7 Mountain Restaurants for Après-Ski

Mountain towns can be places of contradiction, especially during winter. For all the exercising residents and visitors do by day — the downhill skiing, backcountry touring, snowshoeing and tubing — friends and family feel the need to undo all that hard work by night. They want nothing more than to down a cold beer or sip a glass of wine before tucking in to something delicious and calorie-rich: a gourmet burger, a juicy steak, a bowl of cheesy fondue or — as urban trends find mountain towns — a selection of sushi rolls, a smattering of small plates or a platter overflowing with charcuterie and cheeses.

Known as après-ski, this off-hill ritual has become part of mountain culture and is integral to the experience. It’s a time to rehash the day’s fresh powder, big air or giant yard-sale crashes. While traditionally enjoyed with a pitcher of Kokanee and a plate of nachos, it’s becoming more common to toast steep fall lines and bluebird days with craft beer, Okanagan wine and food more refined than potato skins or poutine.

The next time you’re heading west, check out some restaurants that are putting a unique stamp on mountain dining.

Banff: Eddie Burger + Bar

Burgers are the original après-ski fare and The Eddie never disappoints. Instead, it will raise your burger expectations for life with such creations as the Kobe Beef with double smoked bacon or the PB&J (peanut butter and lingonberry compote jam spread on an AAA Alberta beer patty is pure genius!). These gourmet burgers are served in a comfortable space that makes tourists feel like locals, and that’s the way operating partner Joe Gregory likes it. After four years in business, his patrons can still count on high-quality ingredients and fall back on a classic burger if the mood suits. But, if you’re feeling adventurous (or protein deprived), order the Aussie: it comes with an AAA Alberta patty and a fried egg. (137 Banff Ave., Banff, 403-762-2230, eddieburgerbar.ca, @eddieburgerbar)

Canmore: Mountain Mercato

When it comes to après-ski socializing, the Europeans really get it: there’s wine, hand-crafted beer and cheese and charcuterie consumed in a café setting, not unlike Mountain Mercato. It’s casual, cozy and conducive to friends gathering to replay the ski day over $7 glasses of wine on a Friday or Saturday night. Co-owner and chef Elana Levin also serves up tasty soups, crisp salads and Italian-style sandwiches that are so good, people drive up from Calgary specifically for the tacchino panini. One word: Omyomyom. (102, 817 Main St., Canmore, 403-609-6631, mountainmercato.com)

Photo by Leslie Prentice

Fernie: El Guapo

It’s not authentic Mexican cuisine, but, as owner Scott Prentice will tell you, it’s wicked-awesome food. El Guapo (translation: the handsome) serves up tilapia fish tacos, honking big chicken and beef burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas in a fiesta setting. The walls are painted turquoise, yellow and adobe red to match the tiled floor, giant sombreros hang on the walls and Christmas lights are always strung up, regardless of the season. Kids can (and do) run amok, playing ping-pong or basketball in the back room, while mom and dad unwind with a giant (and potent) traditional margarita: tequila, triple sec and lime juice shaken and served on the rocks. Ole! (902 6 Ave., Fernie, 250-423-9234)

Fernie: Yamagoya

Sushi? In a mountain town 900 clicks from the ocean? That was the baffled line of questioning that greeted Cam Carr when he opened Yamagoya Japanese restaurant in 2003. To prove Fernie could indeed serve up delicious raw fish, he gave away a lot of sushi in the early days. A decade later, Carr has created a town of believers — judging from the nightly lineups for a table — and also a legion of weekenders who like to say, “The best sushi in Calgary is in Fernie.” Favourites include the Fernie Roll (a yummy combo of tuna, kimchi, tempura and green onion), perfectly seared tuna tataki and a house salad with spinach, deep-fried tofu cubes and a sesame dressing. (741 7 Ave., Fernie, 250-430-0090, alpinelodgefernie.com)

Photo by Dave Best

Golden: Eleven 22

Serving up an eclectic fusion menu of West Coast Canada-meets-Asia-meets-Europe cuisine, Eleven 22 has been surprising diners in this small mountain town with everything from roasted duck breast and cannelloni to nasi goreng (a Malaysian fried-rice dish) for 19 years. Owner and chef Konan Mar credits a from-scratch philosophy and an unbeatable ambiance for the restaurant’s success. Located in a 1904 character home, Eleven 22’s layout forms semi-private dining rooms for intimacy, and walls hung with contemporary art painted by Mar’s family members create interest beyond the palate. Just because Mar’s influences are from abroad doesn’t mean the ingredients come from far away. Look for local, seasonal produce where available, meats from Valbella in Canmore and drinks including B.C.-brewed beer and Okanagan wines. (1122 10 Ave. S., Golden, 250-344-7992, eleven22.ca)

Panorama: Wildfire Rustic Grill

Chef Damian Andrijich and his friendly staff like to talk up Pano and they love exchanging stories with guests. The food is good, too, but it’s the ski-hill culture and friendly atmosphere — cozy fireplace? Check — that make the difference at the Wildfire Rustic Grill. Panorama has really been focusing on elevating its culinary offerings and it shows with dishes like the grilled duck breast or succulent barbecued ribs. Since Panorama is all about families, there are lots of burger and pasta options on the menu, too. (Inside the Pine Inn in Panorama Mountain Village, 250-342-6941, panoramaresort.com)

Silver Star: Silver Grill Steak and Chop House

At Silver Star’s premier fine-dining restaurant, you’ll be treated to pale-ale braised pork belly, filet mignon wrapped in locally sourced boar’s bacon or salmon or pork chops smoked in-house using wine barrel chips, all enjoyed over white tablecloths with a view of the ski hill through a bank of tall windows. Silver Grill chef Brenden Blair taps into his know- ledge of local producers to bring such delicious and beautifully presented dishes to the table. He then calls on his winery background to pair them with a small but focused wine list. The options are mainly VQA winery direct bottles from “cult wineries” in the Okanagan Valley, with a focus on the Naramata Bench. (Behind Town Hall in the Silver Star Mountain Village, 250-558-6070, skisilverstar.com)

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