It’s all in the timing—at least that's true when it comes to the après-ski scene in the French Alps. Take Méribel, one of the most beautiful resorts in the Trois Valleés ski area. Just about every local I talked with recommended La Folie Douce for my first post-piste stop; it sits on the slopes near the Saulire Express gondola's intermediate station. Most people arrive here around 3 pm, when DJs get the party started on the bar's expansive wooden deck and a cluster of parka-clad skiers and snowboarders perches precariously on the tables. The Champagne flows freely, sometimes never making it into a glass.
By the time La Folie Douce closes at 5 pm, everyone heads down the mountain to Le Rond Point—better known as The Ronnie—for its wide-open views of the ski runs, toffee-flavored vodka by the glass or bottle, and an ever-changing roster of live bands. The revelry comes to a halt at 7 pm, when many people wander into the village to the sophisticated Le Poste de Secours (Immeuble Les Gentianes, 73550 Méribel, +33/4 79 00 74 31). If you'd rather avoid elbow-to-elbow crowds at the slope-side bars, start your evening here instead. It's tucked away just off Méribel’s main street, so early in the evening it’s often overlooked by hard-core partiers.
Dispensing with the chalet-chic décor that's so popular in the region’s watering holes, Le Poste de Secours has a futuristic feel. In the purple haze, spherical lighting fixtures float like planets while clusters of pod-like chairs sit low to the ground. Plus, the bottles lined up behind the round-edged bar aren't just there for decoration: This is the best place in town for classic cocktails, made by bartenders who know their stuff.
Here you can order a Negroni or an Old Fashioned and know that you're in good hands. Thinking I could stump the young man behind the bar, I asked him to create a cocktail with génépi, a local favorite flavored with an herb that's grown in the Alps and the Pyrenees. The clear liqueur is generally served in a shot glass after dinner, much like another regional favorite, Chartreuse.
"That's the best idea in the world," said bartender Charles Faur, who explained that he honed his craft in Paris. "I wonder why everyone doesn't ask for it?"
He went to work imediately, pulling out a snifter and pouring a generous amount of génépi over ice. Chartreuse was a surprising second ingredient, and two tablespoons of the liqueur turned the mixture a lustrous shade of gold. A dash of bitters and a twist of lemon topped it off.
The drink was passed around our table, and then a second and a third were ordered. Someone asked Faur to name his concoction, and he rubbed his chin for a moment before declaring it a Savoyard, the name of a resident in the surrounding region of Savoie. Perfect.
At about 9 pm, the après-ski crowd began filtering out as a scruffy DJ made his entrance. The evening at Le Poste de Secours would end, as they do for much of the ski season, with a youthful crowd swaying to house or techno music. Those of us who were planning to hit the slopes early took this moment to make a graceful exit. As I learned from the locals, it's all in the timing.
Mark Sullivan is a travel editor for Fodor’s, specializing in cities and cultural destinations. Follow him on Twitter: @markenroute.