LARRY OLMSTEAD, USA TODAY
December 1, 2011

Eating and drinking make up such an important part of a ski vacation that the French gave the time devoted to these activities its own name: apres ski.

First popularized in the Alps, this type of wining and dining is traditionally done after a day on the slopes and in full ski gear. Picture yourself with ski boots propped up in front of a roaring fire and hot toddy in hand, swapping adventure stories from the day’s ski trip with other black-diamond enthusiasts. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Next time you’re traveling to a big ski resort, relax and refuel for another great day on the slopes. Here are the best joints the biggest mountain towns have to offer.

Vail, Colo.
Vail is the nation’s largest singlemountain ski resort. Nearly 2 million skiers and snowboarders cut through the white stuff here every year. The town is compact, pedestrian-friendly, and quaint to the nth degree. Dining choices abound, but a few really stand out.

Traditional apres ski
Ski by Los Amigos (400 Bridge St., 970-476-5847, www.losamigosvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain for margaritas, beer, and chips with salsa.

Upscale
For fine dining, among the best in town is Kelly Liken (12 Vail Rd., Suite 100; 970-479-0175, www.kellyliken.com). The owner-operated establishment serves upscale American fare, like elk carpaccio and shrimp with grits, made from fresh, local ingredients. Five dozen wines are served by the glass.

Casual
Moe’s Original Bar B Que (616 W.Lionshead Circle, 970-479-7888, www.moesoriginalbbq.com) in Lionshead Village offers authentic Alabama slowsmoked favorites in a casual atmosphere at family-friendly prices.

New
Last winter Vail got its first truly great steakhouse, Flame at the Four Seasons Hotel (One Vail Road, www.fourseasons.com/vail). This season, celebrity chef and sushi/fusion master Nobu Matushisa opens Matushisa (141 E. Meadow Dr., 970-476-6628) in the Solaris complex.

Featured Destination, Vail, Colo.
For a vacation highlight, have a gourmet dinner at the Game Creek Club (278 Hanson Ranch Rd., 970-754-4275, www.gamecreekclub.com) atop Vail Mountain. The cozy European-style chalet can be reached on skis or aboard a luxury all-terrain vehicle after a short ride up the Eagle Bahn Gondola to Eagle’s Nest. The restaurant serves gourmet American cuisine through a prix fixe menu. A three-course meal starts at $82 a head and features such dishes as pork belly confit; and venison T-bone prepared with pomegranate, hominy, Brussels sprouts, and chipotle.

Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Jackson Hole is the true Old West, a 48-mile-long valley surrounded by jagged, snowcapped mountains. At the heart of Jackson is a downtown made for the Westerns. Stores and restaurants are scattered along a boardwalk, and music can be heard from behind the doors of picturesque saloons. Just 12 miles north is Teton Village, which has hotels
and restaurants with a more upscale feel. Together, these towns form a great winter destination.

Upscale
Couloir (3395 Cody Lane, 307-739-2675, www.jacksonhole.com) restaurant at the top of the ski lift serves lunch and dinner. It has won numerous awards for its food and locavore philosophy. Most ingredients come from within a 250-mile radius.

Casual
Local residents and visitors alike love Billy’s Burgers (55 North Cache, 307-733-3279, www.Cadillac-grille.com) where large, tasty burgers are cooked up greasy spoon style at a frenetic pace inside a horseshoe-shaped counter.

Offbeat
Teton Thai (7342 Granite Loop Rd., 307-733-0022, www.tetonthai.com), a tiny eatery hidden in an employee parking lot, serves fresh and authentic Thai cuisine cooked by its Thai co-owner. Expect to wait in line for a table alongside loyal local customers.

Featured Destination, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
It does not get any more classic than the Mangy Moose (307-733-4913, www.mangymoose.net) right at the base of the mountain in Teton Village. A fixture in the ski world since 1967, this restaurant serves up half-pound burgers, buffalo meatloaf, fresh trout and wild salmon, and plenty of ice-cold beer. The saloon, a favorite in the apres ski world, has a large wood-burning fireplace to warm cold toes just pulled out of ski boots.

Park City, Utah
With three world-class ski resorts and a historic Old West downtown, Park City has few rivals as a mountain town destination. The town even hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Combined, the ski resorts have 9,000 acres of skiable terrain, everything from groomed runs to fresh powder trails. After a day exploring natural wonders on ski, head downtown to a historic Main Street that simply sparkles on a winter night.

Traditional apres ski
The in-town High West Distillery (703 Park Ave., 435-649-8300, www.highwest.com) has won numerous awards for its whiskeys, serves excellent food, and bills itself as the world’s only ski-in/ski-out gastro-distillery.

New
The Canyons (4000 Canyons Resort Dr., 435-649-5400, www.canyonsresort.com) the nation’s fourth-largest ski resort, just rebuilt its base area, which now features food truck eateries. The food trucks dispense high-quality gyros, sausages, and the like at down-to-earth prices. Short lines make these pit stops perfect for families and skiers on the go.

