Evolution of Après

By Louise Hudson

Sixty minutes of half-price Happy Hour doesn’t hack it any more at North American ski resorts. Après is augmenting into a more aggressively competitive arena with some restaurants and hotels offering two Happy Hour sessions in the same night – for example, Altezza at The Peaks Resort, Telluride, which has 2-6pm half price drinks and appies and the same again 7:30-9pm. In Canmore, Hy5 opened last season with an entire ‘happy evening’ with $5.55 drinks and appies all evening. And The Limelight Hotels – in Aspen, Snowmass, and Ketchum – have four-hour happy hours with live music.

Here are some newest categories in today’s rapidly evolving après arena:

Guided Après

There are now guided après-ski tours at Heavenly, Tahoe to make sure of stellar experiences off the slopes. Big White has a self-guided Walk, Dine & Wine Tour which takes in three vibrant village venues with a different wine and food pairing in each. Bar Hop Whistler cleverly links four of the Gibbons après spots starting from the ultra-popular Longhorn Saloon, pivotally positioned by the main Whistler lift stations. “We’ve already put 10,000 people through this,” says CEO Joey Gibbons – star of Bravo TV’s  Après Ski show. “The staff at the Longhorn are incentivized to put people on Bar Hop, they get $10 per person.” Always on top of new trends, Gibbons uses his venues as “billboards” for his other businesses: “While there’s a captive audience for two hours in a bar, we can tell them about Jonny Foon’s cedar skis, our beer, and other products we’re selling, to connect them to the Whistler environment in a unique way.”

Parties on the Piste

Used to be just a European phenomenon, but tabletop dancing, often in ski boots, has definitely made it to North America. Whether it’s the piste patio at Aspen’s Cloud 9, with champagne guns gushing, or at Merlin’s at the foot of Blackcomb, après has got more energetic. Heavenly’s Unbuckle party – atop the gondola at Tamarack Lodge – runs every day from 3:30-5:30 with DJs, half-priced pints and pours, food specials and different themes attracting hundreds of revellers.

Authenticity

Whistler’s Pan Pacific Mountainside transported an entire Irish pub to rebuild right inside its hotel with a patio onto the pistes. The Dubh Linn Gate has been a rocking après spot ever since, with locals and visitors captivated by its authentic décor, homemade Irish food, craft and draft beer, and live Celtic music every day. At Panorama, the Elkhorn Cabin is an original hand-hewn, log workman’s cabin from the Elkhorn Ranch in the valley below the resort. “The Elkhorn Cabin was gingerly transported up the slopes of Panorama back in the early 2000s to perch halfway up the mountain and has been serving lunch and après dinner ever since,” says Clarissa Amaro, Marketing, Media & Customer Relations.

Ritzy Renos

Gone are the days of the grungy après-ski saloon, it’s all about mountain modern and city-chic gastro bars. Sun Peak’s Cahilty Creek has recently been renovated into a trendy taproom with a new bar, modern-rustic décor, wishlist washrooms, and a modish menu including vegan and gluten-free options. With ski-in allure, the two-hour happy hour is attracting attention from locals and tourists with $5.50 appetizers and pours. Similarly, SilverStar’s trendy Den Bar & Bistro is focusing on organic, less processed, locally sourced fare with plenty of veggie, vegan, and gluten-free input – notably, gluten-free garlic cheese bread. At the nearby Red Antler, the chef is vegetarian and many of the kitchen staff vegans, so despite a meat emphasis, there’s a broad range of more Millennial menu options.

More S’mores

Marshmology at Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe with homemade flavoured marshmallows right by the Northstar slopes; a cute Camper Van giving out S’mores at the firepit patio at Four Seasons Whistler; Scottish-themed S’mores carts at Aspen Snowmass – these are just some of the free S’mores parties popping up at ski resorts. It’s reached Canada, too, particularly at the Lake Louise Inn Gazebo which hosts an après ski bonfire party with complimentary S’mores and hot chocolate every Saturday. Four times a week Panorama, BC runs a guided 90-minute twilight snowshoe forest tour, ending with S’mores around a riverside campfire alongside the river. And tabletop S’mores are trending as a dessert – for example at Big White’s Globe Café and The Loft, Heavenly Village (which, unusually, also has a theatre with adult magic shows).

Wine Tasting

Among other freebies at Four Seasons Whistler is the 4pm wine tasting at Sidecut Restaurant, featuring generous pours of BC wines. Increasingly, local wines are featuring at ski resorts during festivals – e.g. Sun Peaks Winter Wine Fest and Beaver Creek’s Winter Culinary Weekend – and showing up on wine lists such as Allred’s, Telluride, which has its own red wine made in collaboration with local Colorado producer, Sutcliffe Vineyards.

Top of the World

Whether it’s for the views or the heady high altitude air, peak parties are trending. Squaw Valley holds a Sunset Happy Hour at the top of the Aerial Tram to capture multi-coloured photo opps from the warmth of the Terrace Restaurant. Kicking Horse’s Eagle’s Eye – Canada’s highest restaurant – is the scene for lavish lunches, afternoon appies before the last run down, and gondola-served starlight dinners. Many resorts are holding mid-mountain dinners with torchlight descents – for example, Sun Peaks which has a weekly three-course fondue and night ski. Snowcat dinners are also burgeoning: SilverStar uses 15-person cat relays to take diners to the high-altitude Paradise Camp, Telluride utilizes snow coaches to access Alpino Vino by night, Aspen Highlands opens Cloud 9 and the Lynn Britt Cabin for snowcat dining, Steamboat has a five-star Four Points feast accessed by cat and Panorama has heli-fondues and cat-limo raclettes.

