It was a perfect day: Three inches of fresh on empty runs at Beaver Creek, Colo. Good friends. The joy of flying though soft snow in the wide-open Colorado mountains with nothing but the wind in my ears.
And then Ace Frehley ruined it. Because, suddenly, I had skied straight out of this sublime moment into a bad movie soundtrack. The base area was blasting the Kiss nugget “I Was Made for Lovin’ You Baby.” At offensive levels. Just like that, my ski-day buzz was dead.
This was not the first time I’ve been offended by the sensibilities of those who control the public tunes on the ski slopes of the 2010s. And it made me wonder this: Why, for the love of Peter Frampton, do ski resorts continue to play classic rock, and I mean disturbingly bad classic rock? Not just Kiss, which I guess can claim some aspect of ironic cool, but we are talking stuff like The Guess Who’s “These Eyes,” Leif Garrett’s “I Was Made for Dancin’,” Genesis’s “Turn It On Again”—aural horrors that should have faded from the human record with the last cassette tapes. But go to any resort, try to kick back on the sun deck after a damn satisfying day up on the hill, and there it is, sonic dreck that wasn’t even all that good when 220- cm straight skis were the peak of cool.
Look, I enjoy the occasional dose of classic rock as much as the next increasingly judgmental and suddenly marginalized-feeling 45-year-old. Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” always requires a volume increase. The Kinks have aged surprisingly well. But then there are songs that should be wiped from human memory. The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” is my top offender, followed closely by “BrownEyed Girl” and the almost unmentionable “Mustang Sally.” Bar mitzvah and wedding bands have evolved beyond this junk. Why can’t ski resorts?
One reason may be that the cool kids don’t have to listen to it. They are quietly enjoying their own tunes in their helmets (and those cool kids are not just kids at this point). Swing by the park and you won’t be offended by Foghat, though what you do hear may make you feel old.
I’ll admit it: I just don’t like to listen to music when I ski. I've tried it, and enjoyed it a few times, railing turns in my own ski-porn flick with the soundtrack in my helmet. But I like to be present with the music of what’s happening around me. Skiing is such a full-body experience. It’s primal in that way. It’s not working out in a stale gym. Or taking a class in an industrial space turned hipster fitness studio, lifting truck tires.
Skiing is about being alive and aware of every change in the terrain under your feet, of keeping your senses poised, engaged, ready to react. It’s about creating your own music, your own art. And to have my personal dojo of powder invaded by Phil freaking Collins? Indefensible.
Not everyone is as stuck-up as I am, though. I’ll own that. And I think that’s why classic rock still lives on at ski resorts. It’s about the culture of the sport. Skiing still offers up something that was alive and vital back when Eddie Van Halen was the greatest musician on the planet. When classic rock was fresh, skiing was beautiful. Aspen was cheap. Sex in the hot tub was a given, and there wasn’t a need to put the word “safe” before it. The thrill from the hill carried straight into the party at the condo. And (OK, I’ll use the word) freedom rocked. It’s still there, even in this age of downloads and streaming services. You go skiing to live like it is still the 1970s. It’s like having your own wormhole in the space-time continuum.
I confess. I can get down with classic rock. Sometimes I kick back with a brew after a blower day in some skanky ski bar and Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” comes on and I feel those power chords pump up my testosterone and I understand. Ski and you can live like you're inside a classic rock song, at least for a few hours. Just make sure it’s not “Show Me the Way.” ●
Doug Schnitzspahn lives in Boulder, Colo., and is the editor of Elevation Outdoors magazine.