Casual
The Bridge Cafe and Grill (825 Main St., 435-658-5451, www.thebridgecafeandgrill.com) is a Brazilian-influenced greasy spoon that serves breakfast all day, The hot spot, located at the bottom of Town Lift, has a bargain happy hour. The bartender makes the best caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) in town.

Offbeat
Four nights a week, Deer Valley (9200 Marsac Ave., 435-645-6632, www.deervalley.com) captivates families with its fireside dining experience. Meals are cooked and served progressively from four fireplaces. The spread features everything from roast lamb and stews to raclette (melted cheeses) and dessert fondues.

Featured Destination, Park City, Utah
Lots of hard-core foodies agree on Talisker on Main (515 Main St., 435-658-5479, www.taliskeronmain.com) as a top choice in this foodie haven. The restaurant pulls dishes from
the menus of private restaurants that operate in residential developments owned by the Talisker Club. At the downtown, all-are-welcome establishment, diners can see how the elite eat. Try the four-course chef’s tasting menu that changes nightly. Or choose a la carte appetizers like lobster hushpuppies and main dishes like pan-roasted Scottish salmon.

Aspen, Colo.
Laid out in a grid pattern and full of second homes and pricey boutiques, Aspen is the most cosmopolitan of all American ski resorts—and that means it has lots of great restaurants. Apres ski is something local residents take seriously. The post-ski parties here are legendary—don’t be surprised to see a celebrity in the mix. If the glitz and glam aren’t your style, don’t worry. This town has something for all cravings.

Traditional Apres Ski
For decades the see-and-be-seen crowd has flocked to the Terrace Bar (675 E. Durant Ave., 970-920-4600, thelittlenell.com) in the Little Nell hotel. More recently, the contemporary 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel (709 E. Durant Ave., 970-429-7803, www.theskyhotel.com) has wooed the hipper crowd with its Vegas vibe, mixologists, and lounge atmosphere.

Upscale
In a town full of great, expensive restaurants, Montagna (also at the Little Nell hotel) stands out as one of the best. The award-winning restaurant grows many of its ingredients and prepares them in classic styles. A 20,000-bottle wine cellar provides great accompaniments.

Casual
Little Annie’s Eating House (517 E. Hyman Ave., 970-925-1098, www.littleannies.com) is a wooden Old West enclave in a town full of glitz. The eatery serves bar-style fare, including a burger regularly voted Aspen’s best.

Featured Destination, Aspen, Colo.
Set in a former ski patrol hut on the slopes of Aspen Highlands, the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro (970-923-8715, www.aspensnowmass.com/onmountain/dining) serves 6 p.m. gourmet dinners on Thursdays featuring traditional Swiss and Austrian alpine cuisine. Guests are transported by all-terrain vehicles to the restaurant at 10,740 feet. The menu includes dishes like raclette, venison ragout, and strudel. During the day, skiers and snowboarders can enjoy hearty stews and delicious fondue, a local favorite, while looking out over the majestic Maroon Bells peaks from the outdoor deck.

Stowe, Vt.
One of the nation’s first ski towns celebrates its European roots in a setting that is quintessential New England. Stowe sits in the scenic valley between Mount Mansfield and the Worcester range. The small population grows dramatically come tourist season as snow lovers flock to the trails and resorts. While the village retains its small-town charm, the
restaurants serve cosmopolitan tastes.

Traditional Apres Ski
Located in a small building on the Mountain Road, the Matterhorn (4969 Mountain Rd., 802-253-8198, www.matterhornbar.com), a Stowe fixture, packs in a lot. It has a martini bar, sushi bar, regular bar, and great pizzas—and it’s always crowded.

Upscale
When Solstice (7412 Mountain Rd., 802-760-4700, www.stowemountainlodge.com) opened three years ago in the Stowe Mountain Lodge, it quickly became one of the best restaurants in all of Vermont. The name reflects a seasonally changing menu of dishes made with fresh and local ingredients.

Casual
Named after a rescue Labrador, Gracie’s (18 Edson Hill Rd., 802-253-8741, www.gracies.com) extends the dog theme to its doggone good burgers, each named for a
different breed. The Stowe favorite is the oldest hole in the wall in town.

Featured Destination, Stowe, VT.
The movie The Sound of Music ends with the von Trapp family fleeing the Nazis over the Alps. In real life, the family landed in Stowe and opened the Trapp Family Lodge (700 Trapp Hill Rd., 800-826-7000, www.trappfamily.com). Six decades later, the resort—still owned and operated by the family—serves up dinners of wiener schnitzel and roast duck with dumplings. These days, the place even brews its own beer. Immerse yourself in the Austrian-inspired surroundings of the 2,500-acre resort. Luxury is a verb here, and the natural beauty is unmatched.

Offbeat
The Dutch Pancake Cafe (990 Mountain Rd., 802-253-8921, www.greyfoxinn.com) lives up to its name, serving more than 80 varieties of generously sized Dutch pancakes. Some choices are fairly radical (pina colada pannekoek, anyone?). There’s nothing else quite like it.

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