Ode to the Tailgate

Or why PBRs in the parking lot are the soul of skiing.

Come spring, it's the best spot in ski country.

From the top of Lift Line, one of four classic test pieces that made Stowe famous, I get a good view of the parking lot and its inhabitants. I like to stop and take it in, especially on warm days in early April as the Eastern boilerplate softens. The parking lot looks like little clusters of cities dotting a map, populated by T-shirt-clad skiers who gather at tailgates, sending up curls of smoke from grills loaded with dogs. It's a gathering that spawns the tired, knowing smiles you get from skiing and reliving skiing over a beer.

As the parties get going, the individual hamlets grow and meld together. Sweet tele chicas calling themselves the Valkyries—Norse shape-shifting goddesses—circle the lot in grass skirts. They chat up snowboarders whose car stereo systems cost more than the cars themselves. Wealthy stockbrokers wallow in the April mud, grabbing Pabst tall boys from the coolers of ski bums who spin pizza at night. Toasts are raised and the constant bitching about Mountain Ops and Admin is silenced for once. On days like this, the party rages until the lifts stop churning and the sun goes down. Everyone knows that the season is dwindling. They plan to go out muddy, exhausted, and buzzed, like the final days of Woodstock minus Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner."

I make my way down through Lift Line's spring corn (which is quickly turning to slush) and stop at the top of the Crossover to catch my breath and rest my legs. Music wafts up from the lot, the din of blaring hip-hop suddenly drowned out by Warren Zevon's "Splendid Isolation." My fists start to pump. I'd be willing to bet the spring rill on the bases of my Völkl Mantras that I know whose pickup that song is coming from, and I will double down that he has an extra beer for me. It's Bard, a 60-year-old stalwart of the Stowe scene and one of the DeniZens, a group who meet regularly in the back corner of Mount Mansfield's base-lodge bar, the Den. But with warm weather, the party moves outside and you'll find him by his truck yakking with whoever comes by.

So I am done for the day, heading out to the parking lot for my beer and some gleaned wisdom from Bard. It's tailgate season. And I don't want to miss out.

Challenger Lot - Winter Park, Colorado: It's close to the lifts, so getting a good spot means waking up early. But the barbecues and car-supplied music are worth it.

The A Lot - Sierra-at-Tahoe, California: Park here for a locals' scene and the Pizza Utility Vehicle, a delivery cart that sells freshly baked $2 slices.

The Beach - Arapahoe Basin, Colorado: Probably the best-known skier tailgate in North America, this strip of parking spots bordering the slopes goes off all year.

Lot 1- Smugglers' Notch, Vermont: Hop from group to group, pirating all the food and libations you can stomach. Then take a few runs and do it again.

Main Lot - Hoodoo, Oregon: Hoodoo's lot sports RV hookups, so you can stay slopeside in your camper for $30 a night and ski until 9 p.m. under the lights.



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