Après is to skiers what tailgating is to football fans. It’s not optional, but an essential part of the day and there is a certain etiquette and culture that goes with it.

The Euros are the obvious professionals of the art of the après ski. In Zermatt, Switzerland there are 38 on mountain restaurants and an additional one across the way in Cervinia, Italy accessible from Zermatt. The restaurants are mostly individually owned and do not necessarily close when the mountain does. Because of the apparent non-existence of liability law in Europe, it’s not uncommon to leave on-mountain restaurants after the lifts have stopped and ski down to the villages in the dark, buzzed and happy.

It would be unfair to expect US ski towns to rival the après culture of Europe, and I don’t. Instead, I enjoy the occasional splurge at Alpino Vino and I understand that it is up to each individual ski town to interpret and deliver their version of après ski. At Alta there’s the classic, cozy, ’70s influenced Sitzmark; at Sun Valley the down-to-earth, local-feeling Apple’s Bar and Grill; and at Aspen the always vogue and always “in” place to see and be seen, Little Nell’s.

For those three ski towns, the après spots mentioned have been around forever; they are institutions really. And that is what makes Telluride’s emerging après scene different. Even though the Mountain is in its 5th decade, all of the hot après spots are relatively new. It’s almost as if, our après culture is currently being defined. But, that’s not to say there isn’t a legacy in place.

Nobody can forget the days of Swede Finn Hall and Leimgruber’s, the hallmark institutions of Telluride’s après golden years. The atmosphere of Leimy’s represented après culture at its finest. There were rules: the round table to the left upon entering was for Ski School; boots of beer were never to touch the table and if you sipped out of a boot with the toe up you might get a splash in the face; and the snuff machine was for sharing.

By the time you left Leimy’s, you had interacted with everyone in the place, hugging old friends and meeting new ones. After, you were probably hungry, so you stumbled across the street to Jody’s Kitchen for some down-home, spicy Mexican food and margaritas. It wasn’t rare to see folks walking home in their ski boots at 9 pm.

All of those places are gone now, and a new guard of après and on-mountain places is sprouting up. The most significant change for locals and in-town guests is the changing of the guard at the bottom of Chair 8 and the Gondola. Oak, formerly Fat Alley, has taken over the coveted spot bringing with it an atmosphere that gives it the potential to be Telluride’s next après institution for years to come. Owner, Robbie O’Dell, continues doing what he does best—beer, bourbon and BBQ, with no “rad-ittude” – everyone is welcome, and so are their kids.

Erik Eckert, owner and executive chef of Telluride’s newest restaurant, Flavor, is also making inroads to the après scene offering savory appetizers, signature cocktails, a wide selection of beer and special wine offerings. Bartender, Mike Fenton, formerly of the beloved après café, The Wildflour, and La Cocina De Luz, can be found mixing his unswerving concoctions behind the bar and giving the newcomer immediate après legitimacy.

The greatest après addition in the Mountain Village is the incredibly renovated space that formerly housed the Hop Garden and now is home to The Tomboy Tavern. Large wooden tables, a quaint fireplace and intimate booths surround the dominant horseshoe bar that takes center stage. The Tavern is the perfect combination of rustic and swank, allowing it to be both welcoming and refined. They offer over 25 beers on tap, an assortment of gourmet burgers and sandwiches, and irresistible morsels like truffle fries and buttermilk, buffalo-fried chicken.

But après has never been about the food; it’s about cold beer and a kick-ass environment that fosters the celebration of a great day skiing. It’s the clinking of glasses and the knowing glances between friends that says what words cannot. Après is a culture that embraces the distinct character of a particular ski mountain – and in Telluride, with three new spots, it’s something we all get to take part in defining.

Snow Sunday is a weekly column by Jesse James McTigue and sponsored by Jagged Edge intended to deliver tips, news, musings and stories about the people, places, events and experiences that make the Telluride winter an epic adventure.


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