Rooftop Revels

There’s a new focus on rooftop revelry – for example, the latest spot in Whistler is the rooftop patio at the new Pangea Pod Hotel; and LAT38 is another rocking rooftop at the California Lodge, Heavenly.

Sociable Seating

Expect to see more communal seating, particularly long high top tables with stools: for example at the Rockford Wok Bar Grill at Revelstoke Mountain Resort and The Limelight Aspen. The new RPK 3: Kitchen, Bar and Après, which anchors the beginner area right at Jackson Hole’s Tram, was furnished with a mix of communal and more private tables.

Crafty Cocktails

The trend is for top mixologists curating whole menus of cocktails with background stories about their derivation, often using local ingredients. Sidecut Bar at Four Seasons Whistler has a cocktail booklet with peak-themed potent potions named after Four Seasons’ mountainous destinations, created by Vancouver’s Lauren Mote.

Champagne Problems

Veuve Clicquot is becoming synonymous with skiing around North America – from the champagne to the orange ski jackets. Ajax Tavern, Aspen, hosts ‘Clicquot in the Snow’ where regulars sometimes tote Veuve skis in one hand and a bottle of bubbly in the other. Banff Sunshine has a Veuve Clicquot Champagne and Oyster Bar event in April and sells Veuve merchandise. Northstar, California hosts a Veuve Platinum Picnic on the slopes; Tremblant’s Fairmont has a Veuve venue right by the heated outdoor pool for convenient dips and sips in winter; there’s a bright orange Veuve Après Ski Lounge at The Montage Deer Valley; and how about some reviving Veuve at the Viking Yurt Park City. It’s even reached the heartiest hills in Alaska where the Alyeska Hotel has a Veuve Clicquot Romance Package.

Snow and Ice Bars

The snow bar at The Woods is an al fresco Alpine-style après attraction at Big White. Likewise, the ice bar built on the deck at Lake Louise’s Whitehorn Lodge. For all season use, Fernie’s Lizard Creek Lodge has its own Ice Bar, the first one in North America inside a hotel. There’s now a Stoli Ice Bar at Hotel Jerome, Aspen too.

Downhill Distilleries

Distilleries are going downhill, becoming an essential après accessory for ski resorts’ liquor and cocktails menus. New at Telluride’s Mountain Village is the vodka, schnapps and whiskey producer, Telluride Distilling Company. At Silver Star BC, Jesse Crockett, Hospitality Director at The Den Bistro, says they are focusing on the “unique” to represent the resort, offering local whiskey from Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in their tasting flights. Panorama has partnered with local distillery Taynton Bay Spirits to produce a special spiced cinnamon honey-infused whiskey that is available at the resorts liquor store and throughout the bars. Specializing in rye, whiskey and bourbon, Park City’s High West Distillery runs tours, a saloon, a restaurant with whiskey pairings, and special events.

Boutique Breweries

A finger in every new pie, Joey Gibbons partnered with Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers to create Gibbons’ Après Lager, launching it with educational craft beer tastings at his après venues in Whistler. Banff Mt Norquay paired with Banff Ave Brewing Co to produce the Norquay90 beer. Used to celebrate Norquay’s 90th anniversary, it’s reinvented with new versions each season. This winter’s, the Norquay93, is a German-style Hefeweizen. But it’s not just for bars – the five-star Waldorf Astoria Park City has its own custom craft beer. Called Pow Day IPA, it was a first for the hotel – “a crisp pale ale with a hint of rye that pairs perfectly with the modern mountain cuisine served at Powder restaurant”, says Danielle Summers who, working with Park City Brewery, was partially responsible for its taste. The success of the co-branding project led the hedonistic hotel to offer a fun après ski experience, ‘Become the Brew-Master’, where guests learn about craft creation. 

Craft Caffeine

An inadvertent ad for Kicking Horse Resort, Kicking Horse Coffee is now sold all over North America as well as locally – for example, at all restaurants and cafés at Panorama Mountain Resort which is conveniently close to its Invermere HQ. But, more recently, other resorts have been espousing their own brands. Big White is leading the trend with Yard Sale coffee made by BC coffee roasters, Tug No. 6. Silver Star takes its coffee as seriously as its whiskey, according to Jesse Crockett: “We have a great café called Coffee Plus which I call ‘Melbourne Plus’ as all our Australian workers and visitors tell us that Melbourne is the centre of the coffee universe.” New at Sun Peaks is Tod Mountain Café which, as well as its own private coffee label featuring ski run names such as Lone Fir, Bushwacker and Tighten Your Boots, is cornering the Millennial market in gluten-free crepes, veggie and vegan options, and smoothies.

Downhill Discos

Tubing is going turbo at Squaw Valley with DJ tunes and laser lights. Elsewhere, mountain music is more muted: Northstar California has a Silent Skating Disco with the option of tuning into music or movies. Big White has a NYE Cosmic Disco on ice as well as the Blarney Stone Silent Disco.

Après Activity Bundling

Instead of gouging with individual pricing for skating, tubing, night-skiing, Nordic, snowshoeing, and other family frolics, Silver Star is leading the way in value bundling with One Pass, available to all season-pass holders and encompassing all winter sports. The après activities are prettily positioned around the skating pond in the Tube Town area of the resort, encircled by several brightly-coloured bars and restaurants.

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