COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After an invigorating day in high-country powder, what does the body crave more -- a hot tub or a hot toddy?
A bit of both, more than likely, but the toddy has been known to take priority, and no wonder. Many of the in-demand drinks are fanciful and flavorful, more like a dessert than a simple thirst-quencher: coffee spiked with cognac, Grand Marnier or Godiva chocolate liqueur; mulled wine; a snifter of warm brandy; whimsically named concoctions like Gorilla Sweat (hot buttered tequila, for the uninitiated). They're liquid lifts, designed to warm the body and raise the spirits after a chilly winter excursion.
"People come right off the slopes and have a hot drink in their ski clothes," says Sarah Krichbaum, dining-room manager at the Ski Tip Lodge in Keystone, Colo. "They come in and have a cocktail and then go back to their condos and relax in the hot tub."
Alcohol doesn't have to be part of the apres-ski experience; many of the drinks can be made without. What's essential is something warm, comforting and satisfying.
"Apres ski -- that used to my favorite thing about skiing when I lived in Denver," says Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of food-and-drink reference books. "Hot eggnog is a wonderful way to get toasty on a wintry day. It's soothing and nurturing, sort of like a warm hug."
Herbst also likes chasing the cold with mulled cider.
"It just feels like comfort food," she says. "It's just so warming. One of the reasons I like this drink is that it can be made without alcohol, and then a jigger of brandy can be added to a serving for those who want the kick."
Ask Sherrye Hull, bar manager for the Sports Page and a former skier, what pops into her mind for a tasty apres-ski drink and you'll get a barrage of tempting-sounding drinks: hot buttered rum, glogg, French connection, Keoke coffee, Jamaican coffee, Irish coffee, Cafe Diablo.
She says hot coffee flavored with almost any liquor is an easy fix for numb hands.
"Patron XO Cafe, a coffee liquor made with tequila, is a relatively new liqueur that has become a very popular addition to coffee," Hull says.
Serve it in a heavy margarita glass that has been dipped in brown sugar caramelized to form a crust, then float a flame over the top, and you have a dazzling show-stopper.
One of her favorite apres-ski drinks combines an ounce each of cognac and brandy in coffee.
Hull says the many varieties of schnapps also are popular after a winter outing.
"Add a shot of peppermint schnapps and creme de cacao to a cup of coffee, and you have a Peppermint Patty hot drink," she says.
Perhaps you've detected a theme: Like a perfect ski run, an apres-ski drink needs a good base, and coffee is a natural.
So are milk and hot chocolate. Milk, served hot, is both a thirst-quenching drink and a perfect food. Because its flavor is unassertive, milk harmonizes with diverse flavorings, like syrups and fruit. Whole milk ensures the most luxurious effects, but low-fat and skim milk, which are lower in calories and cholesterol, are suitable alternatives.
For hot chocolate, you can use the instant variety or cocoa powder or block chocolate in milk. If you use cocoa powder or block chocolate, dissolve it completely in boiling water before pouring in the hot milk; then whisk the mixture for drinks that are frothy and light. You can fold lightly whipped cream into the liquid or spoon the cream over the top just before serving for an extra-rich drink.
Other good bases for hot drinks are wine, hard cider and ale. When heated with sugar or honey and spices in the process known as mulling, their flavors mellow and become intensely aromatic.
A word of warning when serving your own hot drinks: Use only heat-proof glasses, cups or punch bowls, says Herbst. Be careful when using metal cups or mugs -- metal holds heat so well it can easily burn your lips.
On the subject of safety, it bears mentioning that these alcoholic treats are for apres-ski enjoyment; don't mix drinking and skiing, and don't use alcohol to stay warm in the outdoors.