Tailgating and skiing have been lovers since they met. The very first people who used a combustion engine to drive to a ski slope pulled a bottle of wine and a baguette out of their trunk. I guarantee it. A good day of skiing leaves you hungry, thirsty, and ready to relax while recounting your adventures and wipeouts.
During this, our winter of Covid, it’s time to perfect the art of parking lot apres skiing. So here’s our advice for the greatest skier’s tailgate party.
Personally, my earliest, admittedly lame attempts at tailgating were financially motivated. As a teen, I couldn’t carry enough food in my pockets to last all day and stealing crackers from the day lodge got old quickly. So my friends and I would fill Mom’s car with whatever food we could steal from the family kitchen. When hunger forced us down the mountain, we’d eat cold sandwiches and cookies with haste and wash them down with whatever drinks hadn’t frozen in the back seat.
For the record, this is not tailgating. These were the feeble meals of an amateur. And I soon migrated to the day lodge for any eating, drinking, or socializing. It was the wisdom that comes with maturity that pulled me back to the parking lots and to tailgating. No, actually, ski touring pulled many of us away from the day lodges. Out there in the mountains, we still needed to maintain the camaraderie of apres skiing, even while sitting on the side of a desolate highway.
Now, in 2021, as we enjoy family days at the ski area while avoiding the lodges, tailgating is even more crucial than ever.
Today when I see a crew with lounge chairs, bbq, and string lights who has taken over a corner of the ski hill parking lot, I note their genius: their insulated water cooler, the bacon grilling on the two-burner, the “slow children playing” sign on the road. These people are taking “skiing as culture” and raising it to the highest level. They end their day by sharing their ingenuity and their bounty with others. You have to admire them, then do your best to emulate and surpass.
Maybe a propane firepit would top things off nicely! An awning would keep the snow off. Would a fruit buffet and chocolate fountain be going too far? No. You can’t go too far when it comes to tailgating. Not this year. Let’s learn from our American friends, who cook meat for hours in the parking lots of college football games, and take the art even further here in the Canadian Mountains.
In the Rockies, at least, someone in your group needs to drive home after skiing, so we need to make the party about food more than booze. There is nothing wrong with firing up the hibachi bbq and cooking some sausage. Smokies are a satisfying meal after a day on the slopes. They have been enjoyed for centuries in Bavaria as apres-schussing snack. Tube meats of any kind are easy to clean up and easy to cook, and gathering around the bbq is a great way for everyone to stay warm. So, by all means, start with sausage.
Soon you’ll be thinking bigger, though. How many toppings can you add to a homemade burger? A lot! And you’ll feel pretty smug when it tastes better than the $20 cafeteria burger in the lodge. Anything you can make on a campfire or bbq is fair game in the parking lot. So dream big. Soups are another warm and satisfying treat after a big day. You can pre-make them and warm them on a camp stove quickly. Or, if you are in a rush, ramen packets have been a ski bum staple for decades.
Charcuterie is satisfying, but warm food is even more satisfying. If you look for them, most ski area parking lots have a few stalls where you can plug in your vehicle. Bring an extension cord and plug in your slow cooker or crockpot all day instead. I dare you.
Here are a few deluxe tailgate recipes to get you thinking.
If there are kids involved, you’ll need hot chocolate. You want them to love skiing, right? I’d add whatever favourite snack they have. Marshmallows roasted on the firepit? Absolutely.
It’s vital in mid-winter to throw all your adult beverages in a cooler. Not to keep them cool but to prevent them from freezing. Mix cocktails with umbrellas in them if you want to earn extra points, but blender drinks, while classy, are probably too cold for most days in the parking lot.
Warm drinks are certainly worth the effort. Coffee and Baileys is excellent. So is mulled wine. But these are just starting points. Here are a few ideas to take it further.
Speaking of staying warm, bring extra layers. That huge down jacket you never wear will be perfect. When you are standing around after a sweaty day, it can get cold. And no amount of clothing will be too warm when you stop moving around. If you are skiing in a helmet, pack a toque for afterwards. A dry pair of mitts or gloves will be nice as well.
Casual shoes might be nice in the warm car while you drive home, but throw in a pair of full-on winter boots to wear after you get out of your ski boots. Even in a snowy parking lot, taking your ski boots off can be one of the best parts of the day, so bring a camp chair.
Seating is one of the key components to your tailgating setup. Beginners may think sitting on a good-old-Alberta-truck tailgate is good enough. Well, you’ll look cool, but you’ll soon be jealous of your friend’s comfy camp chair. Lounging in a chair with an actual back (and cup holder) is luxury after a big day. Bring a blanket if you really want to snuggle in. And remember to throw in an extra chair so you can play the good host with friends or any ski bum walking by.
Propane campfires are a hot ticket in the parking lots this season. The warmth and ambiance are tough to beat. If your truck, van, or RV have an awning, that’ll help capture some of the fire’s heat. Before you arrange anything, take note of the wind direction and where the sun is shining. Even a light breeze really cools you off when you are lounging around. Feel free to crank some tunes from your vehicle or the speaker you brought. Dancing is the very best way to stay warm during apres-ski!
If your kids are prone to boredom, throw in a couple of sleds, and they’ll be playing on the snowbanks for hours. That’ll give you time to fire up the wood-burning pizza oven. Too much? Maybe, but you know everyone will develop ever more elaborate setups as winter turns into spring.