The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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Once upon a time in history: The Art of Apres-Ski Life

She'll be skiing down the mountain when she skis,
She'll be skiing down the mountain when she skis,
She'll be skiing down the mountain,
spraying snow up like a fountain,
Makin' sitzmarks beyond countin,' when she skis.

Sung to the tune of Comin' Round the Mountain, that song was popular in the days when activities after a day on the slopes centered around socializing by a crackling fire.

Such songs, sung to familiar tunes that encouraged everyone to sing along, were the "essence" of après-ski in the 1930s through the 1960s. They could be delightfully cute, wildly funny, or utterly ribald. Bring Back My Skier to Me was just one of the songs that celebrated love and the mating game that après-ski engendered.

That's because the early years of ski trips were largely couple- and singles-oriented affairs, with the snow trains (1930s) popularizing the social connections and good times that became associated with the sport. In fact, some people joined trips just for the fun and/or opportunity to find their true love - mountain exercise was optional!

Ski School (tune of School Days), The Drunken Skier (The Drunken Sailor), Let Every Good Skier (Vive L'Amour), and The Man on the Flying Skis were among the songs that celebrated every aspect of skiing, from the bar maid and drinking revelry to the torn ski pants and the ski bunny who marries the instructor.

In the 1940s, skiers participated in the Hokey-Pokey, then a new "dance craze" that saw them get up and "shake it all about" - a harbinger of gyrations to come!

A big part of après gatherings centered around Gluhwein, Glogg and other "potions to melt the ice." Beverages like Sherry Schuss, Skier's Tom and Jerry, Chalet Coffee, and Longthong were served after skiing, with dinner, or after dinner.

Dining in or out at a local restaurant was another après activity. The Après-Ski Book by Eileen Matthew (A.S. Barnes and Co., 1970) featured a chapter called "The Way to a Skier's Heart." In addition to the requisite fondue recipes, several suggestions centered around meals that could be cooked in a fireplace in case one's accommodations lacked cooking facilities. Schuss Kabob recipes were found along with a tip to make sure one removed the lid of a can to allow steam to escape so it didn't explode while being heated by a fire!

Those were the days when "après" meant eat, drink, and be merry. If you weren't staying at one of the very few and far-flung true "winter resorts" where ice rinks, sled runs, ballrooms (for dancing and entertainment), and/or outdoor pool (Sun Valley, Mount Snow) were offered as activities and social diversions, après-ski was synonymous with happy hour, dining with friends, and evening sing-alongs.

Ludlow  "Apres" Evolves
During the years when accommodations were provided by a local lodge, inn, or B&B, the sing-along was an après-ski staple. In many ski towns, post-skiing social hours were also hosted at various inns. The den or game room (for charades, board games) and the living room, where guests would gather for camaraderie or a group-sing provided the most popular forms of entertainment and fun.

 "During the winter of 1964, I lived and worked at the Tiger Inn at the base of the Mountain Road," recalled Betsy Child, a 1960s Okemo instructor. "After helping prepare and serve dinner, I played the guitar and guests and staff would gather by the fireplace and sing. Some of the guests were our ski school students who came for a week. We got to know each other very well, and some became life-long friends."

Fritz Coonradt, who ran the early Okemo Ski Shop, noted, "Entertainment was a little sparse in town, but I well remember the Ludlow Follies (talent night at the Town Hall) and the Saturday night dances at the Legion."

But things began to "heat up," when the Okemo Mountain Lodge, a 24-room on-mountain hotel with restaurant and lounge, was built (1964). "They had Saturday night dancing, two bars... it was an active place before it burned to the ground (1970)," Coonradt said.

Also in the 1960s, a barn (now The Loft) was moved to Okemo's base area for a combination bar and ski shop. Okemo ski instructors Ted Johnson, Vic Verdina, and Leroy Aldrich, Jr., and Coonradt formed The Red Parka, Inc. and leased the barn in 1967. "We ran a very successful and popular bar and restaurant," Coonradt recalled, noting it later became the Blue Parka, Casablanca North, Dadd's, and then The Loft. Its 3rd floor game room (pool table, pin ball, etc.), food and libations still pack folks in from lift closing to the wee hours.

The 1970s were years when Ludlow-vicinity inns would take turns hosting an after-ski get together - hot wine with cheese and crackers at Fox Run, another day at Echo Lake Inn, the Okemo Inn, or the Winchester. The occasional social hours were "spread around and provided a time for the mingling of ski instructors and students," Sitting Bull Lounge Manager Rick Doyle recalled.

The Sitting Bull at Okemo once sported the proverbial round fireplace, but it was removed to allow more skiers to crowd into the popular lounge. Later in the 1980s, the adult-oriented lounge, which has been expanded several times, changed to welcome families as the area's new owners discovered they wanted to enjoy food and après with their two children. Not only are all ages welcomed at the Sitting Bull, which sports live music on weekends, but the change was also indicative of the more encompassing all-age après activities to come.

The debut of nightspots like the (former) Chopping Block (70s, 80s) provided live music that made "dancing the night away" popular. Pam Cruickshank noted that the Davis Brothers Garage big band made it "the place to go for steak dinners and music - it rocked," she said.

As Okemo grew in 60s and 70s, more skiers came and the workforce grew so staff frequented the growing number of restaurants that offered 'happy hours' as well as the new nightspots. The Snow Mansion debuted in the '70s (later Chuckles, Charaktors) and is now Outback Pizza and Nightclub, where a game room was built for kids so parents can enjoy dinner along with live music.

Today, there are many restaurants that offer occasional live entertainment like the Killarney (site of former Tiger Inn) which is a modern après hot spot with an Irish atmosphere, featuring special event nights (trivia, open mic, etc.), and live entertainment on weekends.

But while the après offerings of happy hour, dining, and entertainment that provided a starting point for meeting members of the opposite sex and socializing with friends continues, it has also evolved to provide fun for all ages and many more activities.
Swimming, snowshoeing, tubing, ice skating, yoga classes, massages, sleigh and mountain coaster rides, ziplining, and hot-tubbing are just a few of the fun activities for folks when the boards come off today. Vive après-ski variety!