When at Retallack Lodge, British Columbia, you need to be skilled at two things: skiing and a drinking game called Neglin.
WORDS • Connor W. Davis | PHOTOGRAPHY • Bruno Long
From the moment we become skiers—as children, as adults or anywhere in between—it’s evident that skill does not come easy. We crash, we burn, and, over time, we learn. We learn how to turn with precision; how to stay balanced over varied terrain; we learn how to battle difficult weather. And, on the best days, we learn how to float through deep snow.
Over time, the process leads to obsession. And obsession leads to desire. And desire leads to destinations like Retallack Lodge: a cat-skiing operation in southern British Columbia that spans roughly 10,000 wild acres and receives about 45 feet of snow per winter. Ever had a ski dream? The dream where you’re floating through the deepest powder ever, launching off a cliff and entering that deep powder all over again? That’s what Retallack is like. Over, and over and over. And it’s not a dream. It’s real. Trust me.
But a dream come true isn’t synonymous with a free-for-all. When you’re standing on top of a Retallack line, the need for skill is immediately clear. This is no bunny slope; approaching your descent properly and making quick decisions requires the utmost attention. Not to mention: preparation.
Everything needs to be dialed, both physically and mentally. Yet, there’s something no rookie is ever truly prepared for at Retallack, whether they’re a pro or a weekend warrior. It’s a game that reflects Retallack perfectly, an activity that’s as lighthearted as it gets, but that the staff and veteran players take as seriously as they do their jobs guiding folks around their incredible cat-skiing tenure.
Neglin is a drinking game—a very hard drinking game. Don’t ever consider asking the question, “Is this that game called stump?” The repercussions will not be pretty. Neglin might sound foreign to you, but at Retallack, it’s religion. When you finish a long day in the backcountry and mosey into the lodge’s cozy, yet rowdy bar, you’ll likely find a group of skiers playing the game—huddled around a cottonwood stump full of nails, passing around a dual-headed mining rockhammer with drinks in hands.
Neglin works like this: A group of people—two at minimum and roughly 10 maximum—stand around a stump. The stump is about waist-high, and smooth on the top. Each player inserts one nail, ever so gently, into the perimeter of the stump. Then, everyone takes turns trying to drive their nails fully into the stump, with one swing of the rockhammer per turn. If you make solid contact on your attempt, you get to go again. If you miss, you pass the hammer. If you hammer your nail flush into the stump, you get to walk away and are not “the loser.” Whoever’s nail remains at the end without being pushed all the way in, loses, and must shotgun a beer. Throughout the entire game there are a list of possible infractions that players try to avoid, with various punishments that escalate from a single drink to the shotgunning of a beer, depending on the severity. It may not sound hard at first, but it is. It really is. Here’s the catch: Imagine hitting a nail into a stump with a hammer, but that hammer is about 50 times smaller than normal and you have to use the pointy side of the pick, not the flat-head. You only get one swing every few minutes, unless you’re incredibly skilled and consistent. And you’ve been drinking—a lot. Everyone is taunting you.
Of course, this is the game of choice at Retallack. It just makes sense. This isn’t the kind of place where everyone sits on the floor all night playing Monopoly with cups of hot cocoa. It’s the kind of place where everyone stays up late listening to rock-n-roll and drunkenly swinging around rock hammers in the name of skiing.
The nights are long, indeed. Retallack is known for that. But, when morning arrives, hungover bullshit is not tolerated. Everyone is up with the sun—stretching, eating a big breakfast, readying gear, planning out routes. The days are always long and full of opportunity. And powder. And the best lines of your life. You don’t just roll out of bed and get on the lift whenever you want. There’s a cat waiting outside—purring—and it’s leaving with or without you as the sun rises.
When you go home from Retallack, you’ll be sad. You’ll miss the lodge. You’ll miss the staff. You’ll miss the camaraderie. You’ll miss the best skiing of your life. And, unfortunately, none of those things will exist outside of the Retallack world.
But you probably have some nails lying around, stumps are fairly easy to come by and rockhammers are pretty cheap. Monopoly kind of sucks, anyway.