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The spring I was 18, a friend and I lit out for Steamboat Springs in Colorado. It was the mid ’80s, a time when ski towns seemed irresistibly sexy. Women wore frosted lipsticks and buckled stretch pants into their rear-entry boots. Real men drove pickups and rode long, long skis. There were no high-speed quads or microbrews. Steamboat was just a place where nature, high-altitude sport, and casual sex offered everything your normal life didn’t. You skied hard, you bar-hopped, and you shared illicit substances and body fluids without too much hand-wringing. ¶ Which is exactly what we did. For several days, my friend fell madly in love with a ski tuner. (What was it about those tuners—the cabled forearms, the facility with molten materials, the dewy, laconic personalities?)
I fell madly in love with a tall, chiseled Texan named James. His uncle owned a multidecked, multi-hot-tubbed house on the road above the ski village. We retreated there after a night of listening to a bad band at the Tugboat Saloon. I can’t remember what James did for a living; I only remember back home he had a girlfriend who’d just run off with his best friend. I like to think I helped him get over it. In return, he helped introduce me to winter sex: hot water, down comforters. I liked the way his jeans fit. I liked his big racing boots and the sound of Ricky Lee Jones crooning over his uncle’s sound system. Is it just the famously hazy filter of youth, or was skiing once a more carefree, exhibitionist, and flirtatious endeavor?
I visit ski towns now and everyone drives armored SUVs with tinted windows and frets over ecstasy overdoses, STDs, liability wavers, and ridgeline development. Spring breaks are scripted by MTV and sponsored by Mountain Dew. Back then they were yours alone to do with what you pleased. And the demographics of skiing now read more like the circulation of Modern Maturity. Monogamy is in. Kids Ski Free. Today, pulsing computer monitors have replaced mirrored disco balls.
It’s a sorry state because we all still need to break out once in a while. I was relieved to hear Las Vegas is giving up on family vacations and going back to what it does best: vice. Maybe it’s time our ski towns do the same. They can take their cue from the snowboarders and new school skiers who have infused a new sultriness into the sport.
The girls in tight tops and the guys wearing really low pants. (Hey, it’s a start.) To the rest of you, I offer my back-to-the-eighties party manifesto:O ye hopeful skiers, don’t let the ski town dream die in your cup of double espresso! Frosty lips are back. Yank off that certified helmet for a few wind-blown runs. Boycott the corporate Red Bull Dance Party and create your own inferno with a boom box in your cheap motel room. Flirt outrageously with ski tuners and then forget their names. Get naked and run laps around a giant homemade sauna. And—oh, yeah—roll down those tinted windows. There are mountains out there.