Sean Beckwith: A mountain LIT-mus test
December 11, 2018
People usually learn ski-related skills from December to April in Aspen. Whether you're piecing things together in the park or eating your knees in the bumps, there's usually something new to learn. Well, last year was not the year to try that double black or snowboard switch — or snowboard in general.
I would say the most useful skill I picked up last season was knowing when to download or put down the beer. With poor conditions and only spirits to keep up one's snowboarding spirit, there were a lot of beers at the Sundeck. When you combine that with the way 2016-17 ended, aka me ragdolling down Aspen Mountain after bubbly and brown liquor on Memorial Day, I thought it best to try to be more responsible this season.
A general rule of rum — and ski runs — is to know your limits. If you're a glass-of-wine-with-dinner person, you should be a glass-of wine-with-skiing person. It's OK to wait until you're at the base of the mountain to apres.
If you're an experienced drinker but an inexperienced skier, then do everyone a favor and put yourself in the sobriety of ski school before you start guzzling beers during Gwyn's happy hour.
It's fairly easy to figure out when you've had too much under normal circumstances: rambling sentences, the finesse of a Dwight Howard post move, the urge for New York Pizza, etc. It's a little different on the mountain because you're working off those breakfast bloodies, lift nips and gondola beers.
When you're not drinking for a sustained period of time, those signs are harder to pick up. The easiest way to judge your inebriation level is with your snowboarding/skiing. Are you going a little faster than normal? A little higher off jumps? Is the music just sooooo much better?
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Those are easy to key in on but there has to be something better than the human-breathalyzer method, a metric that doesn't involve a punctured lung to tell you that last peppermint schnapps was one too many. For snowboarders, my best indication is how easily I click in.
A moderate groan while reaching down to strap in is acceptable. If you have to concentrate a little harder to stay balanced while securing your non-lead foot, then you should think about a glass of water or two before the next drink. If you have to sit down to strap in, you might as well walk over to the gondola and sit it off. (If you normally sit down to strap in then you probably shouldn't be drinking while snowboarding, Jerry.)
I'm not sure how that translates for skiers because they just step into their bindings. Maybe try walking a straight line in your ski boots or some high-knee taps? Oh, I know, do that leg thing that skiers do before they put on skis. You know what I'm talking about; the thing that guy does when he swings his leg back and forth while holding onto his poles and chatting about the latest drop in the DOW. If you can't do that weird stretching thing then you probably aren't a gaper, but you should be extra careful making your way down the mountain, preferably on a green or blue run.
Speaking of precaution, there are perilous days to avoid. Closing-day parties are a blast but a lot of locals have that school's-out-for-offseason feeling going on. If you're really trying to get some turns in, get out early and celebrate late.
St. Patrick's Day and March weekends in general are a good time to keep your helmet on a swivel with the influx of spring breakers polluting the slopes. There's not too much worse than catching a bro-brah to the ribs and writhing in pain while he shakes it off hammered goon-style and rides away looking for the other 20 people in his ski mob.
"'Which way did they go?' I don't know, Rhett. I'll tell you as soon as my vision returns."
The last precarious place is one I haven't had the pleasure, or the challenge, of conquering: Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro at Aspen Highlands. From the blaring sound of it, the late-lunch seating is absurdly fun and features dancing, Veuve, a DJ, Champagne baths, music, more dancing and food. Aspen Skiing Co. has even addressed the alcohol-impaired descent. A couple dozen patrons pizza-ing down the mountain after an aggressive apres isn't the most daunting thing — unless you're one of the drunken patrons skiing down.
In all seriousness, though, the worst conceivable outcome is possible at any moment on the ski mountain with completely sober people. A couple of lodge sodas are fine but be smart. Life is about balance and, incidentally enough, so is snowboarding.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.