4 Legendary Ski Bars

VTSKI+Ride — Winter 2018

What makes a ski bar a legend? It’s the abundance of good times, year after year, and the people who bring those good times into your life.

[The source article is about 4 legendary Ski Bars -- this blog entry, however, includes only The Matterhorn in Stowe.]

THE MATTERHORN

On a night when cars are parked up and down the Mountain Road and there’s a line at the door of The Matterhorn, Charlie Shaffer has an air of perpetual calm. It may be getting rowdy with a gang doing shots going at one end the bar. The dance floor may be a mosh pit. There may be a skinny-dipping challenge in the river just off the back deck. Shaffer takes it all in with an impish, bemused smile. He greets the regulars with a pat on the arm, and a “good to see you, did you ski today,” runs a hand through his tousled hair and steps back into the kitchen to check on things.

Meanwhile, Louise Shaffer deftly rolls sushi in the sushi/martini bar on the lower level, facing big windows and the river. As Charlie says, “the fish comes off the same boat that serves restaurants in Boston. It gets there at 11 and it is here by 5 pm.”

 Charlie and Louise Shaffer

Charlie and Louise Shaffer

The Matterhorn, a perennial favorite in national “best ski bars in the U.S.” lists, is a near-mandatory watering hole for any skier headed down the Mountain Road from Mt. Mansfield. It’s has been an institution since the 1950s, hosting the Monkees, members of The Grateful Dead and NFL star Doug Flutie and the Flutie Brothers band (whom Charlie sometimes sings with). After being a regular customer, Charlie, a  Boston skier who had a weekend house share in Stowe, bought the place in 1996.  Soon after, he lost his job as a trader and moved up  full time. “It used to be a little more wild here,” he says. “But then again, so were we.”

Locals Jake and Donna Carpenter, and Burton’s posse of pro riders, are regulars. One night this past January, Ethan Hawke stopped in. Harvey Keitel threw his son’s birthday party here —and sent a video to the kid’s godfather, Robert DeNiro.

The Matterhorn has also been the scene of a (predictable) cat fight on Season Seven of the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” (aired in 2016).  In describing the episode, E! Online called the ‘Horn, “A restaurant in the midst of what seems to be an identity crisis (seriously, it looked like a barn and inexplicably served buffalo wings and sushi).”

What they missed is the knack that Charlie, who used to work on the floor of the Boston Stock Exchange, and Louise have for making just about everyone feel at home—be it a fur-clad New Yorker sipping a martini or a 20-year-old liftie downing a Heady Topper.

Over the bar hang mugs belonging to regulars. “We save the mugs for people who work around here and really give back to the community —patrollers ski instructors and such,”  Charlie says. They come and bring their 60-year-old private lesson clients. They bring their friends and kids with them. And then they leave (or not) and the music cranks up and a new crowd shuffles in.

“A lot of the people you see here have been coming here since they were in their 20s,” Shaffer says. “I can’t tell you how many met their wives or husbands here.”  He looks around and smiles. “Toni and Eileen Bowen, a couple in their late 70s who drive up from Montauk, Long Island, are long-time customers who have become some of our best friends and they bring their kids and grandkids,” Charlie says.  “The people I have met in this community and the friends we have made here are just incredible.”

At the back of the bar, beyond two pool tables, kids in ski gear are slamming quarters into a pinball machine. A crew that just skied down the backwoods Bruce Trail (which spills out a hundred feet up the road) has hoofed it in to grab a beer.

The après crowd segues seamlessly into the family dinner crowd, then into a late-night singles scene as the bands shift from one beat to the next. Charlie drums his fingers on the bar to the beat and smiles. No matter how crazy it gets, he always seems to be having a good time. “Perhaps the best thing about owning The Matterhorn is you get to see your friends at work all the time,” he says. “There are some nights when I’m getting ready to go home and in walk some friends, and then I know I’m gonna stay and have a beer with them.” —Lisa Lynn

Read the complete article, which includes Chez Henri (at the base of Lincoln Peak near Sugarbush), the Pickle Barrel (Killington), and the Red Fox Inn (within 10 miles of Stratton Mountain Resort, Bromley and Magic Mountain)