It's 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and the lineup in front of KT-22, Squaw’s infamous chairlift, is already several rows deep. I woke up 15 minutes ago and am proud of myself for rallying despite the late night prior. Just like every other day I've found myself waiting in front of KT first thing in the morning, I know good things are ahead. But today, there are a few key differences. For one, it's hot. Instead of layering up, we strip down. It might be the first time there are more girls waiting here than guys. And instead of placing my skis down to save my place in line, I flip out my yoga mat. Today the anticipation is not for cold and deep fresh tracks on a pow day. It's for a yoga class called Morning Cup of Vinyasa taught by a smiling man dressed head to toe in white.
This is Wanderlust, the yoga and music festival that invades Squaw Valley for four days every summer. The festival's roots began in Squaw five years ago, and now the wandering tribe sets up camp all summer long at ski resorts across North America, including Stratton, Copper, and Whistler. I know that yoga is good cross-training for skiers. It heats us up on cold days. It stretches our super tight hips. And both yogis and skiers love to party and sweat. But throw Ganesh and gong meditation into the mix, and Wanderlust is nothing short of culture shock for your average ski town lifer.
If you go to Squaw Valley during Wanderlust, forget about après, bros, and storm days. An invisible bubble of gratitude swallows the ski resort whole. White tents line the village selling everything from blackberry barbecue jerky (organic, free range, no MSG) to tie-dye yoga pants to thick Burning Man-esque belts with a lot of pockets. Fermented kombucha replaces PBR on tap, and bartenders mix up yerba mate and whisky cocktails. One of my friends who waits tables at a restaurant in the Village told me a story about two guests who left her magic dust with their tip, and bowed their heads to say "Blessings! Blessings!" after she took their order. And while I've skied many spring days with a Beastie Boys soundtrack playing on my iPod, Beastie Yoga was a first. Described as a class with a "license to chill," the yoga teacher, MC Yogi, rhymed us through Vinyasa flows to "Brass Monkey" and let the class loose for an Intergalatic Planetary free-for-all dance party.
Squaw’s transformation during Wanderlust is like a midlife crisis. It’s half way through the off-season, and it’s the equivalent of a bored middle aged man abandoning his life to roam the earth in search of meaning. But I'd be lying if I said us Squaw Valley folk didn't love this festival, especially the guys. Where Squaw is your typical ski town sausage fest for 51 weekends of the year, Wanderlust is the standout exception and it brings more hot yoga butts to town than any other event. My male skier counterparts owe a serious thank you to Lululemon, which sells yoga pants that make any butt look damn good.
More than the people watching and eccentric yoga classes, the bonding between skiers and yogis really happens at the parties. Michael Franti, Girl Talk, and Broken Social Scene have all graced the lineup for Wanderlust, and this year, headliner Moby freaked out on stage with a high-energy electric set, lasers, and hundreds of fist-pumping fans. In past years, the after-party has landed at the iconic Squaw Valley Stables, where DJs played until dawn, revelers took to the rooftop to dance, and the cops finally broke it up around 7 a.m. This year, we danced late night at a silent disco, which to the outsider appears to be a quiet gathering, but just slipping on a set of headphones opens a portal to a massive rave.
Yoga by day, where festivalgoers sweat out toxins and calm their minds. Music by night, where alcohol and parties cancel out all efforts from the day. It's easy to see the contradiction of Wanderlust. But truth is, skiers live a similar lifestyle. We also seek enlightenment. Just where yoga people hit their sweet spot by chanting "OM," we find it in the weightless feeling of deep snow. And then it's straight to après, for a Pabst…or a pint of Lavender Kombucha.