By Paige Albiniak

I?m all for an après buzz, and perhaps we?ll address that in a later post, but today I?m talking about the buzz that gets you out of bed: coffee.

I live with an extremely selective coffee drinker who thinks going to Starbucks is for corporate sell-outs, so although many of our early-morning out-of-the-way coffee runs have caused much grumbling, they also have inadvertently provided us with a lot of research into where to go to find the best joe.

But before we get going, let me make this point: Mountain service typically means slow. Not in every case, but in many. So if you are in a hurry to make first chair, skip my tips and just head to Starbucks (possibly the world?s most efficient Starbucks is in Dillon, just off Highway 6 on the way to Keystone) or even better ? McDonald?s. Don?t tell the aforementioned rejecter of corporate offerings, but McDonald?s offers a cheap, delicious, quick, drive-thru cup of coffee that will efficiently service your fix. And I know it has its detractors, but I remain a fan of the sweet-salty junk-food goodness that is the McGriddle. Hey, I?m going to be skiing bumps all day, I deserve it, right? (In general, I like breakfast sandwiches so for the more health-conscious let me also recommend Starbucks’ reduced-fat turkey-bacon sandwich. It?s less than 500 calories, but will keep you powered up until it?s time to stop for chili.)

Onward and up I-70.

Idaho Springs: In general, Idaho Springs is a great place to stop for various things, not least of which are pizza and beer, so we often find ourselves here on the way up and on the way back. Moreover, the trafficky trip down Floyd Hill can be a killer, so sometimes we need a break. Coffee-wise, we like Java Mountain Roasters. The locals are almost always here hanging out, even at 7 am on a Saturday, and the roasters are often going in the back, blanketing everything in an inviting aroma.

Empire: This is a weird place. You exit I-70 to head up I-40 on your way to Winter Park, but first you encounter this random little leftover mining town. Lucky for us, however, it?s home to one of the friendliest little coffee places this side of Berthoud Pass:  Mountain Edge Coffee Shop. The place is so small that it doesn?t even have a Web site, but it does have great baked goods and a helpful staff. There have been days when we wouldn?t have made it over the hill without it. (P.S. If you happen to lock yourself out of your car on the way in because you haven?t yet had your coffee, they keep a coat hanger handy underneath the counter.)

Winter Park:  OK, we made it over the hill, we skied our day, and now we need some more coffee. Rocky Mountain Roastery is so organized it?s almost hard to call it local, but it offers both great coffee drinks and locally-roasted and bagged coffee. We often leave with several bags of the stuff, from Winter Park Mellow to a bolder Italian Roast that?s perfect for making espresso at home. If just reading this is making you long for a cup, you can order online, just click the link above.

Downieville: This is less a town and more a pit-stop. And if you stop here, you are stopping at Starbucks, but there are times when this place is a lifesaver. They just remodeled it so there?s a lot more space in the coffee shop, and perhaps more importantly, a lot more bathrooms, which is often a dire need after braving tunnel traffic.  Plus, you can shop for ski gear while you wait for your pumpkin-spice latte!

Silverthorne: We go for a two-fer here. First, we stop at the Steaming Bean for a fresh-brewed mocha, and then we head over to Smiling Moose Deli for yet another breakfast sandwich. Smiling Moose, which has several Colorado locations, is a serious exception to the slow mountain service rule ? there?s almost always a line here, and they still get you out of there unbelievably fast. And I defy you to stand in front of that giant bakery case and leave without at least a cookie. (Side note:  For those with a little more time, there?s also a lovely little sit-down place in this same shopping complex — The Sunshine Café — that offers good breakfast burritos, omelets and whatnot.)

Keystone: Inxpot, besides sporting a clever name, also has good coffee and a cute hang-out area complete with comfy chairs and chessboard. And it?s convenient ? you can pop in on your way from the parking lot to the River Run gondola.

Breckenridge: Our favorite here, without exception, is Clint?s. However, Clint?s employees are much less interested in your needs than they are in when they will get to leave and go skiing. No matter, Clint?s coffee cake is totally worth it.

Vail: On the long trudge from the parking lot to the Vista Bahn, we like to make a side trip to Joe?s Famous Deli, which is on your left and down some stairs as you look up longingly at the mountain. Joe?s serves joe, of course, as well as breakfast sandwiches, bagels and ice cream, which we absolutely never want while we are skiing.

Glenwood Springs: Like Idaho Springs, Glenwood is more a place to stop on the way to skiing, although in Glenwood you could get sucked into the giant hot-springs-fed pool and never find your way to the slopes. Here, we like Sacred Grounds, which is a café, sandwich shop and Internet hotspot all wrapped into one. It?s a great place to take a break on your way to Aspen from Denver.

Crested Butte: A shack covered in license plates, Camp 4 Coffee is probably the most recognizable coffee place in this adorable mountain town. The coffee here is tasty, but the service lags, and there?s very little room inside to wait, which is fine in the summer but rough during one of Crested Butte?s typical bouts of bitter cold. Still, sometimes good coffee demands sacrifices.

Those are our recommendations, but we have some obvious gaps, such as Steamboat, Aspen and Telluride. If you?ve been to a ski-town coffee place that you absolutely love and we failed to mention, leave a comment and let us know.


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