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Ski Resort Life

Smoking Out Some Fools


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So here I am in Switzerland with Roy Dee, an Alta local, ski-industry insider, and marijuana enthusiast. No, “enthusiast is not potent enough: Roy Dee’s a damn 4:20 aficionado. Which is tough in Utah. There are apocryphal stories of Utah sheriff’s deputies on skis gliding through the trees and hiding behind rocks, busting skiers stopping for a midmorning magnification.

Here in Switzerland, however, the burning is in the open and no one seems to mind. Amsterdam has pot, but it doesn’t have mountains—so in the land that brought you fondue, Roy Dee is in his own custom Disneyland.

I won’t try to hide the fact that for a big chunk of the skiing population, sliding downhill and the chronic go together like chips and salsa or Limbaugh and OxyContin. I won’t moralize, either, though I’m sick to death of the puritanical evangelical set who’d have us know what is righteous—like Crown Royal and golf. Strange hypocrisies abound, friends, in the land of the free. Your Zoloft prescription is ready now. Be sure to visit our midmountain cocktail bar on the way down, pour some more vodka into your Red Bull, and please be careful skiing down Blue Boulevard. We live in a drug culture, but Switzerland is different. Countrywide, Switzerland’s is not a drug culture, it’s a marijuana culture. The Suisse understand the difference.

I learned about the no-ropes marijuana climate in Switzerland from—trust me here—two of the best skiers in the world, both of whom, if you’ve read this magazine or seen any ski film in the last five years, you would recognize. For the sake of their endorsement contracts I’ll not name names. We were sitting aside an LZ in the Chugach, waiting for a helicopter ride back to camp, and the two traded Swiss pot anecdotes over PowerBars and some AK kind. Pot isn’t legal in Switzerland—it’s just not very illegal. One of the athletes talked of strolling into a head shop and buying an “aromatic pillow full of bud. Another told me where to go in Bern before heading to the mountains. I took good notes. Freeskiing is, appropriately, a sport devoid of pee tests.

On the ground in Switzerland, Roy Dee and I venture into Growland, a two-story pot emporium in downtown Bern managed by a man named Monkey. (He does indeed resemble a good-natured simian.) Monkey proudly shows us photos of his daughters while we join him for espresso and a spliff. He tends to smile a good deal, and he’s proud to smoke every day. So, you say, Monkey’s a pothead. Sure. Now you tell me: What’s the difference between two of the best freeskiers in the world and a Monkey?

As we leave, Monkey shakes our hands and gives Roy Dee a sandwich bag of sticky green buds—on the house. They’re the size of brussels sprouts, a variety known as Alpine Rocket. A trend has begun developing: In Switzerland we cannot even buy marijuana. Pot here seems to grow on trees.

The preferred Suisse bud varieties are grown outdoors, of Amsterdam lineage. Some former vineyards have turned from growing grapes to growing the more lucrative leaves since the Swiss Senate, in 2001, approved legal possession and limited pot production. Mind you, approval by the Senate did not mean marijuana was above-board legal. Interpretation and enforcement of pot laws in Switzerland vary throughout the country’s 26 cantons, which are Switzerland’s equivalent of states. (Think 3.2 beer in Utah, legal prostitution in Pahrump County, Nevada.) Alas, in 2003 the Swiss House of Representatives tossed out government proposals to decriminalize marijuana—and out to lunch signs appeared in head shops around the country.

That didn’t mean, of course, that bud was difficult to find. When it comes to enforcing existing marijuana laws, no one seems very interested. Case in point: At the Pub Mont Fort in Verbier, I once visited with a Telluride expat who funded his winters in Europe by growing the locally popular Valais Pride outdoors on his patio—it beat washing dishes or running a chairliftt and left his days open for skiing.

Armed with rail passes, a pocketful of Swiss francs, and our Alpine Rocket, Roy Dee and I travel across the country to rendezvous in Davos with Danny, a professional snowboarder and Roy Dee’s old smoking buddy from back in Alta. On the Zurich-to-Landquart run, I walk through the smoking car and see two uniformed Swiss Army officers smoking bud-and-tobacco guuges—the preferred style of joint in Switzerland because they tend to burn better—and chatting. “You gotta get a photo of this, I tell Roy Dee.

“I can’t go in there, Roy Dee says. “I can’t stand the fucking smoke.It’s high-pressure bluebird and stable above Davos, home to some of the best lift-served backcountry access in the world. We grab sausages and take the tram—skiers smoke without shame in the rising cabin. After a short hike, we drop into what we’ve really come to Switzerland for. Is skiing still skiing without pot? Absolut. But, just as a couple cups of coffee enhance a sunrise, can a toke amplify a day in the Alps? That’s for you and Roy Dee to work out for yourselves. My neighbor back in Wyoming is a rancher and a vegetarian—he’s free, by gawd, to choose tofu.