A pack of 12 kids rip by. Not a turn in sight. Their conversation from the chairlift never ends. It just gets louder, even while bombing down the hill in a fast-moving mass of havoc. Everyone can hear every word and they don’t care.
On the next trail, a snowboarder tries to offer tips to her boyfriend who is new to the activity. Her words glance off him at this point. His butt is bruised. So is his ego.
*Whack* *Slash* *Whack* *Slash* On the front of the mountain, dozens of spandex-laden racers, wearing bizarre equipment in some of the strangest places on their body hack and slash their way down a hill scraped free of snow hours ago. They’re there to shave a half-second from their time and they’re shaving the run in the process.
Above them, a new skier rides the chair for the first time. The whole experience seems surreal. A floating chair? Over a hill of snow? Wild! They sit back and enjoy the show below. The chair dismount, for which there is no instruction manual, is just seconds away. Uh oh.
One chair behind them is the most hardcore guy on the mountain. He sees the impending chairlift fall and scoffs. He resents sharing the hill with these Jerrys, even though their existence makes the hill financially viable to begin with. He doesn’t care. He has to shred the 187 vertical feet in 10 seconds to show everyone he’s the best skier on the mountain. The person in front of them falls at the top of the lift. The liftie mashes the stop button. He’s stuck.
Away from the weather-appropriate ski attire a pack of teens spend their evening riding the rope tow for maximum reps on the terrain park. Their shirts and pants are inappropriate for the weather and earn scoffs from their grandparents, but to their buds, they look sick. One boy goes after a rail he knows he can’t stomp. He doesn’t. Choking back tears, he moves slowly back toward the rope, so his tears dry before he gets back to his friends.
In the lodge, the person behind the ticket window sits quietly. It’s mostly passholders on a night like tonight, so sales are slow. She pulls out her phone to peruse Instagram on the spotty wifi when a woman plops a never-ending stack of papers on the desk. It’s a group ticket sale. And worse, it’s a school ski club group. What a nightmare. The next 45 minutes is a barrage of checking release forms, hunting down chaperones and trying to get kids to actually go skiing…in ski club.
On the happier side of the lodge, the drinks are flowing at the bar. Most everyone has their night in control, though. Hockey is playing on the television, but nobody is really watching. IPAs, stouts and the rotating $5 pitcher of cheap beer go down easy. For one guy, maybe too easy. He’s making the rounds, 10-12 drinks further along than everyone else. He stops at every group to see if anyone can match his energy. They can’t, and he becomes offended and belligerent. He’s quick to forget and gleefully moves to the next table. Did he even ski tonight? Nobody knows.
It’s night skiing. With all of its usual characters in tow. If you haven’t done it, you have to. If you have, then you’ve met a few of these people along the way. It’s a part of Midwest skiing that defines it, really. In the absence of vertical or snow, the charm and character better be there.
Most nights, it is.