Abso-bloody-Lutely Off Your Face In Mammoth - Ski Mag

Abso-bloody-Lutely Off Your Face In Mammoth

Travel Pacific
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Mammoth 1103

It's Friday night in Mammoth Lakes, California, and, in a neighborhood called the Ghetto, the Aussies are at play. Again. A girl stands on a table in high heels and swings her hips to techno music. A 21-year-old Aussie in a pith helmet and pimp sunglasses drinks from what appears to be a fishbowl. In the kitchen, another strapping young Aussie-this one younger than legal-upends two bottles of vodka and Galliano high above the toxic Hawaiian Punch he is brewing. Booze splashes on the floor, in the sink, and on the barely buttoned shirt of the younger, blond American girl at his hip. She giggles and grips him harder-her marinated blouse as taut as a spinnaker. At his other hip is the daughter of a local town councilman. A sign on the fridge says Border chicks like to strap them on.

All week I have spent sunburnt days and beery nights among members of the hard-working, deep-drinking, "Oy!"-yelling species known as the Australian-a group that has been imported in record numbers in recent years to turn the economic bullwheel of North America's ski resorts. After five days, my constitution, though propped up by catnaps and caffeine, is wilting. The Aussies meanwhile have been at it since arriving in the States three months ago, and their stamina seems bottomless. They are Energizer dingos-smiling social marathoners running on a fission reaction of testosterone, pheromones, "be-ah," and imported Tim Tam cookies.

By the fridge, a snowboarding instructor named Jules holds court on the subject of Southern California divorcées (and not-quite-divorcées) called cougars who prowl Mammoth on the weekends, looking for love or some sweaty approximation. Jules is 22, shoeless, with surfer hair stuffed beneath his ball cap, pirate hoops in his ears, and an accent like the Crocodile Hunter's. With little prompting, he tells of the recent night when a couple took him to dinner to thank him for teaching their children. While Dad tucked in the striplings, Mom-"I think she was from Laguna?"-drove Jules home and thanked him again, atop a bathroom vanity. An oversized laugh erupts from Jules's oversized Aussie grin. "I love my job," he says, unnecessarily.

The door opens. Several more blokes shoehorn into the apartment. In the living room, the American girls have migrated to a pair of Aussie laps. The young Aussie apartment manager arrives, considers shutting the place down, accepts a beer. Stays. And nobody seems the least bit concerned that tomorrow, Saturday, the worst day of the week in their jobs, is far less than a good night's sleep away.

Fifteen years ago, a scant few foreigners worked at U.S. ski resorts. A handful of Australians or New Zealanders was among them-professional ski bums who hopped the equator every six months in pursuit of the endless winter. In the mid 1990s, when America's youth was less interested in pushing a ski-town mop than joining Amazon.com, the hunt for workers extended Down Under and kicked off an Aussie invasion. According to the National Ski Areas Association, the number of four-month "unskilled worker" visas issued to Aussies and Kiwis increased more than 300 percent since 1998, to nearly 8,000 in 2002-thanks in part to ski-resort trade groups urging the feds to streamline the visa process so workers could be counted on to arrive for winter.

Today, Aussies sweep the floors at Tahoe's Heavenly and Kirkwood. They sell lift tickets at Copper Mountain and flip hamburgers at Killington. They stand ready to right America's increasingly obese children when they tumble off the chairlift. They are at your service in the rental shop with a screwdriver and cryptic encouragement ("She'll be apples!") as you head out the door. Occasionally, they are at the service of your spouse. These Aussies are unlike our stereotypical native yo-bro ski bums who want to tally 120 days a year and arrive at work trailing a scarf of pot smoke and an air of entitlement. They are polite. They do not ask to home for Christmas. They rarely call in sick, or "chuck a sickie."

Each fall Mammoth's Aussies, 200 strong, board tour buses at LAX and are driven deep into the Sierra Nevada where they're disgorged-wearing flip-flops and shorts-beside chest-high snowdrifts. You might assume that they have traveled across the globe to feed a ski addiction, but many of them ski poorly if at all. They make a two-day transition from summer to winter and travel 8,000 miles to crash in the employee housing of mountain towns. Some come to make money, some come for the hell of it, some get swept up in the national ethos of wanderlust-and some just become divorcée prey. But there's one thing they all have in common: They come here because Aussies are always willing to seek out a party. And after you spend some days with them, you also notice that wherever they congregate in a critical mass, the party simply erupts around them.

Where mammoth lakes' main drag meets the spur road to the ski hill stands a former motel with half-hearted Bavarian gingerbread trim called the White Stag Inn. A sign says No Vacancy-the motel is stuffed with 60-some workers who help make Mammoth run. Many, if not most, of its occupants hail from Oceania.

At the Stag, I fall in with two Aussies named James Cherubin and Damian Brizzi. The boys share room 706 with some young Americans-four in all, in a space about the size of a large holding cell. There is a television, a table crowded with empty Coors cans. Dirty clothes piled against the bunks. A bed at the Stag costs seven bucks a night. When the guys get bored after work, they sometimes throw knives at the walls. In the bathroom are three Hustlers and a Nintendo GameBoy. Missing from Room 706, conspicuously, is a kitchen. This does not dissuade its occupants from cooking to save money. When I first meet Damian, he is hunched over a hotplate, stirring a pan of risotto.

