All the other kids with the pumped up kicks / you better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks / you better run, better run, faster than my bullet.
A piece of junk karaoke machine balances on the bar, which would normally be wide enough to hold it safely. But the crowd in this dark faux-English pub is pulling it, banging into it and nearly sending it to the floor every few seconds.
The loudest of the crowd is fired up, his exuberance has him about 15 seconds ahead of the words halfway into the first chorus. The second verse begins, and he loses the plot, fading into a high volume mumble for a bit before he’s back onto the chorus for his fourth time while the speakers spit it out for their third. A fine sprinkle of spittle is on the bar. The karaoke star and his friends, decked out in Andermatt branded t-shirts and hats—which declare them not to be locals but seasonal workers—dance behind the bar while the bartender twirls her hair off to the side and looks on without showing the slightest sign of amusement. Foster the People gives way to some ‘80s metal band. It sounds like Slayer, but the karaoke machine is now turned up beyond the point where words or band are distinguishable.
Photo by Nate Abbott. La Plagne, France.
I’m in the corner hidden beneath a black hood, sipping a monstrous beer waiting for some people I’ve never met. They work for Head skis and they’ve been doing a ski test for the last few days, which means their day ended with serious après and I have no idea if they’ll even make it. They’re an hour late, which gives me time to examine the clientele of the dark and cramped pub, which is just like the ones you can find in nearly every town around the world, from Breckenridge, to Niseko, to Andermatt to, well, London.
The atmosphere of the bar comes from all sides. To my left, the bar holds up a tipping grey-haired man, with a crooked hangdog cig in his mouth that never touches his hand between light and filter. His weathered face shows no signs of ever wearing proper mountain eyewear, the tan only broken by a week’s worth of grey, bristly stubble.
To my right are some silent, stout and judgy Germanic youth. They sip tall beers and have an opposite smoking style, their cigarettes held out to show leather bracelets and big gold watches. Through the smoke I see a couple of guys whose clean-cut style and black top-frame glasses suggest spotless Audis shuttled them in from Munich to a soundtrack of Mozart. On Monday, their sedans will be parked in front of a mirror-windowed office building in a sea of such buildings, while the drivers spend their week in their cubicles—mere whitecaps in the sea of buildings—dreaming of carving the perfect turn when they return to the pistes of Switzerland a couple weeks later.
With a hat of technical fabric and a geometric design perched high on his head, a middle-aged American skier with scruffy enough hair to cover his ears chats nonstop to two female companions. It all tells me he works in marketing at a software company that got their big break in the late ‘90s, but still looks longingly at Silicon Valley from an office park just outside of Boston. He hears Mumford and Sons break through the metal and pop tunes and exclaims, “Now this is a good song.” The ladies have the pasty, sunscreen-protected faces and, um, powerful upper legs of women who, as teenage racers, out-skied 99 percent of the guys at Stratton. I listen in as he shares stories of weeks at CMH Heli-Skiing and the reasons that the greatest skiers all learned their technique on the icy—I mean challenging—test pieces north of Boston, where great skiers are not born but taught in ski-school lessons.
At another table are the Italians with immense eyebrows. We’re not more than a few miles from the border, so it’s no surprise to see three pairs of matching designer jeans, hand distressed just enough to make them slightly unique. One wears a pink striped sweater, the other two shirts buttoned to their navels. In another corner is a table of Swedish mountaineers, sticky with sweat and all rocking thin quilted, insulating jackets and passing cans of snus.
Everyone is now dancing behind the bar, pouring drinks straight from the bottles. It’s mayhem when my new friends show up and take me to a cavelike bar below the pub, where we are given luminescent drinks and highlighters to draw on faces. There are more languages than I can keep track of and none, even the English, that I can clearly hear over the pumping dance beats. Yet names and home ski areas are somehow exchanged.
In the morning, I can’t remember any of the names. But we stuff ourselves into the tram, and I see a few faces I recall, not for the stereotypes or the phrases scrawled on them in highlighter. We’re the same now, by the light of day. At the top of the mountain, I take a few deep breaths and stare out over the Alps before dropping in.
–Nate Abbott, Senior Editor