Reasons to Join a Race League

It’s not about the beer, and definitely not about the results

PHOTO: David Reddick

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. Wednesday. February. Montana. I’m at work, but I’m not at work. My focus fizzled around 4. Okay, maybe it was a little earlier. I stare at words on my computer screen without thinking anything in particular and wait for the right moment to duck out early. Tonight is race league, which means there’s low-angle GS turns off the T-bar, free beer, and fried food in my very near future..

I sprint to the car, whip out of the parking lot, and drop in line with the unorganized caravan of beer-leaguers rushing north from our jobs in Kalispell to Whitefish Mountain Resort. I see Taylor way ahead in his Ford Explorer, and Michael, a big guy with a big chocolate lab and a white truck, skis bouncing in the bed. There’s Justin, with Ellen in the passenger seat, gesturing wildly to catch my eye as they pass by. I roll down my window to shout, but at 80 mph, the wind tugs my excitement away. We shrug. See you up there.

More skiing in the dark: The joy and solitude of night skiing in the upper midwest.

In Whitefish, four of us meet up to carpool. We squish in tight and head up Big Mountain road. Road sodas, teasing elbow jabs, Fleetwood Mac: this has become ritual. We get to do this every Wednesday for eight weeks during the coldest days Old Man Winter throws at us. All for the low price of $55. Find me a better antidote for midwinter, midweek malaise.

Skiing takes courage. Drink up.
Skiing takes courage. Drink up. PHOTO: David Reddick

We pull into a questionable parking spot near the Bierstube, the après bar—rules seem to exist in a lesser way on beer league night. We shove feet into boots, hands into gloves. We skate up to the T-bar, giving the liftie an extra warm hello for being here shivering tonight. And look—there’s the last reluctant kiss of sunset sliding over the shoulders of the Whitefish Range.

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It’s a dual slalom. You wanna be blue or red? No slip runs, no warm-up. Just a little wiggle left, right, left, right. It’s easy, let me show you how, we joke. Shin to win, if you must. Or don’t. Have fun. My rival and I high-five Joe, the starter, and kick out of the start gate in one smooth pass. On the second run, we switch courses. Give your adversary a little hell. Dude, blue is way harder than red. Icier. You got this? You sharpen those things? You sure? Five… four, threetwoonego!

We could do this every day, couldn’t we? Wouldn’t that be the life? That dreamy, worry-free paradise skiers are always talking about?

With our two course runs down, maybe we take a few laps on the T-bar, maybe we just go right from the harsh dark of the night to the warm dark of the Stube. This is my favorite bar. It’s everybody’s favorite bar. A time capsule for a time that doesn’t exactly exist, homage to the sentiment of golden glory days. The later we get in the season, the later the results get announced. 7:30, 7:40, 7:50…

It’s okay. That’s not why we’re here. More beer? It’s courtesy of the local brewery. Time drifts. I preemptively set my alarm for tomorrow morning and rest my head on my friend’s shoulder.

Finally, we call it, load up the car, and navigate down the windy, icy road. I close my eyes. We could do this every day, couldn’t we? Wouldn’t that be the life? That dreamy, worry-free paradise skiers are always talking about? I think about my hypnotic computer screen and my nine-to-five working-stiff desk job. I think about my to-do list, long and dense, on hold for a few more hours.

Take It Slow: Because slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

Us beer leaguers, we are writers, designers, and engineers, scientists, retailers, and mailmen. We create things and spend our days trying to make the world work better for more people. (Yes, mailmen included.) That’s amazing, but who says we can’t do more? So we ski. Mountain folk surprise me every day, by how brilliant they are, by the unexpected things they do. Wednesday nights are not about escaping from, they are about escaping to. Look around—we’re just a bunch of scruffy-haired knuckleheads putting everything aside and gathering for a moment to laugh and watch our buddies try to make gates on tele skis or snowboards or powder boats or old race sticks flecked with rust.

We pull into the driveway of a friend’s house. It feels later than it is during hibernation season on the 48th parallel, but it’s not time to tuck in yet. Inside we air out stinky socks on the bar, pleather couch, or pool table in the basement. Find a seat somewhere in the living room. Someone shouts, “Put some vinyl on, why don’t ya?” We all lay back, turn our chins to the ceiling, and laze in the saccharine rainbow glow of Christmas lights strung up along the ceiling.

Eventually, I do go home, bleary-eyed and ready to conquer the next few days behind my desk. I’ll see these guys back here soon, when the day starts with an “S,” the hour is much earlier, and the sky bright. That’s our rhythm. Weekends, workdays, Wednesdays, workdays. It’s a rhythm marked by going up and down Big Mountain road. By the easy wintertime intertwine of what we do to live, and what we do to live well.

More words on skiing with your friends under the lights.