It’s time for snow to blanket America’s mountains. Soon slopes around the country will be covered with fresh powder and eager skiers. When the last run of the day is done, it’s time for après-ski where hot toddies are great but cold beer is better. Despite the name, bunny slopes are a terrible place to look for hops, but in these resort towns, breweries abound.
Can this list start anywhere but Colorado? Nope. While Colorado boasts more awesome mountains with champagne powder than some states boast breweries (to say nothing of the state’s actual 250 breweries), Breckenridge is a great choice starting with its nearly 3,000 skiable acres and a peak elevation of 13,000 feet from which to begin your 3,300 feet of vertical. But also because it’s about 100 miles from the Denver airport, an Epic Pass gets you on both Breckenridge and Keystone, which is just 17 miles away, and there are four breweries to service your post-slopes needs.
Broken Compass Brewing (68 Continental Court) just outside of town offers a cozy, comfy tasting room where you can create a choose-your-own-adventure flight, including the number of samples. After a day of bombing down black diamond runs, don’t miss the Black IPA. Knees sore from the moguls on those double-diamond trails? Relax with a double IPA or house favorite Coconut Porter. Then of course there’s Breckenridge Brewery (600 S. Main St.). It operates breweries and pubs around the Front Range but it all started here in 1990. The flagship Avalanche Ale, a caramel- malt-driven amber, is a great way to toast the snow gods.
While in Summit County, Dillon is a popular destination in the summer for bike rides around Lake Dillon, and it’s close to Keystone, where lifts stay open until 8 p.m. The town also supports two breweries, making its brewery per capita about one for every 450 residents. Pug Ryan’s (104 Village Place) is a steakhouse turned brewpub. Deadeye Dunkel is a great toasty lager to wash down the Downhill Deluxe burger topped with bacon and barbecue sauce—and if you’re lucky, the whiskey-aged version will be available for a snowcap nightcap. A comparable experience, while still in Dillon, is Dillon Dam Brewery (100 Little Dam St.). Dam Straight Lager is a caramel-hued Vienna lager enjoyable year-round, while High Speed Quad Ale, naturally a plummy quadrupel, takes the chill out of your bones.
Jackson Hole is where the posh cowboys play in the powder, and it’s also where globe-trotting thrill-seeker Jeremy Tofte established his Thai restaurant-turned-brewpub, Thai Me Up, to help him afford his snow-bum-by-winter lifestyle. I asked Tofte to outline his dream day on the mountain. His choice? Not the twin Grand Tetons, which are actually skiable if you’re rugged enough to trek up, but Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s duo of Rendezvous and Apres Vous, which offers the greatest continuous rise at 4,100 feet for those who dig the vertical, and a full half of the runs are black diamonds. He said, “Getting first public tram … sprint into the wind as it’s a race with 100 other people to beat them to the goods, strap in and make a total of two to three turns down Rendezvous Bowl. This will get you to super tomahawk speed, then, keeping your speed on R-trail, hit the front side wall after the bottleneck and then duck the rope into Why Not and slash all the way to the base. Top to bottom, then do it again.”
Even if you don’t board like him, you can drink like him. The medals and accolades his hoppy beers have received, including a pair of gold medals at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival for Melvin American-style IPA and 2×4 Imperial IPA, led to the expansion of a 30-barrel brewhouse for the renamed Melvin Brewing. Alas, the tasting room won’t be open until after the ski season but should be pouring while visitors are still riding the rapids on the Snake River this summer. As for Thai Me Up (75 E. Pearl Ave.), where you can get a burger or some pad see ew, it already had 20 taps when it launched as a brewery in 2009 on a 20-gallon system that will turn into brewer Kirk McHale’s “R&D Lab,” according to Tofte. It’s not the only brewery in town. First there was Snake River Brewing (265 S. Millward St.) where you can get a buffalo burger (the meat, not the sauce) and wash it down with the highly honored Zonker stout, including on nitro.
Bridger Bowl is an incredible ski destination not just because it’s near Yellowstone National Park or near the Gallatin River where the movie “A River Runs Through It” was filmed, but because Bridger is a nonprofit ski area. That means that while you’re gliding across 500 acres of terrain, you’re basically a philanthropist. Read more about the area at allaboutbeer.com/article/montana-beer.
While the East Coast doesn’t have the West’s altitude, it does have other things going for it, namely local options, colder temps and, in the case of Vermont, not just New England’s most celebrated breweries but also the most breweries per capita of any state in the union. Among Vermont’s primary mountain resorts is Sugarbush, featuring Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen and a lift that connects the two. There are plenty of groomed runs, making it easy for beginners and youngsters, yet don’t mistake the lack of vertical for a lack of expert trails.
