We have a lot of great bars in the Southern Appalachians, and we’ve been known to have some great skiing from time to time, but great ski bars are scarce in these parts. We have some great paddling bars, and we have mountain bike bars in spades, but ski bars are few and far between.
Trust me, I’ve looked. And let me be clear—I’m not talking about a bar that’s actually located on the mountain. I’m talking about a bar in a town at the base of the mountain or off a lonely highway somewhat adjacent to said ski hill. Slope-side bars are lovely, but they’re typically a different beast altogether, starting with the cost of beer and trickling down to the clientele that bellies up to the bar.
That’s not to say I haven’t had good times at slope-side bars. Some of my fondest memories of skiing at Snowshoe include drinking tall boy PBRs at Arbunkle’s Cabin at the base of Cupp Run. But the problem with slope-side bars is that they know they’re ski bars, and once a bar is aware of its ski bar status, it loses some of its charm. It’s confusing, like physics, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
While I haven’t found the perfect ski bar in these parts yet, I’m always on the lookout and I want everyone reading this right now to be on the lookout as well. So you can tell me if and when you find the ideal bar to plant my tired body in after a fun day on the hill.
Here are my thoughts on what makes the perfect ski bar, so you know what to look for.
• Location is obviously important (it needs to be near a ski slope, duh) but so is the exterior. The façade of the ski bar should be nondescript to the point that it’s unwelcoming to casual passers-by.
• Half the people in the ski bar should be locals that do not ski. These locals should also glare at the skiers fresh off the mountain like they’re aliens.
• The perfect ski bar must have some sort of mildly athletic competition to keep the patrons busy. Pool and darts don’t count. Ping pong or shuffleboard are ideal. Karaoke will also work in this category.
• A shot ski should be hung high above the back of the bar, but it shouldn’t be used haphazardly. The shot ski is ceremonial and will only be filled to celebrate monumental events like funerals or when someone gets a new set of powder skis.
• If you have a bitchin’ van, the owners of the ski bar will let you sleep in the parking lot. If you’re cool and help them take out the trash, they’ll even give you free coffee in the morning.
• For one hour a day, people are allowed to erupt into an impromptu dance party at the perfect ski bar. The exact timing of that dance party is not set but allowed to happen organically. Otherwise, the only music played at the perfect ski bar is classic country.
• If there’s enough snow on the ground, customers will be allowed, nay, encouraged to ski through the front door of the ski bar.
• The perfect ski bar does not have cheesy drink specials, giveaways or gimmicks. The Jager Luge is the obvious exception to this rule.
• Local IPAs should be heavily featured, but there should also be a PBR on tap for a dollar ‘cause skiing is expensive.
• Any bar tab left under the name “Dexter Rutecki” will be automatically forgiven at the perfect ski bar.
• This isn’t a sports bar, but there is one TV in the corner showing classic films like The Blizzard of AAHHH’s and Aspen Extreme (see Dexter Rutecki, above) on a loop.
• There should be food, but the perfect ski bar isn’t a restaurant, so Hot Pockets, heated up begrudgingly in the microwave by the bartender, will suffice. That bartender is also a better skier than you, so don’t bother telling him/her how hard you ripped today.
Photos by Graham Averill