Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Counter culture

From saunas to Jacuzzis, reindeer steaks to BBQ spare ribs, Schnapps to Budweiser: As an American rider on hiatus in Europe for over two years now I can confidently pin point what makes snowboard culture European, and what makes it American.

It's more than just outerwear, food and slope design. It's a combination of things, the core of a culture dripping in self confidence, individualism and national identity. To better catch my drift, here are the top five differences when it comes to living the snowboard life in North America versus snowboard life in Europe.

1. Saunas
In Europe: You're naked
My first Euro sauna was in Hemsedal, Norway. I had the perfect post-shred plan to pull and never thought twice about a counter culture interrupting. Cockiness took over sensibility and I proudly strutted my ass into a sauna wearing a bikini and holding a case of beer. It wasn't long before a father and his two twenty-something sons joined, who entered with nothing but a moist face towel effortlessly hanging around their waists. To me, this was shocking.

It was a tight space to pack in this much perspiring flesh, and the father parked himself on the bench above me. I sat there with eyes shut, trying to look relaxed as I sipped beer -- knowing uncomfortably well a mere piece of cotton was all that divided a dad's sweaty, hairy sac from my face. The air got hotter, the stench of man odor snaked into my nostrils. I lasted five minutes before exploding out of there with laughter and a pure feeling of terror.

In N. America: You're clothed and drunk
Listen up because this is from personal experience: In America, it's only natural to bust into a sauna with friends, beers and bathing suits on. Maybe even a joint or two. We know the hot air get us 100 percent loaded, that's the whole point. It's great and we love walking out delirious, super dumb and sliding on the floor in our own sweat laughing like a bunch of idiots. There are never, and I repeat never, men with sweaty balls close to your nose and loincloth wrapped around their hipless waists.

2. Apres Ski
In Europe: Bavarian folk and Bon Jovi
Oh Jon Bon Jovi, why didn't your fandom die with the 90s era of neon and Milli Vanilli? While North America pressed on from the world of flannel-shirt rock Bon Jovi skipped the pond and nested himself and his Billboard classics into the bars of every ski town in Europe. And if it’s not Livin On A Prayer it’s Top Bavarian Folk Hits To Slap Your Thigh And Swing Your Beer Mug To. And come on, we all are secretly in love with this stuff. We try to hide it by doing a mocking jig in our saggy shred pants, but really we want to grab a partner and boppingly waltz on tables.

In N. America: Reggae and 80s Hair Bands
It should come as no surprise. North American riders are obsessively trying to be irie because we can be so damn uptight. Ski areas blast reggae from dawn to dusk, and after that it’s Drunk Music Time. And what’s the best drunk music for a ski town filled of men snowboarders in their 20s and 30s? For us, it’s Guns N Roses, AC/DC and Aerosmith, with occasional Johnny Cash guitar to lick out a better “small town” vibration. We are usually too cool to dance and think it’s way better to air guitar, chest slam and break glass.

3. Fashion Faux Pas
In Europe: Euro gaps and spandex
Rule: Spandex is a privilege not a right. This statement applies to every turf fate plants your two feet on, but apparently some people simply don’t get it. We riders are smart enough to let this condition of “rule rebellion” alone, though we still are the ones who suffer the consequences of their ignorance on the slopes. It’s not fair, I know, and we growl, sneer and roll eyes but things just don’t get better. But have pity on the ones with a severe case of Euro Gap, they don’t know any better. And one day they’ll be sorry.

In N. America: Cowboy hats, Starter jackets and jeans
This is quite possibly the most embarrassing sight on a North American ski slope. Think U.S. riders are loud and obnoxious? You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve heard a man in a football jacket, cowboys jeans and a cattle hat from Kansas chat you up on a chair lift as he fumbles with ski poles. Tuning out his blubbering won’t work because he’ll poke you on the shoulder until you unplug and point your finger at some random mark on the ski map which helplessly flaps around his face. It’s ok though, because at the end of the day he’ll be the one with a wet ass mark the size of his lost ranching hat.

4. Waiting For The Lift
In Europe: Confusion
As my English mate Bex would say, “There are two methods of getting on a lift. Push and Kill or Elbows Out.” The struggle to get on a lift in Europe is like being in a white trash heavy metal mosh pit – chaotic and violent – when it really shouldn’t be. It’s an endless cycle of impatient cut offs, avenged shoving and short, fearful breaths as thrusting neighbors play bumper cars with your gear. Pretty soon hairs rise and blood boils until eventually Hulk Hogan syndrome kicks in and you fist your way to the front. Don’t even think about trying to get on the same lift as your friend, it’s every man for himself at this social gathering.

In N. America: Rows
It’s a simple solution to the above-mentioned emotional carnage, if you’re willing to wait about an hour for your turn. In North America we have a maze of lines to linger in for busy lifts, and there are people whose job is to bark out “FIRST ROW” when it’s time to move forwards. It’s a level playing field of slow-motion edging, and it gives you time to scope the base for hotties. Still it takes longer than the Euro way, and some ski areas have maps with blinking lights next to the lifts where lines exceed a one-hour wait. That’s what we get for not building amazing underground trains, like Switzerland.

5. The Drugs
In Europe: Smoking spliffs on lifts
When I first saw someone rolling a joint with tobacco I thought I was getting ripped off. It wasn’t until after living in Amsterdam for eight months when I realized spliffs were the norm in Europe. “Why would you smoke only weed? You’d get too high, it would be impossible to function,” a wise friend on a chair lift once said. Made sense to me, and I nodded in approval as we sat there hot boxing on a lift under a plastic snow shield. It’s a great method for a good time, except that it makes me a smoker and I suck at rolling joints.

In N. America: Packing pipes in slope shacks
Everyone knows about the grass-smoking laws canning people for life in North America, but that’s the South and snowboard life thrives Westward. Mountain towns love the pure, sticky bud, and since riding with a bong in your hand is tricky we opt for glass pipes. I’m talking handmade, swirling eye candy glass, not crack pipes five euros a pop in souvenir shops. And since we’re always paranoid of getting busted we sneak into tiny huts hidden amongst the trees in ski areas like Breckenridge. If someone knows of a shack like this in Europe please enlighten me, my email is

Audrey, Elbows Out


Raven Lilly said...

I feel your pain woman!! U do remember my culture shock episodes in Denmark. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Audrey! Still in Amsterdam? When are we going to drink Heinekens? :)