Friday, March 30, 2012

Living La Vida local

Why We Ski


For the past two weeks, I've enjoyed spring break, Sun Valley style. After feeling sorry for myself for a nanosecond that I wasn't hitting the beach like so many of my friends, I opened my eyes, looked around and realized that with the late-season snow and warm sunny days, this is a pretty amazing place to spend vacation—even when you live here.

I decided to become a student of spring break behavior, an anthropologist of sorts, to remember what it's like to travel here for spring skiing. For years and years, I did just that. The days seemed endless; the sun, tropical; and the snow, perfect. I needed to retrieve that feeling of being a visitor. Through tinted goggles, 2012 style, I spied on people obviously here on holiday.

After logging many hours on many trails, my goal in mind, here is what I concluded: On the hill, what sets visitors apart from locals is simply pace. And I don't mean speed down the slope or hours on the hill. Rather, the pace of their long days on the mountain is leisurely, relaxed, seemingly immune to non-skiing concerns.

Part of the reason is obvious. Those here on vacation probably paid full price for lift tickets. They want to get the most bang for their buck and the most out of their ski vacation, so they often ski first chair to last. But with the advent of high-speed quads, skiing for seven hours straight is a tall order. So what do spring breakers do when their legs are burning? They take a break. On the mountain. Then they keep skiing. They may even take another break and ski some more.

They enjoy long, leisurely lunches, settling in on the deck of Warm Springs or Roundhouse, boots unbuckled, jackets off. They stay for après ski, dissecting the day's runs over a pitcher of beer with friends. They kick back, listening to live music and taking in the beautiful scenery, and scene.

Many who live here ski laps for a few hours, before it's time to go back to work, pick up the kids or deal with errands and paperwork. But there was a time in the not-so-distant past when for everyone, skiing was a slower, more sensual pursuit. Before the quads allowed thousands of vertical feet in nary a few hours, skiing was a full-day endeavor and après ski was a huge part of the experience.

I remember the après ski scene at Warm Springs back in the proverbial day. In my time, the hot spots were Barsotti's, Creekside and Out-of-Bounds Lounge. As a just-barely-legal après skier, I would unzip and unroll my CB onesie ski suit to the belt, uncovering what was surely a pastel Fairisle sweater in itchy-cabled wool. I would tip my white Vuarnette sunglasses onto my head-banded hair and unbuckle my rear-entry Nordica boots before ordering a Tab with my Coors Light and a big plate of potato skins. Anyone with me? Those après ski afternoons were wall-to-wall with tourists and locals alike, everyone lobbying for the best tables at which to see and be seen, to network and to flirt.


With spring break on the brain, I expanded my anthropological studies to look at the scene that begins after the ski lifts stop. My days almost always end at noon, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Turns out the more things change, the more they stay the same. Fashions have definitely and thankfully improved, but the Ketchum après ski mentality is timeless—friends, adult beverages, music, late-season sun.

The hot spots have expanded from Warm Springs to all sides of the mountain. Warm Springs is still happening, with the pulse of the action centering at Apple's, and at this time of year, on the Apple's deck. Apple's provides a super local, friendly vibe for all ages. At the Warm Spring Lodge deck, après ski starts at lunchtime. Outdoor tables are jammed with sun worshippers enjoying a glass of wine, a famous Warm Springs cookie and live music. River Run skiers find themselves at Mahogany Ridge after hours, otherwise known as the glossy mahogany bar in the lodge featuring a great belly-up-to-me atmosphere and some of the best bartenders in town. Springtime favorites there are the outdoor deck and fire pit. River Run is also home to the somewhat odd après ski tradition of tray sledding on Sunday afternoons.

Even Lookout has a scene. A 3:30 club congregates daily at the top of the hill for a beer and last tracks to the bottom. And on the way down is my personal favorite stop, Averell's at Roundhouse. The picture windows at Averell's boast the most spectacular après ski views in the Lower 48 as well as a full bar, traditional food and a free gondola ride down after the lifts have closed. The deck at Roundhouse is pretty darn nice, too. So is the one at Seattle Ridge, come to think of it. So many options. No wonder people need a full ski week.

Truth be told, though, my favorite way to après ski, spring break week notwithstanding, is actually to "pendant" ski, or to weave my après activities into the early afternoon. My favorite days of the many that I have spent on Baldy this season have been the three that involved lunch at Averell's. There is something truly decadent, luxurious, vacation-ey, to clomping down the steps, taking in the view and enjoying a glass of wine and pot of fondue with friends, on a Wednesday, in February. Taking advantage of the resort part of living in a resort town makes me giddy. Such micro-vacations remind me why I love living and skiing here.

So I challenge all you locals out there, before the season officially ends in a couple of weeks, to give yourself the gift of a full day on the hill. Ski like you're on vacation. Start with coffee and a pastry at River Run or Warm Springs. Enjoy a leisurely sit-down lunch on Seattle Ridge or Roundhouse. Finish the day at your watering hole of choice—Mahogany Ridge, Apple's, the deck at Warm Springs. Turn your face to the sun, chat with strangers, spend time with friends and family and remember that we live at a world-class resort. You'll be glad you did.

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