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Centennial Staters love their après-ski almost as much as they love skiing itself. But has the thrill of the party surpassed the joy of the adventure? Inside the culture of drinking that permeates our great outdoors.

BY TRACY ROSS | 5280 DECEMBER 2018

Several years ago, in the C lot of the Mary Jane side of Winter Park Resort, I lost my son Scout. It was Spring Splash, the last-day party during which a large portion of those present drink substantial amounts of alcohol. I’d downed a couple of beers while half listening to a live band, and I was chatting with a girlfriend when I looked down to where Scout, who was three at the time, had been sitting in a camp chair. He was gone.

The reverie of the afternoon was immediately replaced by primal parental instinct. I tore through the crowd of skiers and snowboarders amid the smell of weed and booze. Some of the faces I passed may have showed concern, but I can’t be certain, because the beers I’d had—two Dale’s Pale Ales—each contained 6.5 percent alcohol (compared to the five percent generally used to measure a serving and the ABV you’ll find in a Coors). In many ways, it was more like I’d had close to two and a half beers instead of two, and at 135 pounds, I was definitely buzzed, if not a little drunk.

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As I continued my panicked search, somehow Scout appeared at the stage. A band member hoisted him up and asked the crowd, “Hey, this little guy belong to any of you?” Still in my ski boots, I raced to the stage, grabbed Scout, and smothered him in kisses. Then, safely back at our home base for the festivities, I tucked Scout into his chair, keeping my hand on his head. When someone offered me another beer, I gratefully accepted.

That was in 2005, a year after my family had moved from Winter Park to Boulder County so I could take an editing job at Skiing magazine. Over the years, I’d learned how powerfully partying and skiing were intertwined. I’d always enjoyed drinking, but working inside the ski industry put me in contact with more opportunities to consume alcohol on the clock than any job I’d ever had. As a friend once noted, “In skiing, every story unfolds either on the hill or at the bar.” This was true at our yearly planning meetings, during which we skied, brainstormed, and drank every night; on press trips, during which we skied, schmoozed, and drank multiple days in a row; at skiing events, during which we skied and attended parties where people got drunker than anyone I’d ever seen; or, sometimes, at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday, when, from the fourth-story windows of our offices on Pearl Street, we ordered margaritas from Bacaro Venetian Taverna to quench the thirst that came with editing yet another story about the season’s best skis.

Nowadays, when a few of us editors get together and reminisce about the “glory days” at Skiing, which ceased publication in the winter of 2017 and merged with Ski, one of us will inevitably say something like, “My liver still hurts from that period.” Grinning with a kind of reverence, we all nod in agreement.

After I left Skiing in 2007, however, my liver continued to sustain impact. By then, it was clear that drinking was not only present, but also often celebrated, in most outdoor sports, not just skiing. There were the beers we packed for the end of a big mountain bike ride and the ones we kept on ice for après-hiking. There were the giant coolers we put in our rafts—one for food, a whole other one reserved for hoppy libations. There was the booze in the daypacks we brought on backcountry ski tours, in the drag bags we attached to our duckies. And there were the craft breweries and distilleries and cocktail bars popping up in mountain towns—and so many other towns across the state. Alcohol was, it seemed, everywhere the outdoors was in Colorado.

For the roughly 20-plus years I’ve been drinking a couple of beers or glasses of wine every day of the week, I have spent a fair amount of time questioning my relationship to liquor. Then, this past summer, a new study on drinking, which spanned 26 years and was co-written by 512 researchers from 243 institutions, generated a lot of media attention. And it was no wonder: The report called into question what so many of us had been led to believe, and what I personally wanted to believe, about consuming alcohol.

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For years, the conventional wisdom suggested moderate drinking—two servings a day for men, one for women—didn’t cause major health issues and might indeed have small benefits. Yet this new major, multinational study, published in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet, stated emphatically that risk of health issues goes up the more alcohol you consume and that the only “safe” level of alcohol consumption is none. After the study was released, Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of global health at the University of Washington and a senior author of the report told the Washington Post: “What has been underappreciated, what’s surprising, is that no amount of drinking is good for you. People should no longer think that a drink or two is good. What’s best…is to not drink at all.”

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