How do people mix alcohol and skiing?

The on-slopes restaurants in Beaver Creek do a lively lunchtime business in alcohol. The most enthusiast consumers of beer, wine, and mixed drinks seem to be European. In other words, they’ve come from sea level, are drinking at 10,000′ above sea level, and will take the lift up to 11,000′ after drinking. Conventional wisdom (e.g., Wikipedia) is that alcohol and high altitude are a bad combination. Conventional wisdom is that alcohol does not contribute to coordination and quick reaction times, like you would need to ski down a black diamond trail. Yet one can observe hundreds of people at just one ski resort lunch spot loading up on alcohol and then getting on the lift.

Readers: How did it become common for people who aren’t acclimated to high altitude to mix alcohol and and skiing? And, for those who actually have tried this, how does alcohol affect your ski performance?

12 thoughts on “How do people mix alcohol and skiing?

  1. I don’t know any serious skiers who drink while they’re skiing. Forgetting about altitude, alcohol impacts your reflexes and I for one want every last bit of reflexes when I’m skiing on steeps, in the trees or at speeds approaching 60 mph.

  2. Some people are not affected by altitude, at least in places like Breck. A few friends of mine almost don’t notice any side effects, except slightly harder breathing. So they drink and ski. Sure you lose some coordination, but one doesn’t need to ski 10/10 all the time.

  3. Maybe long lunches or short ski runs afterwards for a while? I usually can appreciate some brandy in my hot cocoa or a glass of warm spiced wine after a morning of skiing (heat of course also evaporates some alcohol). I wouldn’t have 2-3 beers and go do moguls immediately)

  4. I’m not an extreme skier or boarder, but my friends that are almost uniformly drink at least 1 beer on top of whatever backcountry peak they’ve hiked up before they ‘drop in.’

  5. Assuming the local rescue crews keep records, it seems like it’d be trivial to compare accident rates between morning and afternoon. If there’s a sharp increase, you could start measuring BAC levels as people come into the ER to confirm it.

  6. At least for Austrians, they can handle mixing alcohol and skiing because they have all had a lifetime of practice.

  7. Clearly you haven’t skied in the Alps… drinking a beer/wine over lunch and getting drunk are not really the same are they? And I’m not talking about (mostly) Brits and other spring breaker types whose only objective wherever they go is to ski for an hour or so, then get wasted. There is such a thing as moderate drinking culture, especially in the alpine countries.

    Also, Aiguille du Midi @ Chamonix, Klein Matterhorn @ Zermatt/Cervinia, Kitzsteinhorn @ Kaprun, Dome de la Lauze @ La Grave/Les 2 Alpes and several other places are just as high or higher than most in CO. The idea that “we” come from sea level, while US skiers in general are used to the altitude makes no sense at all.

    And another thing… 6h after landing in Denver (flying in from Venice to keep with your sea level theme) I was at the top of Arapahoe Basin (highest run in CO as far as I can tell). Did I feel the altitude? Yes, but I had as much of a problem with jet lag and generally not sleeping much all night. It just meant I didn’t ski the entire run without breaks. Anyone who skis with any regular frequency will be at least somewhat fit and acclimatized to the elevation anyway and will get completely used to it in a day or two. Casual skiers don’t tend to travel to another continent to ski at a $175/day resort if we can do it for half/third the price (at absolute worst!) back home.

  8. If there is any statistical difference for injuries in morning/afternoon it will probably come down to deteriorated snow conditions and several hours of physical exertion rather than alcohol consumption.

  9. I think there are a couple of things at work here:
    A lot of people either don’t have the physical stamina or the interest in charging-it all day, so the bars provide a socially acceptable (and social) alternative. Think about how much cooler it sounds to say “Let’s get a drink; I’m buying” (which takes an hour or so) than “My quads are burning and my legs are shaking, I’m going to sit on this bench for 45 minutes why you all have fun”

    That said, even some of the more serious boarders I know will have one or two drinks in the early afternoon. I don’t do it much, but on at least one occasion, I had a few beers, and I can tell you I felt much more fluid and relaxed snowboarding down a double-black-diamond face at 11,000ft (and I live at sea level). In good conditions, in the absence of rocks or other skiers, there’s not much to hit, so I don’t see the harm.

    As with all drinking, I’d imagine diminishing returns kicks in pretty strongly after about 3.

  10. Two things not for me skiing – alcohol and music. Want to be aware of things around me (out of control skiers/riders, terrain changes, etc) so I don’t get clobbered.

    Of course I have been skiing for 30 years and am an old fart. But I do wear a helmet!!

    Drinking a beer over lunch seems ok to me though. But drinking is a lot safer (and more in the culture I would think) when playing golf.

    Phil, when are you gonna take a golf vacation/trip?

  11. I live in a ski town. We have a standing lunch date with 20 or so friends every Thursday. We all ski hard in the AM and then go to a big outdoor lunch area for fun. We all drink a beer or two or some wine and have a nice long lunch. We all take our lunches and drinks in a backpack. We never ski hard after those lunches. We might do 2-3 runs but most of us only take one run to get down the mountain. No one can ski very well after a big lunch or a few drinks.

    When we ski during other days we do not stop for lunch per se. We go early and ski hard for 4 hours or so and then quit for the day. Or we start late (mostly in the spring to avoid the icy conditions) and have a light lunch at home to avoid the high mountain prices. Then we ski for 4 hours in the afternoon.

    Only tourists buy high priced mountain food and drinks. Smart skier tourists only have a small snack and one beer at the most if they want to ski after lunch. The really smart tourists have only a soda for the sugar pick up and then go back to ski for the afternoon. The people who are paying for those big expensive lunches and several drinks will not be doing much skiing afterwards. All their energy is in their stomach digesting food.

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