Binge drinking and booze blackouts at the snow

Snow and alcohol go hand in hand, but there is a dark side.
Snow and alcohol go hand in hand, but there is a dark side. Photo: Getty Images

I had been warned about Aspen barman Scotty Gibson long before I met him but then, as my mother has always said, I don't listen. It took just one $2000 hospital bill to prove she was right.

Scotty is a larrikin Kiwi who knows how to pour a martini that goes down smooth with a hell of an after bite. Ignoring the no-drinking-on-the-first-night-at-altitude rule has got me in trouble before, but then, as my mother said, I don't listen. Let's just say the jet-lag made me do it.

(Snow It All exclusive - check out Australia's first tilt shift snow film at the bottom of the blog)

I sure as hell didn't order my two martinis with a side of oxygen and an intravenous drip but that's what I got as altitude got the better of me - but you try telling hotel concierge you have vertigo while lying on the lobby floor with eau de martini excreting from the pores.

When the folk at Aspen Hospital presented me with a $2000 bill for a bag of saline, some oxygen and a 'four-point medical encounter' I laughed and said it couldn't be right, if I had encountered a doctor four ways I would have remembered it. They realised the error of their ways and returned with a bill for $1900. Who knew Scotty's martinis would end up costing me $950 a pop.

It's all good fun with booze at the snow, until someone's wallet gets hurt, right? For many snow holidaymakers alcohol is as much a part of their vacation fun as a thigh burn at the end of a long run. Binge drinking is not just celebrated but often expected at many ski resorts where shot skis take pride of place at the bar so fellow revellers can share the love.

My own skiing life is dotted with drunken tales of hilarity, some I replay at dinner parties as entertainment, some I would rather forget. I even had a cocktail named after me in Queenstown at The Spire Hotel suitably titled "Rachel's undoing" with the tag line "named after our favourite Aussie journalist because after two of these she comes undone."  It would appear my magic number is two.

Then a strange thing happened. I experienced a complete memory block of a night in Park City, Utah, when waking in my hotel room, body intact, thankfully alone with no sign of break and enter. I remember nothing of the night before - nadda, nitch, not an iota. The last recall I have is arguing with a doorman who wanted to see my ID.

What worried me the most is not just the blackout itself, but people's reactions to it. Responses ranged from 'Oh, you too, huh?' to 'I get them all the time' to 'that's just a part of drinking.' 

A little research revealed the terror of drinking blackouts when people appear coherent, if not a little drunk, but are totally unaware of what is actually happening. They may be able to dance, to speak without slurring, to walk without swaying but they may get into a car and drive and find themselves at home the next day with the car in the garage and no recollection of how it got there.

You can tell if someone is experiencing a blackout by asking them some questions. Ask them the same questions ten minutes later - if they answer them as though they've never heard them before, then you should get them home ASAP.

Apparently blackouts are most prevalent when people drink too much alcohol too quickly. Translated? The shot ski, the Jagerbomb, the trays of schnapps delivered to the dining table.  In other words, a typical night out at the snow.

I had my drink spiked at the snow last year and I wrote about it here. It was a frightening experience so I gave up drinking. From October last year until now, I have had four nights where I have consumed alcohol - Christmas Eve, once in January, a night on holidays in Western Australia and a night in Noosa with a bunch of journalists and limitless champagne.

In February and March this year I took a three-week ski trip to the ritzy apres-loving resort of Sun Valley, Idaho, the wilds of Whitefish Montana and the big slopes of Red Mountain. I remained sober the whole time and against all odds I had a ball, in fact it was one of the best ski trips I have experienced.

I do experience a pressure to drink because I have always been an all-or-nothing kind of girl. When I worked for a major record label (where the drinking culture was rife) I used to stand at the bar for consecutive tequila shots and when everyone threw them down their throat I threw them over my shoulder. It was the only way I could survive and keep my job.

As a ski journalist I have always tended to drink on tour but not at home. Trouble is I seem to be on tour more often than in my own postcode. Many people who meet me at the snow and catch up with me in Sydney are surprised to see me drinking water when they were hoping I'd be dancing on tables.

Don't get me wrong, I have not turned into a prude, you will still find me cheering on the Wallabies with a wine in hand in Thredbo this Saturday and hanging off the karaoke microphone stand in a resort in Japan come the northern winter, but the ski industry is filled with functioning alcoholics and I don't wish to be become one of them. 

Many a poor drunken critter has wandered off at closing time in what they thought was the direction of their home only to be found barely breathing (or worse) in the snow the next morning.

People leave their brain below the snow line and normal senses are no longer on high alert when they should be. You are not protected from drink spiking, molestation and even rape just because you have skis or a snowboard on - quite the contrary.

I'm beginning to sound like my mother. She'd say "party in moderation Rachael". Perhaps it's time to listen.

Have you ever had a blackout when drinking at the snow? Have you done things drunk at the snow you'd never dream of doing drunk in your home town? What are your funniest or most tragic drinking tales? Ever had your drink spiked? Post a comment on the blog below.

THUMBS DOWN FOR THE WORLD HELI CHALLENGE

The highest-ranked competitive female skier competing in the World Heli Challenge in New Zealand this week is Kiwi Janina Kuzma. Janina placed third overall on the gruelling Freeride World Tour last northern season and ranks as third in the world for female big mountain skiing.

This potentially makes her the highest ranked skier, male or female, to be competing at the World Heli Challenge, an exciting annual event of big mountain and freestyle skiing set in New Zealand's Southern Alps.

Janina is one of a number of females from the USA, New Zealand and Australia competing. Not that you would know it. The first official news release on day one of the competition makes no reference to the female athletes at all. Gosh, they must have been powdering their nose not the snow on that day.

The only reference to any female in the second official news release on day two of competition is the following:

"On the women's side, a few of the male competitors were overheard telling Australia's Nat Segal that she skied her run like a 'man'."

I am speechless at this sentence (well, clearly, I am not). Have you ever read a more sexist sentence about female skiers? Is this supposed to be a compliment? Nat does not ski 'like a man' - she skis like a woman, a damn good, big-mountain skiing woman and better than a lot of men I know.

I won't even begin to talk about the lack of images of the female skiers and boarders in any media coverage of the competition, the same females who spent hours fundraising to get the $2000 entry fee for a competition that may not have prize money but apparently has media attention to help build the profile of athletes, so long as they have balls.

Try telling snowboarder WHC competitor Maria Kuzma (Janina's twin sister) who survived an avalanche during the Verbier X-Treme to still place fourth in the world to go grow some.

Come on organisers it's 2011 not 1953.

In other news...Snow It All wishes our friend, last year's WHC winner, Ted Davenport a speedy recovery from his broken legs sustained in the competition this week. Hang in there buddy!

EXCLUSIVE AUSTRALIAN FIRST TILT SHIFT SKI RESORT VIDEO

You've seen the Whistler XXS Tilt Shift video and the Jackson Hole Tilt Shift video that caused a social media sensation last northern season. Now it's Australia's turn. Check out Snow It All's exclusive release of Snowglobe a miniature Falls Creek created by Chris Hocking and Chris Myers.

WINNER OF THE HELI SKI TRIP TO NEW ZEALAND

Congratulations to Davin Broadbent from Melbourne who will be taking a trip with a mate on an Air New Zealand plane to Queenstown. Why? So he can heli ski with Southern Lakes Heli and bed down in the swanky digs of the $1000 a night Azur Lodge. With Air New Zealand flying daily across the ditch, Davin and his lucky plus one can watch the weather, choose the time and fly in directly in time to catch the best of a powder storm.

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