James is 20, with a head topped by Velcro curls, a baby face lobstered by days riding his snowboard under the Sierra sun. He and Damian are drones in a base-lodge rental shop, enduring the lip of customers. "Little do they know in two years we're both going to be civil engineers," says Damian. They're here to spend their summer snowboarding and raking in $1,500 for their junior year at Monash University in Melbourne. Thanks to the anemic Aussie dollar, even a punter making $8 an hour here waxing skis can return to school with a small bankroll-over $2,300 Australian-if he doesn't drink it away first.

Money alone, though, does not drive them to these shores. Aussies have long encouraged their brood to leave Oz for a while, and during or after "uni," many of them do-thousands at a time on a global walkabout that is the logical antidote to 18 years on an island continent, even one that is the size of the continental U.S. Listen to Mammoth's Aussies for awhile and you realize that they are pulled, too, by the promise of the word "California"-which has ridden to them on television beams since they were old enough to watch reruns of Baywatch.

A few days later, when James shakes free from his job early and we head out to ride the mountain, he surprises me; unlike many of the Aussies, whose Down Under skills keep them on the mountain's lower slopes, he's a decent rider. We head up to Paranoid Flats, one of a score of runs that cascade from the nearly three miles of treeless ridgelines that cap the resort. Paranoids is a beautiful line-long, smeared with Mammoth's famous windbuff, and so steep it's as if gravity itself were in a hurry to get down.

"Everything's so big here," James says on the lift. Back home, James grew up on a dairy farm in a place called Edi Upper. The nearest ski hill is Mount Buffalo, where the biggest thrill is dodging the snow gum trees. "Pick the smallest ski area in America, with the shittiest snow, and that's pretty much skiing in Australia," Damian told me. Every snowboarder Down Under knows about Mammoth from the snowboarding flicks, James says. They know about its man-eating terrain parks, the Super Duper Pipe with its 22-foot walls, large enough to dry-dock an icebreaker. They know the sprawl of 3,500 acres, 3,100 vertical feet, 385 inches of snowfall, the gargantuan pines that prop up the big blue roof of California sky. For those who have come to see if the televised myths of America are true, the bald hyperabundance of this place-even its name is a slap at temperance and moderation-seems to confirm something about America itself.

After spending a few months here, however, some aspects of the SoCal profusion of Big seem also to horrify them, though it is Aussie disgust: mellow, tactful. "The cars are huge-unnecessarily huge," a liftie from Brisbane named Alex Combes tells me one morning, marveling at the size of the gleaming Hummers in the parking lot. He's a newly minted microbiologist from the University of Queensland. "And there really is that much fast food here." Then there's the occasional gaping American ignorance Alex hears in the lift line ("What language do you speak at home?"), and the chunky diamonds seen on the women's fingers, to name but one of their outsized...accessories. "I've never seen so many fake breasts," adds Rob Norman, an Aussie ski instructor, one afternoon as we survey the perky après scene at the Yodler, a bar at the base of the mountain.

But then, Aussies have an excess of their own. During my stay among them I learn that, like the Inuit and their fabled 100 words for snow, Aussies seem to have countless ways to express inebriation. Pissed. Legless. Off your face. Shattered. Slaughtered. Fuck-eyed. Even when they're separated by language, they set the pace at international parties, where caramel-skinned Brazilian girls press close to Lorenzo Lamas boyfriends. "Plodgers," Aussies call such girls. A term of approval. The natural Aussie joie de vivre, when augmented by too much Jà¤germeister and Red Bull, occasionally gets them into trouble. At one A-frame party, I saw a bloke named Dan-who'd been staggering at bars every night that week-take one too many draws from a beer bong spiked with laxative. It didn't slow him down (aside from a stricken look and a few trips to the bathroom). As the DJ spun and the lights went down, he took his intestinal drag race into the night-and kept reappearing to dance with his mates in the center of the shag-carpet living room floor.

While i'm in mammoth, the world tilts from winter to spring. The Sierra days warm. One Aussie I meet confesses to the convulsions and sweating of Vegemite withdrawal. There is a change in the Aussie Super Ball resilience of James and Damian-they're tired of smiling obsequiously at do-you-know-who-I-am alpha males from Orange County. They've decided to bail early and see the country a bit before returning late to uni. In their room, I glance at the itinerary: "Sun. 16th, Grand Canyon to L.A. (drink beer); Mon. 17th, Six Flags L.A. (spew)." A testament to Aussie character: roving and drinking.

But word that the winter-long party might be winding down hasn't made it to the Ghetto. By the time I head for a "piss up" that promises to be good, the apartment is crowded with Aussies. They keep arriving-Aussie and Kiwi girls with apple cheeks and low-cut pants that show the swirls of serpentine tattoos. A guy in an '80s haircut and turned-up collar (the forgotten sixth member of Duran Duran?) tilts bottles like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. "He's studying tourism and hospitality. This actually counts toward his degree," says a friend. Perhaps it is simply their youth, or the alcohol, or the music, but at this moment the Aussies seem some of the happiest people on earth, with a life-lust so strong it exerts its own gravitational pull.

