Words by Darryl Hunt
Skiing and partying go together better than all the clichés sayings I can think of combined. Besides American Football and tailgating, I can't really think of any sport that has fully embraced the party like skiing has. Apres ski is most likely as old as recreational skiing itself and while a French word in origin, is recognized by skiers around the world as the acceptable, if not expected, thing to do after a good day of skiing. What I think makes apres ski completely unique, and trumping tailgating by a huge margin, is the fact that those who participate are doing so AFTER participating in the sport itself. NFL tailgaters aren't actually playing the sport, they're simply just getting drunk and watching. The connection between a day of skiing and an afternoon (ok, night) of drinking - more often than not, still in your ski boots - is so deeply engrained in the sport of skiing that I can't really picture one without the other. I doubt there is even a point in trying to ask the question why, for it would be a feeble task. For most adults I know, all 'work' makes them a little thirsty by the end of the day. A day at work, a long day travelling, recreating in whatever sport they do that day. At the end of whatever a person gets up to, the craving for a nice cold beer is almost constantly present. Hell, even after a night of partying, it's hard to resist a delicious caesar to curb your hangover the following day. To me it seems that it is just become human nature to desire an adult beverage after doing anything to completion, so why have skiers taken it one step further and made a whole sub culture around afternoon drinking?
*It's funny. When I started coming up with the idea for this series in November I thought the party entry was going to be the easiest to write. As the time to start writing it came closer and closer though, I realized how wrong I was. Even my opening paragraph is slightly misleading to the point I 'think' I want to make with this entry. Why is apres ski so prevalent in the world of skiing? Maybe it's because we are a rich person sport who can afford it? Maybe because it originated in the Alps and Europeans have a long history of drinking beer, or maybe we're all just closet case drunks and use skiing as our excuse. Either way, it's not really what I want to spend time on. Skiing and partying go together, that is all I wanted to address before continuing with the meat of this write up. Also, I don't really take party pictures, so my apologies for the lack of visual stimulation in this.*
During high school, before my days of ski bumming, I realized that skiing and partying are unavoidable. I wasn't really much into drinking for most of my high school life, but when you're 16 years old skiing with and hanging out with a group of early to mid 20 year olds on your weekends, drinking becomes unavoidable. Getting snuck into bars - and the odd strip club (and inevitably getting kicked out of said bars) while under age and partying till we passed out was just what we did while skiing for the weekend. I assume all generations of skiers before me, and all after are and will be doing the same thing. Looking at it from the perspective of one who enjoys taking risks on skis (or progressing ones skiing if you will), perhaps it's the risk taker in us that also make us want to party harder than most would deem necessary. A risk taker is a risk taker, no matter what venue they choose for their taking.
Since then, I have lived in pretty much the biggest party/ski towns in Western Canada excluding Banff (those being Whistler, Revelstoke, Fernie, and Rossland). I left Nelson off the list, because while I have partied in Nelson many many times, I just can't bring myself to look at the place as a party town. and there is a ever growing problem in all of these towns that has bugged me from the beginning: The party scene can absolutely destroy skiers. The number of people I have seen show up in town as a fully dedicated ski bum and within a handful of years loose all desire to ski due to the party scene. There are different factors for everyone as to why this happens, but I look at it as a tragedy any way you look at it. What I found is the most common culprit for someone to loose their motivation to ski and jump head first into the party scene is the dreaded off year. For most of you in Western North America reading this right now, I bet you've spend a lot more time partying this winter than skiing, am I right? When the skiing is crap and the party is going off, it's easy to just keep the party going. Next thing you know, you see your friends sleeping in with a hangover on a powder day, and just like that, the snow is melting and they've only been up a few times - in the afternoon, just to hit a few groomers and head to the bar. Besides a shitty winter, the partying itself can be enough to have people stop skiing. As I discussed in a previous entry - just like in most paths you choose for yourself in life - the older you get, generally the better off you are financially. Being older, having more money and as a ski bum, more freedom than anyone really should have, the party scene becomes something more. Without getting into any real detail, because I don't think this is the place for it, lets just say that alcohol generally isn't the only mind altering substance being taken at your typical ski town party. If you find yourself at a party in a ski town (especially in the Kootenays of British Columbia), expect the intoxicants to be as varied as you would at a summer EDM festival. Skiers definitely take things to the next level, on all fronts of life. Obviously, this makes things even more complicated when talking about why someone would all but quit skiing for the party scene.
I really don't want this to turn into a full on cautionary tale, warding people off of partying, or say "don't do this, don't do that". I love to ski, I also love to party. So far I feel like I've done a good job at balancing wants and desires, keeping level throughout. Of all the towns I've lived in, there is one that I have not only spent the most time in, but stands out as a perfect example of a healthy dose of skiing AND partying: Rossland, BC. That town knows how to have a good time both on and off the slopes, while never neglecting one or the other. Spend some time in the town and you'll heard the saying "Drinking town with a skiing problem". The bar at Red Mountain, the local hill was rated "best ski resort bar in North America" by Powder Magazine, the town has a population of 3500 with a non existent club scene, and besides the bar at the ski hill, has a pathetic representation for a bar scene, but damn do they know how to party. If you want to know what ski town partying is all about, you NEED to check out Rossland's Winter Carnival. It goes down every January, usually the same weekend as X Games, and just finished it's 117th annual. Back in 2010 Rick Mercer came to town and did a segment for his show on Winter Carnival, which gives you a good idea as to the day time festivities that go on, and I'll leave the night time festivities up to your imagination.
The reason why I bring up Rossland, and Winter Carnival specifically is to show that besides the down side that is people partying to the point they don't even ski any more, there are a large amount of people who can and have found balance between partying till sunrise and skiing hard. My motto this year has been "Fuck first chair to last call, that shit's easy. Last call to first chair on the other hand. Now there's a challenge!" Skiing and partying. I truly believe it is tragic to have one without the other. To ski without letting lose would be missing the point of skiing at it's heart. And to give up on skiing and just party, well... we can all understand why that just isn't acceptable. Not sure why the point of this whole write up is. I feel I needed to at least talk about the party scene because it is such a huge part of the social life of a ski bum, and therefore can't be ignored. I guess if you want to take something out of this, it'd be "everything within moderation".