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Take 10

Après ski means microbrews, fine dining, live music, and carousing

How you play it may depend on whether you’re planning to be first on the slopes the next morning

By Eric Wilbur
Globe Staff / January 3, 2010

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It’s often said that skiing is more than a sport. It’s a culture that connects winter outdoor enthusiasts through their love of nature, speed, and moving rhythmically down the mountain slopes. At the epicenter of that culture is après ski, a wide range of opportunities to revel in the camaraderie at the end of a day on the hill. From eclectic dining to late-night carousing, New England has its share of legendary après destinations. Here are 10 of the best.

Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub, Glen, N.H. I once drove an hour out of the way for a Red Parka Pub burger topped with sauteed mushrooms, which is about as good a meal as you’re going to find in Mount Washington Valley. For almost 40 years, this place has defined après ski at the crossroads between Wildcat and Attitash. Red Parka has an inviting atmosphere where drafts are served in mason jars, ski movies are screened on the dining room wall, and the salad bar can stand as a meal on its own. The crowd is always lively, the bartenders friendly, and the conversation invariably shifts to that day’s experience on the slopes. At the junction of US 302 and N.H. 16, 603-383-4344, www.redparkapub.com

Mr. Pickwick’s Pub, Stowe, Vt. This cozy pub at Ye Olde England Inne offers a fine dining alternative to rowdier Stowe mainstays. The divergent menu, featuring elk sirloin, prosciutto-wrapped kangaroo, and Kobe beef burgers, sets this place apart. The rustic warmth of the bar room and the attentive staff (many of whom remember customers from season to season) make it a compelling spot to meet after a day on Mount Mansfield. The beer selection is beyond compare in Vermont, with a dizzying array of Vermont microbrews and British offerings. 433 Mountain Road, 802-253-7558, www.mrpickwicks.com

The Wobbly Barn, Killington, Vt. Killington Access Road is often referred to as the mecca of New England après ski. Still, among the plethora of options, the Pickle Barrel and Wobbly Barn are renowned for their boisterous night life. But the Wobbly Barn wins because of its steakhouse offerings. Dine on filet mignon or sea scallops before rocking the night out with live entertainment. Neither place is cheap, and the covers are steep. In the end though, nobody complains. 4763 Killington Road, 802-422-6171, www.wobblybarn.net

Long Trail Brewery Visitor Center and Pub, Bridgewater Corners, Vt. The brewery for one of Vermont’s best-selling beers sits just a few miles from the raucous energy of Killington Access Road. Visitors can take a quick tour of the brewery before enjoying a few samples of the fresh product and some inexpensive pub fare. The beer is a steal, $5 for a 20-ounce pint, $8 for a 32-ounce pitcher, and the menu doesn’t have an item more than $8.50. The interior is modeled after the famed Hofbräu House beer hall in Munich, which lends a certain raucous atmosphere when the place gets crowded. 5520 US Route 4, 802-672-5011, www.longtrail.com

The Alchemist Pub and Brewery, Waterbury, Vt. The Alchemist has been around only since 2003, but it has already gained a reputation for offering the finest craft brews in Vermont. Located in an unassuming storefront, it serves up quality food and beverage while supporting the community. The Lightweight, a pilsner, won a bronze medal at the 2006 World Beer Cup (though the hop-heavy Holy Cow IPA and Holy Moly are more to my liking). The menu offers ingredients from local farms like Jasper Hill and Misty Knoll (try the roasted vegetable and goat cheese lasagna), and the walls feature works of local artisans. If you spend the day at Stowe, Sugarbush, or Mad River Glen, it’s well worth the drive. 23 South Main St., 802-244-4120, www.alchemistbeer.com

Tom’s Loft Tavern, Ludlow, Vt. A sign at this Okemo Resort institution reads, “Home of lousy food, warm beer and grumpy owner.’’ We can’t speak to the latter, but we can tell you the vibe is anything but grumpy. Located adjacent to Okemo’s parking lot, this place welcomes a mix of locals, tourists, and mountain employees in a simple environment so close to the slopes that snow is liable to be dripping off the ski pant cuffs of the patrons. Don’t worry, the beer (which often includes the latest Long Trail brewmaster offering) isn’t warm in the least, but it is inexpensive. 300 Mountain Road, 802-228-5638

Wildcat Inn and Tavern, Jackson Village, N.H. The choice is yours. Step to the left into a fine dining experience and a menu featuring lobster macaroni and cheese and grilled salmon in a romantic, candlelit environment. Take a right into the tavern and enjoy the same menu (as well as standard pub fare) in a laid-back environment of live music and conversation. Either way, you can’t go wrong in the picturesque setting of Jackson Village, a few miles from Black Mountain. Route 16A, 603-383-4245, www.wildcattavern.com

Matterhorn Ski Bar, Newry, Maine Recently named best après-ski bar in America by Skiing Magazine, the Matterhorn is the perfect way to extend a day at Sunday River, whether you plan to party into the night or just grab a bite. Ski flicks dominate the bar’s 64-inch HDTV, and wood-fired pizzas are served atop a bar made out of vintage skis. Live bands rock the house every weekend, when you’re apt to find more than one soul sipping a notorious 60-ounce Glacier bowl (think scorpion bowl, but better). If you just want pizza , be forewarned: get there early. 292 Sunday River Road, 207-824-6836, www.matterhornskibar.com

Sunday River Brewing Co., Bethel, Maine If a late night of drinking mixed concoctions isn’t your ideal après experience, how about a fine brew and conversation? One of Maine’s first microbreweries is within spitting distance of the rowdy Matterhorn , at the corner of Route 2 and Sunday River Road. While the food is nothing to crow about, beer highlights include the Sunday River Lager, the 420 American Pale Ale, and the Black Bear Porter. The surroundings can seem cold compared with the overwhelming ski aura of the Matterhorn, but for beer lovers, there’s probably no better way to cap off a day in Bethel. 29 Sunday River Road, 207-824-4253, www.sundayriverbrewpub.com

Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery, Woodstock, N.H. From Main Street, you would never know that this inn houses one of New Hampshire’s best microbreweries. Step through the front door, and the country atmosphere still gives no hint that this inn - minutes from Cannon and Loon - has been brewing noted beers like the Pig’s Ear Brown and the Pemi Pale Ale since 1995. The menu is standard après fare - burgers, steak, pizza, and more, but with the added twist that all the bread and dough is created with grains recycled from the brewing process. Not only is that good for the environment (the rest is donated to local farmers), it makes for a pizza crust that offers a hint of what has made this place so successful. 135 Main St., 603-745-3951, www.woodstockinnnh.com

Eric Wilbur can be reached at ewilbur@boston.com.