(Editor’s note: Dispatches does not necessarily endorse or condone skiing at night while intoxicated or, actually, any of the activities described in this post about Garmisch. But what the hell … life is short.)
Clouds block the moonlight. Close to the cliffs, I contemplate the fall line. I suck in the frozen air and triturate snow crust under my skis. Lights twinkle below, signaling civilization down in the valley.
The lyrics by the 70s band “Talking Heads” play on a loop in my mind:
You may find yourself in another part of the world … and you may ask yourself, well… How did I get here?
It’s a covert tradition for a reason
It all began while chatting with the locals. A lighthearted, yet intense bunch of mountain Bavarians. An assortment of German mesomorphs: part party animal, part adrenaline junkie. They live in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and are hardcore skiers.
I managed to get into their inner circle and happened upon a somewhat covert tradition. They ski the mountain at night during Fasching (the German version of Mardi Gras). This “movable feast” before Lent becomes a “movable après ski” for slope shredders.
They run the pistes from dusk to dawn, bar hopping from one ski lodge to the next. Their goal is to hit each secluded mountain oasis cached away in the winter wilderness.
A frigid February “Oktoberfest” of sorts celebrated until the wee hours of the morning.
There are no lighted pistes.
It’s done by moonlight.
I’m brought back to the present. Someone belts out an intoxicated yodel. A guy dressed in a clown suit jerries by on his sled, rooster-tailing me with snow spray. He’s dressed in holiday gear and here for the party.
I don’t condone drinking and skiing, but I know a good deal when I see one.
Intel from my besties: Just before nightfall on Fat Tuesday, anyone in a costume gets a FREE ride from the Garmisch “liftie” before he closes down the gondola at the end of the day. Ski at your own risk. Oh, and, it’s your problem on how you get back down the valley.
Free! Hey, I love a bargain! I just have to try it.
My friends back out, so I just go for it
I convince my friends and relatives to dress as jesters and trudge their way to the ski lift at dusk. We stand in line. The wiser folks in my group start getting cold feet and opt out of this obviously ridiculous idea. Actually, everyone in my group opts out, leaving me to feel like I have an acute case of somatotonia and a ridiculous hat.
I considered turning back, but then I spotted Mickey Brenner and his wife. Mickey’s the ski version of Michael Jordan. If they were on the slopes, then it must be the thing to do. Off I go, whisked up the mountain on the last gondola into the twilight ready to follow my mentor. Fluffy snowflakes began to fall; I double-check my stash of Cliff bars. I look up to find my mentor and his spouse are just two small dots, swishing down the valley.
Here I stand, just me, the mountain (and my snacks).
Maybe it’s cabin fever, but the Bavarians are out in full force at the top of the Alpspitze. I traverse to the first lodge. A blast of happy-go-lucky joviality hits me as the doors swing open. I tolerate schlager for a set before the smoke and worries get the best of me.
I get this creepy suspicion that the evening is filled with just too much unpredictability. A random thought takes hold of me: Drive through daiquiri shops – did you know that drive-through daiquiri shops are legal?
In my home state of Louisiana, you can get a gallon-sized go-cup of booze in the form of a frozen drink from the convenience of your automobile. I mean, it is like McDonalds opened a bar. I can’t help but make the association.
Like, who thought of this? And even worse, who approved it? This snow-bound bar-hop, and the frozen-daiquiri drive-through: they just seem to have the same zeitgeist and also share the potential for debacle created by inebriated revelers careening into obscurity. This place is like Mardi Gras for sure.
I looked around the ski hut and realized that there were just too many drunken yetis who would eventually be back on the slopes. Unwittingly, I had set myself up to attract such weirdos. I had a following the moment I clicked back into my skis and switched on my headlamp.
I descended the Kandahar (a black Garmisch run named after a city in Afghanistan famous for its snakes). The rest of the revelers had planned for the full moon to guide them. When the weather didn’t cooperate, they found themselves cloaked in darkness until they spotted me – a glowing beacon, traversing my way through the blackness.
That’s how I found myself here, atop this precipice, pondering the meaning of life (and drive-thru daiquiri shops). I realized I would have to abandon my concern for the safety of strangers lurking in the unlit forest in order to ensure my own well being, and not collide with an inebriated merrymaker.
I knew the mountains in Garmisch like a river pilot knows the Mississippi. I just had to rely on my inner self to take me back to everyday life. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to ski with a legally blind girl once. She taught me to look for big shapes, focus on the feel of the skis, relax and ride the bumps.
I stood at the top of the run: cliff on my right, trees to the left, an iced over drop directly in front of me.I switched off my headlamp and continued in total darkness.
The words of J.R.R. Tolkien whispered to me:
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
Read more here about skiing in Dispatches’ archives.
Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.