As for après-ski pints, there’s no public taproom at Lawson’s Finest Liquids based in Warren, but there are a few places that carry its fine nectars on tap. Mutha Stuffers (76 Sugarbush Village Drive) slings Greek sandos and in-demand beer. Tracks at the Pitcher Inn (275 Main St.) is the pub connected to a charming inn with its own fine-dining restaurant (where you’ll also typically find Vermonter beer from Hill Farmstead on draft as well). And you’ll find Lawson’s beers at Sugarbush Resort itself. Lawson’s is renowned for an array of hoppy delicacies, ranging from 3.5% Spring Fever Session IPA to Triple Sunshine 3IPA clocking in at 10.5%. If you’re looking to take home some Vermont sunshine, the “single” IPA, Sip of Sunshine, is the only one of Sean Lawson’s beers to be canned. And since it’s Vermont, more than a few of his beers feature maple syrup, which is good since you’re here to go skiing not sugaring.
The Poconos, Pennsylvania
Most of the ski resorts east of the Mississippi are in New England and upstate New York. But don’t overlook the Poconos. At Big Pocono, officially known as Camelback Mountain, the peak climbs up to 2,133 feet, giving folks in the greater Scranton area some local skiing. And they’ll take all 800 feet of vertical they get, which includes two terrain parks. And 17 miles east just before crossing into New Jersey, Shawnee Mountain reaches 1,350 feet where, among the 700 feet of vertical, is a run almost a mile long.
OK, so it’s not the Alps, but for folks tackling Camelback in Tannersville there’s Barley Creek Brewing (1774 Sullivan Trail), where you’ll find Slippery Slope Pale Ale dry-hopped with Cascades and, in the winter, curling. Yes, guests can try curling at its outdoor pint-sized park. If you’re coming off Shawnee Mountain in the town of Shawnee on Delaware, there’s Shawneecraft (1 River Road) at the Shawnee Inn. The brewery focuses on fresh ingredients in mostly Belgian-leaning beers but with ample East Coast/English-style hoppy ones, too, making its Double Pale as popular as its Belgian Dubbel. The brewers do wild ales like a kriek and a frambozenbier if you’re lucky enough to find some left to warm up by the fire pit.
Finally, among California’s myriad resort areas, Lake Tahoe is home to a dozen resorts that tend to have folks split between those on the lake’s South Shore versus the North. Both offer mountain riders sweeping views into the amazing azure that is the country’s second deepest alpine lake, making it impossible to freeze over. From the peaks, you can also see Nevada to the east, but let’s save Reno for another issue. Squaw Valley’s top elevation is over 9,000 feet, while the base rests at just over 6,000 feet, which explains why Mountain Run lasts a full 3.2 miles. There’s also Alpine Meadows and Homewood Mountain nearby, and Northstar is considered the most family-friendly of the resorts.
Also on the North Shore is the Tahoe Mountain Brewing Brew Pub (475 N. Lake Blvd. in Tahoe City). The pub offers lake views and “loaded tots” (taters topped nacho-style with house smoked pulled pork and bacon, cheese, etc.). Beerwise, you’ll find big IPAs such as Hop Dragon Imperial IPA but also an emphasis on farmhouse and sour ales. Dark Ages Brett Stout, an oak-aged 10% beast, is better than any hot cup of cocoa to warm your bones. The brewery itself is located a half hour’s drive away in the town of Truckee. It’s worth the drive because the Tahoe Mountain Brewery Taproom (10990 Industrial Way) has 15 taps and it’s where you’ll find Recolte Du Bois Apricot, which won a medal at last year’s GABF in the wood-aged sour beer category, and/or possibly a version made with peaches or aged in sherry casks.
And so long as you’re in Truckee, don’t miss FiftyFifty Brewing (11197 Brockway Road). Brewmaster Todd Ashman came from Chicagoland’s Flossmoor Station only to return to the Station and subsequently rejoin FiftyFifty. This is great for lovers of its epic barrel-aged imperial stout, Eclipse, which you’ll find in various colors of wax-dipped bottles denoting alternating bourbon barrels used for aging. It’s also a pub where the pizzas are killer, thank goodness, since you build up quite an appetite in the mountains. Wash it down with Donner Party Porter.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Oregon Breweries and Red, White and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey.