Peak ski season is in full swing, with a winter wonderland welcoming enthusiastic snow-lovers to carve out many of the world’s best slopes. But the exhilaration needn’t end when the pistes close: Let your hair down under that ski hat and discover our favorite après-ski scenes around the globe, including two Colorado Rockies’ resorts that cater to both the refined and the rowdy, a glamorous casino-dotted ski town straddling the Nevada and California borders, and a Canadian gem that pulsates with live music and good times. Or, check out the Eastern seaboard at Killington, where you’re guaranteed to have a “killer” time. Of course, no list would be complete without a sprinkling of alpine villages – we’re keen on four evergreen après-ski hot spots that have provided tried-and-true nighttime fun to generations of skiers. And, for those of you who refuse to let summer signal your last descent, we’ve even thrown in one South American ski town where you can get your après-ski fix between June and September.
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Aspen is an après-ski magnet for Hollywood stars, B-listers, scenesters, want-to-be-seensters, and the just plain curious. Of course, the unifying factor that pulls them all together is the spectacular mountain scenery, providing serious skiers limitless opportunities to schuss their days away. What keeps them lingering well into the night, though, is the glitzy and glamorous après-ski scene that unfolds here each evening, animating the charmingly antiquated buildings of this former silver-mining town (a quirky authenticity that sets it apart from the Rockies’ other chichi ski mecca of Vail). Take in a concert under the crystal chandeliers of the Wheeler Opera House, built in 1889; delight your palate at one of the fabulous restaurants; or swap ski war stories over a cocktail. This fabled ski resort hosts plenty of hot bars and lounges – hit up Syzygy or Little Nell for cool jazz, while the historic Hotel Jerome houses the lively J-bar – a fave Aspen watering hole since 1889. There are tons of other choices, and happily, getting home after having a few is no issue – have the bartender call a free taxi through the Tipsy Taxi program, hop on the free late-night shuttle, or, for a real hoot, hire the Ultimate Taxi, a 1978 checkerboard taxi replete with disco balls, black lights, and 3-D effects.
If you’re hankering to ski some powder-packed slopes in the height of summer, head south to Argentina’s premier ski destination of Bariloche – by mid-June, temperatures here have dropped to around 30 degrees, perfect for maintaining a cover of snow on Cerro Catedral Mountain. Besides the fact that conditions include over 42 miles of trails and lift tickets are cheap – we’re talking from as little as $25 for adults – snow bunnies who make the trek down south can revel in the vast of array of après-ski nightlife, dining, outdoor activities, and casino action that have made Bariloche one of the most-visited destinations in Argentina. Indeed, the happening, Buenos Aires-like after-dark scene will keep you up late – things really get hopping around midnight – but you can start the night off by playing the slots at the Hotel Panamericano, which also hosts live shows in the evening. One of the best times to visit is during the weeklong National Snow Party (usually held in August), a celebrated snow-filled fiesta with torchlight parades, a chocolate party, and other quirky events.
Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France
Don’t expend all of your energy schussing the slopes surrounding massive Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in Western Europe) – you’ll need to conserve if you’re going to take part in the almost equally exhilarating nightlife that unfolds in this charming mountain town each evening. Chamonix’s reputation as one of the most happening après-ski resorts in the Alps is well-deserved, with a location on the crossroads of France, Italy, and Switzerland that makes it a natural multicultural mecca for serious skiers and even more serious partiers. Numerous bars and lounges lure ski bunnies away from the pistes with live bands and tempting drink specials from about 4pm – and don’t plan on the party losing steam earlier than 4am! Hot spots include the wild scene at La Cantina Club, where dancing to local and international bands and DJs carries on through the night; beer connoisseurs, meanwhile, make the trek to the Canadian-run microbrewery, MBC, for the best ales and pilsners in town. Of course, with some of the world’s finest skiing and luxury chalets, there’s plenty of highbrow excitement, too, from the fine casino attracting high rollers to the center of town, to luxe lounges and classical music recitals.
Nestled beneath the magnificent Dolomite Peaks, the picturesque alpine village of Cortina, Italy, is one of Europe’s most glamorous winter wonderlands, attracting international jet-setters since hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics. Although fairly calm (compared to the après-ski scenes at some of the other top peaks on this list), this sophisticated mountain resort’s nighttime scene is no less noteworthy. After schussing down the mountain’s 90 miles of trails, well-heeled Italians, dressed to the nines, parade through the village after dinner, hitting up the swankiest spots for digestifs and cocktails. Favorites include Enoteca, an old wine bar where patrons can pair wines with cold cuts and cheese; Terrazza Viennese, an elegant café/bar serving pastries like crêpes flambé; Birreria Hacker Pschorr, a Bavarian pub doling out pints of tasty beer; and the VIP Club, which attracts a loyal crowd with an unwaveringly vivacious scene from midnight on.
A nod also must go to this East Coast winter favorite, where legions of skiers and snowboarders enjoy snow-filled action at the base of the mountain. Indeed, while Vermont’s largest ski resort lacks any sort of quaint alpine charm, the slew of restaurants, bars, lodges, and shops along the eponymous Killington Road more than compensates. Two après-ski staples that everyone must sample – the Wobbly Barn and the Pickle Barrel – are both found here; the former, set in an old barn, is a popular haunt for happy hour and keeps the night going with live bands and a crowded dance floor, while the latter, a larger nightspot that doubles as a music venue, has hosted a variety of lesser-known and up-and-coming acts, like G. Love & Special Sauce, Howie Day, and Eddie Money. For those craving an upscale meal, Ovations Restaurant, the eatery at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel, beckons.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Take the Vegas vibe out of the desert and plop it by some dozen downhill mountain resorts and you’ll get a feel for the gaming-cum-alpine attitude that is Lake Tahoe. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada range, on the cusp of California and Nevada, this winter retreat offers abundant snow play, neon-lit casinos, and the largest alpine lake in North America. The south shore (on the Nevada side) is where you’ll want to set up camp if you’re looking for the liveliest après-ski scene, since it’s chock-full of casinos, hotels, and mini-malls. Sister casino of a Vegas bigwig, Harrah’s is a one-stop nightlife destination with nightly live entertainment and a club, Vex, that invites dancers to groove to pulsating beats till 4am (the casino itself never closes). Another big evening draw is the Pub Tahoe, across from the Heavenly gondola, which hosts a large post-skiing crowd that parties on until closing (live acts perform upstairs).
St. Anton, Austria
St. Anton (tack on “am Arlberg” for the town’s proper name), Austria, is prided on being one of the birthplaces of skiing, offering up superb alpine pistes, an attractive village of domed churches and cozy chalets, and an after-the-slopes party scene that has simmered to perfection through the generations. The compact pedestrian zone means you can give your legs a rest off the slopes, as just a short stroll finds dozens of bars, restaurants, and gasthofs serving up schnapps, locally brewed beer, and lots of good fun. Some après-ski faves include Mooserwirt, with its elbow-to-elbow crowds and live DJs, and The Underground on the Piste, a British pub that’s your best bet for a pint of Guinness and live music. Late-night discos, karaoke bars, Austrian accordions, and even places where you can fox-trot until dawn promise a little something for everyone. In fact, you needn’t look further than the top of the slopes for a little aperitif to kick things off – huts serving up glühwein (hot red wine spiked with a local schnapps) make a tempting proposition on the pistes.
This Rocky Mountain resort is reminiscent of its rowdy mining-town roots (notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank here), but not without a splash of 21st-century sophistication. While sister Colorado Rockies’ towns like Vail and Aspen demand refinement both on and off the trails, Telluride invites visitors to dig into the rugged slopes and to throw one back at a neighborhood pub. But that’s not to say it’s a town without class – in fact, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Telluride has more good restaurants per person than any resort in the Rockies.” And when it comes to nightlife, it’s an unparalleled experience when this National Historic District hosts the party. A central district of historic Victorian buildings, since converted into bars, shops, and eateries, and all shadowed by the majestic scenery of the San Juan Mountains, makes for a picture-perfect night on the town. Not to miss après-ski spots include the landmark, century-old New Sheridan Bar, with its mahogany paneling and hand-carved bar that conjure images of the Wild Wild West over happy hour specials, and the laid-back Last Dollar Saloon (dubbed “the Buck” by locals), home to a jammin’ jukebox, a great selection of beer, and the best margaritas in town.
Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, situated just a couple of hours from Vancouver, are synonymous with great skiing. As one of the premier resorts in North America, the area has little difficulty attracting snow bunnies to its slopes – and, after the sun goes down, it easily convinces them to stick around with one of the continent’s hottest après-ski scenes. Mountain views, outdoorsy revelers, and live music greet party-goers after the lifts close (and even earlier for some) at the numerous bars and lounges that dot this scenic mountain town. The central village street of this perfectly planned community hosts the bulk of the action – there’s even a free shuttle at the base of each mountain to get you around until midnight. The Garibaldi Lift Company at the base of the Whistler Village gondola, or Merlin’s, at the base of Blackcomb are the stellar spots to sit back, relax, and start sippin’ straight off the slopes. Younger crowds flock for late-night dancing at Tommy Africa’s, while Garfinkel’s keeps the beats pumping for a slightly older crowd. The dimly-lit Maxx Fish attracts a late-night 20-somethings crowd, while the funky Amsterdam Café in Village Square offers up pub fare and people-watching.
World-class Zermatt, Switzerland, has become the quintessential alpine resort, with over 195 miles of trails, luxurious hotels, fashionable boutiques, ritzy restaurants, and a smattering of bars and clubs on and off the mountain. Thanks to strict zoning laws, this fairytale-like Swiss town counts no building taller than a 4-story chalet; more charming still are the horse-drawn sleighs and electric taxis that are the town’s sole modes of transport (only doctors are permitted to have a car). Even before the lifts close, skiers can stop off at slope-side pubs, like the Olympia Stübli (on the way down from the Sunnegga Paradise section) or Zum See (on the way down from Furi), to warm up with a mug of traditional glühwein (hot spiced wine) before making their way down to the base – of course, one too many of these and the downhill trek is all the more challenging! Once you shed your snow gear, dozens of bars and pubs in Zermatt proper will keep you out into the wee hours. A few to check out are: Bar le Petit Cervin, set at the top of the Le Petit Cervin hotel with views of the town; Hotel de la Poste for dancing; GramPi’s Pub for a rowdy good time; and Vernissage, which touts a multi-level complex of bars, art galleries, and an old Hollywood-style movie theater.