A day’s skiing has drawn to a close and now driver Reynaud brings his passengers from the base of the slopes to a stop in front of the famous Bourud’s Cave in Sauze d’Oulx – close enough for them to land at the bar. The après-ski is about to begin.
We take a closer look at what we’ve got. Skiers of a dozen languages – novice to expert – side by side, hands raised and each dressed in alpine clothes: Enigma jacket, hardshell trousers, a flap beanie and a pair of Smith’s Lockwood. They have a thirsty look to their brow and the first drink sweeps briskly between the ears. For most, this is as important as their day on the mountain.
The true nature of what they have begun is hard to describe to those unfamiliar with the tradition of après-ski. Most non-skiers will liken it to plunking a bucket of acorns out for the pigs at the end of a long day truffling. But whereas the element of reward is certainly real, après-ski is no ordinary post-sport amble.
It is a world unto itself, perhaps the most organised chaos connected to a sport. Resorts known for their après-ski plunges attract Hollywood stars, millionaires and royalty. It is a glitzy and glamorous scene (with the exception of Val d’Isere) which unfolds every evening and animates charming villages nuzzling some the world’s most famous mountains.
But après-ski is not just about a procession of well-earned drinks. There are outdoor festivals at many of the resorts too, jazz bars and food to buoy the palate. Aspen, Colorado even hosts nightly concerts under the crystal chandeliers of the Wheeler Opera House.
Verbier in the Swiss Alps is another resort celebrated for its après-ski. Bar 1936 is made up of Mongolian yurts sporting sun loungers, curiously plush sofas and a cosying wood stove; the Étoile Rouge Supper Club mixes exotic cuisine dinner with dance. It is also very much the millionaire’s playground. Word on the piste is that such notables as Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, Prince Harry, The Beckhams and James Blunt regularly enjoy Verbier’s colourful après-ski festivities.
If you find yourself looking for something more down to earth, more commonplace, why not take a look at this list of best après-ski resorts around the world. But keep in mind that with the right company and a Peppermint Patty Shooter you can still thrive amid the bare timber walls and gingham tablecloths of a pretend chalet. In the end, après-ski is what you make it.