From the living room, a cry goes up. An Aussie named Charlie has teased away a girl from one of his mates. Now he must pay. The apartment turns to Charlie and together they sing. They know the song by heart, towboarding flicks, James says. They know about its man-eating terrain parks, the Super Duper Pipe with its 22-foot walls, large enough to dry-dock an icebreaker. They know the sprawl of 3,500 acres, 3,100 vertical feet, 385 inches of snowfall, the gargantuan pines that prop up the big blue roof of California sky. For those who have come to see if the televised myths of America are true, the bald hyperabundance of this place-even its name is a slap at temperance and moderation-seems to confirm something about America itself.

After spending a few months here, however, some aspects of the SoCal profusion of Big seem also to horrify them, though it is Aussie disgust: mellow, tactful. "The cars are huge-unnecessarily huge," a liftie from Brisbane named Alex Combes tells me one morning, marveling at the size of the gleaming Hummers in the parking lot. He's a newly minted microbiologist from the University of Queensland. "And there really is that much fast food here." Then there's the occasional gaping American ignorance Alex hears in the lift line ("What language do you speak at home?"), and the chunky diamonds seen on the women's fingers, to name but one of their outsized...accessories. "I've never seen so many fake breasts," adds Rob Norman, an Aussie ski instructor, one afternoon as we survey the perky après scene at the Yodler, a bar at the base of the mountain.

But then, Aussies have an excess of their own. During my stay among them I learn that, like the Inuit and their fabled 100 words for snow, Aussies seem to have countless ways to express inebriation. Pissed. Legless. Off your face. Shattered. Slaughtered. Fuck-eyed. Even when they're separated by language, they set the pace at international parties, where caramel-skinned Brazilian girls press close to Lorenzo Lamas boyfriends. "Plodgers," Aussies call such girls. A term of approval. The natural Aussie joie de vivre, when augmented by too much Jà¤germeister and Red Bull, occasionally gets them into trouble. At one A-frame party, I saw a bloke named Dan-who'd been staggering at bars every night that week-take one too many draws from a beer bong spiked with laxative. It didn't slow him down (aside from a stricken look and a few trips to the bathroom). As the DJ spun and the lights went down, he took his intestinal drag race into the night-and kept reappearing to dance with his mates in the center of the shag-carpet living room floor.

While i'm in mammoth, the world tilts from winter to spring. The Sierra days warm. One Aussie I meet confesses to the convulsions and sweating of Vegemite withdrawal. There is a change in the Aussie Super Ball resilience of James and Damian-they're tired of smiling obsequiously at do-you-know-who-I-am alpha males from Orange County. They've decided to bail early and see the country a bit before returning late to uni. In their room, I glance at the itinerary: "Sun. 16th, Grand Canyon to L.A. (drink beer); Mon. 17th, Six Flags L.A. (spew)." A testament to Aussie character: roving and drinking.

But word that the winter-long party might be winding down hasn't made it to the Ghetto. By the time I head for a "piss up" that promises to be good, the apartment is crowded with Aussies. They keep arriving-Aussie and Kiwi girls with apple cheeks and low-cut pants that show the swirls of serpentine tattoos. A guy in an '80s haircut and turned-up collar (the forgotten sixth member of Duran Duran?) tilts bottles like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. "He's studying tourism and hospitality. This actually counts toward his degree," says a friend. Perhaps it is simply their youth, or the alcohol, or the music, but at this moment the Aussies seem some of the happiest people on earth, with a life-lust so strong it exerts its own gravitational pull.

From the living room, a cry goes up. An Aussie named Charlie has teased away a girl from one of his mates. Now he must pay. The apartment turns to Charlie and together they sing. They know the song by heart, to the last of them, and they sing it with vigor and pride as if it, and not "Advance, Australia Fair," were their national anthem:

Here's to Charlie, he's true blueHe's a piss-pot through and throughHe's a bastard so they sayTried to go heaven but went the other wayDown! Down! Down! Down!

Charlie knows his patriotic duty. He throws his head back and he chugs, squeezing the life out of the long-necked beer bottle, streams of Budweiser braiding his neck and darkening his Wallabies rugby sweater. The apartment erupts in cheers. Charlie finishes, grins, tells them all to piss off. Then he wobbles off to find his plodger., to the last of them, and they sing it with vigor and pride as if it, and not "Advance, Australia Fair," were their national anthem:

Here's to Charlie, he's true blueHe's a piss-pot through and throughHe's a bastard so they sayTried to go heaven but went the other wayDown! Down! Down! Down!

Charlie knows his patriotic duty. He throws his head back and he chugs, squeezing the life out of the long-necked beer bottle, streams of Budweiser braiding his neck and darkening his Wallabies rugby sweater. The apartment erupts in cheers. Charlie finishes, grins, tells them all to piss off. Then he wobbles off to find his plodger.

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