Beers of ski country

By Gregg Smith

When we started this series the ground was bare and an occasional day still hit temperatures in the 60's. My, how things have changed. As the first installment was printed the snow began to fly and within that month western peaks accumulated up to 200 inches of the white stuff. Now we've hit mid season and it's time to review the most popular ski region in the country - Colorado.

Most skiers heading west stop in Denver and it's not a bad place for either a ski or beer tour. If you don't mind driving each day Denver is within two hours of a number of notable areas and going back to town each night allows you do sample the local brew pubs. An alternative is to set aside a day at the beginning and\or end of the trip to joyfully stumble from city brewpub to brewpub. In downtown Denver you've got a choice of several places to grab a foamy. Try the Champion at 1442 Larimer, or the crowded, noisy, and some what polished bar at the Rock Bottom - 1001 16th street. Both offer solid, clean beers although not very adventurous. The best bet is head over near the new baseball stadium where the Wyncoop is located at 1634 18th street, in part of the area known as lodo (lower downtown). Wyncoop has more inspired beers and does a great job with various renditions of bitter. For food there's a variety of old fashion pub favorites; try the ploughman's board. After a bite to eat the upstairs has a group of pool tables for sharpening your eye-hand coordination, although after too many bitters the pockets seem to get smaller.

Just north of the mile high city Boulder presents three more brewpubs including the Oasis - 1095 Canyon Boulevard, Rockies - 2880 Wilderness Place (originally Boulder), and Walnut on 1123 Walnut. If you've some spare time also take the tour of Coors. Even if you don't care for their beers, the enormity of it all is nearly beyond description. If you're planning on staying at the slopes you may first want to pick up a few bottles of beer from the New Belgian Brewery. Their brews, styled after those of Belgium, include Fat Tire Ale, a Cherry, and Abbey among others. They're worth hauling up over Eisenhower pass.

Actually, you don't really go over the top of the pass, or even through it, you drive under it through a tunnel. When you come out the other side you immediately see the stark contrast between the eastern and western side of the slopes. It's almost as if they hid all the snow on the far side from Denver. Although there's plenty of snow it had been a desert for beer, at least micro brews, but all that's changed in the last five years or so. Colorado now trails only California in the number of breweries which call the state home.

Breckenridge covers four separate peaks and from the 12,998ft summit you have a choice of 1,915 acres dropping over 3,400ft. Experts will love the bowl skiing available off peak 8 while cruisers will want to check out the Centennial and Crystal trails. After a day pounding the steeps settle in for a beer at 600 SouthMain, home of the Breckenridge brewpub. The cathedral ceiling with a large wall of windows facing the mountain is a great place to relive your day's exploits, and the IPA's a good choice to complement your tales of daring.

Crested Butte is rather tucked away by itself but the skiing is worth the isolation. There's plenty of choices for all levels of skiers off the 3,062ft vertical. In town the apres ski for brewski is at 226 Elk Avenue and the Crested Butte Idle spur brewery. Don't be put off if you need to make dinner reservations, the 5,300 sqft facility fills with patrons eagerly chowing down on generous steaks and burgers. There's live music most nights and for your more mainstream friends the bar has bottles from the big brewers along with their own beers.

At Steamboat it's the trees that call, because this mountain has some of the most extensive tree skiing in the country. Just be sure you've got an ability level to match. The trees are thinned out but the gaps seem to shrink as you're moving downhill. There's plenty of intermediate slopes and if they get crowded move over to the Bashor Chair which is usually empty. The brewpub in town is the Heavenly Daze Brewery & Grill on 1860 Ski time Square Drive. This is a three level brewpub with great views of the slope with nightly live music. Try their smoked trout chowder which has been written up in several dining magazines.

More southerly is the famous Ajax mountain of Aspen. The 3,267 feet of slopes should contain a warning which states "Beginners Beware". In general it's an expert mountain. Don't despair there's more varied skill level of trails on nearby Aspen Highlands with 3,800ft vertical, or at Snowmass which has not only 3,612ft but also 2,500 skiable acres. In town try the award winning Flying Dog brewpub at 424 E.Cooper. For a glimpse of Aspen's past check out the Hotel Jerome Bar. The beer selection is somewhat limited but it more than makes up for it in atmosphere.

Farther south is what was once a mining town but is now best known for it's 3,165 ft of vertical and challenging terrain (easier slopes are on the back side). If you fly in to Telluride close your eyes as the plane lands. The airport is not only the highest in the states, the runway also starts at the edge of a cliff. Although Telluride is a small town it's got big beer taste. One brewpub is located at 127 South Fur in "Brewed and Baked in Telluride". This brewery produces acceptable malt extract beers along with excellent pizza and breads. Also in town is the San Juan Brewing Company in the old train station at 300 S.Townsend. If these aren't enough try Leimburgers Bierstube which will tap you any number of fine German beers.

Of course the area which most frequently comes to mind only 2 hours out of Denver. Vail - where it's not so much the 3,250ft vertical which draws skiers as much as the 4,020 open skiing acres. This isn't an area for blazing down the extremes but it is a bowl skiers paradise. If you're a content intermediate stay on the front of the mountain where it's nearly all groomed, but stay away from mid-Vail where the emphasis is more on how you look and the size of your wallet. There's too much money and the lift lines are long. Advanced intermediates and experts want to go for the "back bowls" with names of Game Creek, Siberia, and China. Mornings of freshpowder are especially irresistible there.

Back in the town stop in at the Hub Cap brewpub. Their rhyming beers have been consistent award winners. Try the Beaver Tail Brown Ale, and the Rainbow Trout Stout. Although the beers are good the food is rather uninspired, mostly chicken pot pies, burgers, cheese macaroni and other selections from Mom's comfort food catalog. For a bite to eat head over to the Lion's Head Bar & Grill which has a fair sized selection of bottled beers and well built salads and sandwiches.

Gregg Smith


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