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Raising the Bar

Welcome to "Power Hour", the holy grail at ski-town bars where you can eat like king and pay like a pauper.

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A Blonde Negroni is no run-of-the-mill après-ski drink, particularly not when it’s perfectly crafted and costs only $6. 

Downtown Salt Lake City's Copper Common transforms bar food into exquisite farm-to-table dishes. Think bacon-wrapped dates and savory flatbreads.
Downtown Salt Lake City’s Copper Common transforms bar food into exquisite farm-to-table dishes. Think bacon-wrapped dates and savory flatbreads.Photo credit to Caroline Hargraves

Ditto a Mexican Firing Squad—also just six bucks—built from small-batch añejo, freshly squeezed lime, craft bitters, and house-made grenadine. The food is a step above yet good value, too. A burger of pasture-raised wagyu topped with wine-caramelized onions and duck fat aioli comes in at $10, including a side of hand-cut fries.

Granted, Copper Common is no run-of-the-mill après-ski spot. It’s not at the foot of Alta’s lifts, where I spent the day zooming and gliding with a pack of friends, but steps from my downtown Salt Lake City hotel. Fans come for its artful mixology, good food, and funky soul soundtrack whether they’ve been skiing or not.

Plump Jack Bar Olympic Valley, Calif.
Plumpjack Bar Photo courtesy of Plump Jack

The fare at Copper Common, though, isn’t usually this cheap. The standard charge for its specialty cocktails is $9 to $14, and for the burger is $13. If I were in Santa Monica with my best friend Gina, nabbing such premium eats and drinks at value prices would be a “happy hour” deal. But this is Utah, one of 12 states where happy hour is illegal. So don’t call this happy hour, OK? Call it Tuesday at Copper Common.

For many, happy hour conjures images of sugary, two-for-one well drinks and platters of greasy wings. My pal Gina, however, introduced me to today’s newest wave of quality happy hours, where better bars and restaurants offer clever and delicious food and drink at a fraction of the normal price for a limited window of time on a regularly scheduled basis. “In urban environments, high-end happy hours are very common,” says the Avant-Guide Institute’s Daniel Levine, a trends expert. It’s a value proposition with epicurean appeal.

But is it a thing in the ski world? You bet. From Aspen to Whistler, power-hour pricing includes eats ranging from truffle fries and hand-tossed pizzas to fresh oysters, artisanal cheese boards, prime rib sliders, blistered shishito peppers and even smoked trout with olive tapenade on walnut-raisin toast.

Rustique Bistro
Rustique Bistro Photo credit to Robert Millman

As foodie culture has mushroomed, Levine explains, more restaurants serving “top-of-the-line food” in ski towns and beyond have embraced the happy-hour model, marrying the concepts of tasting menus and early-bird dining. “They’re showcasing their food, looking to draw a crowd in times that are traditionally soft.” Many pair it with pours from the new wave of craft brewers, vintners, distillers, and mixologists, also at value prices.

The most appetizing of these deals are rarely found at the loudest, beeriest, après-ski spots at the very foot of slopes, though. Look past the mountains of nachos to the little charcuterie place around the corner, perhaps, or the roomy fine dining restaurant that doesn’t fill until 7 p.m., or a nice hotel’s cushy lounge. Or, take your pick from the list below.

Take our word for it, charcuterie boards are better than wings after a day of skiing.Photo credit Darby Magill


Olympic Valley, Calif.
Steampunk décor meets wine country gourmandise at value prices from 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, when drinks and eats both start at $5. A savory Caesar salad of baby gem lettuce, boquerones, and grana padano is $8. “Ode to the Cocktails” highlights a different monthly spirit, with a clever educational flyer and all-day $10 feature cocktails.


Aspen, Colo.
Who says you can’t have your wild boar sopressata and eat it, too, perhaps with a glass of bubbly? Rustique’s classic country French can be sampled at slashed rates from 2:30-6 p.m. daily, with food specials starting at $6, stems for $6, and half-priced cocktails like a Manhattan made with Colorado’s own DRAM black bitters and Woody Creek rye.


Whistler, B.C.
This contemporary salumeria and wine bar’s happy hour runs from 3-5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. A chef’s choice charcuterie and cheese board costs $15 CAD. Menu items like elk tartare, lamb ribs or mussels with clams in tomato fennel broth run $12-19 CAD. Select pours from Basalt’s big list of reds, whites, and rosés are $8 CAD per glass.


Salt Lake City, Utah 
Each Monday through Thursday brings three new seasonal cocktails from $6. Chef Ryan Lowder’s acclaimed Copper Onion burger is discounted Monday through Wednesday, with an additional food special daily. Or, one block away, catch Under Current’s late night “High Tide” for noshes like fresh oysters with cucumber mignonette from $1.