finish ski school programs.
Weekends feature a variety of live entertainment, including Pats’ famous Friday Open Mic night.
For warmer afternoons and evenings, a large deck replete with toasty stand heaters makes a great place to enjoy libations after the dozens of runs Pats smaller size affords the all-day skier.
Pats Peak is the home mountain to skiers and snowboarders from Concord to Hillsborough, but its efficient operation and friendly atmosphere, varied terrain with killer views and dynamite après ski at the Sled Pub make it a destination well worth seeking from all parts of New Hampshire. NH
Epilogue:Even in thick gloves, his hand is strong on the knob as it shifts the car into four-wheel drive. Looking up through the glass moon roof, you can trace partial constellations in the stars that are visible between the Fisher boards secured tightly in your roof rack.
In the back seat, the two creatures sleep. They’ve traded their armor for fleece pajamas, and their cheeks are fairy-tale pink from the winter wind of the slopes. They snore.
The car’s cabin is lit only by moonlight and its reflection off snow, but it’s not too dark for you to admire the outline of his face, or to see the curve of his smile as he whispers again, “The night is still young.” And for one perfect moment, your toes curling as you recall the amber flicker of the roaring fire reflected in his eyes, you’re young, too.
Staying OverSome lodges provide accommodations for overnight stays, but there are always hospitable spots in the vicinity, though you should plan ahead with reservations.
Ragged Mountain has onsite lodging and The Inn at Danbury is just 10 minutes away. (603) 768-3318, www.innatdanbury.com
Loon Mountain recommends the Mountain Club on Loon in Lincoln, (800) 229-7829, www.mtnclub.com.
Gunstock Mountain Resort is just 15 minutes from any number of Lakes Region lodging opportunities, like the Lighthouse Inn B&B, (603) 366-5432, www.lighthouseinnbb.com.
Mt. Sunapee offers ski & stay packages with nearby accommodations like the tiny 1806 Inn at Mount Sunapee, (603) 763-2040, www.1806inn.com.
Ski and stay packages at Pats Peak can get you a night at the Best of NH award-winning Colby Hill Inn, (603) 428-3281, www.colbyhillinn.com.
Make It a More Grand EventAprès-ski drinking, dining and dancing at its most regal and voluptuous is to be found where the state’s winter hospitality was perfected, in one of New Hampshire’s Grand Hotels. The Mt. Washington Hotel & Resort’s Great Hall offers a big fire to cozy up to. Or party at the Base Lodge with live entertainment on weekends.
Getting WarmerStaying in for the night? Cuddle up by the home fires with a hot toddy from your own bar.
Farmer’s apple jack
For one serving in a small 8-ounce snifter.
4 ounces fresh local apple cider
1 teaspoon mulling spice
1 ounce Flag Hill or Cabin Fever Maple Liqueur (both from local producers)
1/2 ounce Laird’s Applejack brandy
Warm all ingredients on the stove for 15 minutes, but do not bring to a boil or the alcohol will burn off.
Rim the snifter with a brandy butter or use the Buttershotts poured onto a small plate. Microwave briefly to liquefy. Dip in the rim and then dip the rim into cinnamon sugar. Carefully pour in the hot liquids and garnish with an apple quarter.
Recipe can be multiplied, but add the mulling spice to taste.
Recipe by Jared Bracci, head mixologist at Stella Blue (formerly Manhattan on Pearl) in Nashua