The Afterglow of Après-Ski

When the lifts shut down, NH's ski lodges are heating up.

It’s the time of day for winding down, and as the light fades outsides the frosty panes of glass, you are finally, blissfully warm. Unforgiving ski boots have been replaced by cloud-like Uggs lined in soft, thick fleece. The boisterous chatter of strangers and friends is background to your toddy glasses clinking in a toast to the adventures of the sparkling day gone by, and to romantic whispers of the evening yet to come. A taut arm pulls you near. You lean in to canoodle, feeling his 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 by 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 then vanish.

And as quickly as it disappeared, 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. “The night is still young,” he murmurs in your ear.

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 resorts. Oversize fireplaces, live blues music, microbrews and brick oven pizzas served with homemade sweet potato fries; these are the things that make après ski far more than the nineteenth 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 spend 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 at one passion in common, two if you count a love of winter cocktails. For couples, reconnection 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 Danbury, New Hampshire

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 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. Fridays 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 6-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.

Loon Mountain Lincoln, New Hampshire

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 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 it’s 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 over twenty 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 in 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 PM.

Gunstock Mountain, Gilford, New Hampshire

In the 1930’s, 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 Country 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 premiere destination for winter libation 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 Winnipesauke, the skiing isn’t half bad, either.

Mount Sunapee Newbury, New Hampshire

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 the Sunapee’s impeccably groomed corduroy. But don’t let the bar with it’s 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 wait staff, 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 DJ’s. 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 New Year’s party designed for families with young children. There’s a buffet dinner at 7, and fireworks to celebrate the New Year at nine.

Goosefeathers is open seven days during ski season from 11 to 5 or 5:30 PM.

Pats Peak, Henniker, New Hampshire

For lovers of family-friendly skiing without pretense, Pats is the perfect destination. For lovers of authentic pub après ski, Pat’s 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 8 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 Pat’s 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 Pat’s smaller size affords the all-day skier.

Pat’s 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.

Even in thick gloves, his hand is strong on the knob as it shifts the car into four-wheel drive. Under a curved canopy of branches laden with snow, you are driven along a still lane that traverses busier byways, cutting a short cut to home where another hearth lies dark, waiting for a match to ignite it. 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. He turns to look at you. “What a day,” he says, and you smile in reply, the memory of snuggling next to him in the lodge still warming you from the inside out.

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 they spent hours slicing through on their impossibly short skis. They are snoring, oblivious to the sparks that have followed their parents from the pub’s stone chimney and down this country road toward home.

The car’s cabin is lit only by moonlight and its reflection off snow, but its not too dark for you to admire the outline of his face, or to see the curve of his smile as he says four words, barely loud enough for you to hear. “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.

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