Opinion » Range Rover

The night they drank St. Louis down



It was supposed to be a ski trip.

On the other hand, if there had only been skiing, someone, in almost certain disappointed hindsight, would have groaned: "It was supposed to be a party." As it turned out, nobody — not even those left standing or able to speak — was able to gurgle such a lament.

It was late January, the darkest depths of usually insipid winter in Southern Ontario. But fat storms and violent northwesterlies had been repeatedly dragging their icy assess across the unfrozen Great Lakes, loading up leeward snowbelts to create excellent ski conditions wherever topographic relief rose above the cornfields. Small, populous hills like 150-metre-high Mount St. Louis, located a few hours north of Toronto, were prime. With their eyes on this bounty, a few teachers at our high school conspired for a free weekend of skiing; the hormone-charged students who signed up for the trip they organized were looking for a ski weekend of freedom. It would be the perfect storm.

Two busloads of fresh-scrubbed faces trundled north on a Saturday morning. Three hours later we were all making turns through a thick curtain of lake-effect flakes, caroming among creaking hardwoods in knee-deep snow and building kickers we hoped the ski patrol wouldn't find. From the safe vantage of the chairlift, students age 14 to18 scoped each other out. Inside the daylodge, further surreptitious scouting mixed with trash talk and the occasional snowball. We skied until 4 p.m. Darkness shuttered the lifts — a banner day by any measure, not the least of which was the yardstick afforded by a hundred pairs of soaking jeans. The buses aimed their soggy loads north toward a small motel that had been rented in its entirety for the excursion.

Dinner was an unusually quiet affair of second-wind gathering and clattering cutlery, though a portent of intentions was seen in the many half-finished dinners and the swiftness with which the dining area cleared out. Everyone seemed to have plans.

An hour later, while the underpowered troika of teacher/chaperones relaxed civilly in a room enjoying scotch on the rocks, a teenage bomb — fuelled by rapidly consumed cases of high-test Canadian beer, bathtubs full of Purple Jesus, smuggled flasks of Southern Comfort, Lemon Gin and, in one sad case, perfume — exploded around them.

In the way the actual circumstances of the Big Bang can only be guessed at, this eruption can only be traced so far back in time. It seemed, however, that all at once music filtered in from every quarter, the door to every room was open, and each was some kind of "theme" bar staffed by a different crew. The terrified motel owners, assuming the teachers had it under control, abdicated any further responsibility with a simple click of the lock on their office door. But as the explosion gathered strength and reverberated, the hapless teachers stumbled forth to discover a warren of drinking, dancing and screaming so out of control it was too late to do anything but retreat, hope for the best, and plan for some unexpected triage. Or perhaps they recognized the scene for what it really was: a bauplan to every crazed ski party they'd ever attended, the beginning of the line, a practice session for the après rite-of-passage that would accompany these young skiers throughout their schussing careers. Maybe, they thought, it was best to keep to the side and offer support as the kids partied like it was 1999 (or at least Aspen circa 1973).

Drinking continued unabated. Pungent smoke billowed from every quarter — hash, Jamaican, Mexican, Thai-stick. Couples were created and destroyed in nanoseconds. Girls who didn't like the way you kissed would pass you to a friend. People swung from anything there was to swing from. People falling down stairs were caught by those stumbling up them. Macho guys dove off the second-floor balcony into three-metre snowdrifts. Streakers streaked. As the alcohol evaporated, stashes of beer hidden in the back of toilets materialized. People screamed "Woo!" with particular abandon. At some point, as they usually did, guitars appeared — a group of us even wrote a song about the party while it was happening to the tune of The Band's epic "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Learned by dozens on the spot, a chorus rang into the night and into history — to be sung for years at any gathering where the impossible-to-believe (or recreate) debauchery of that night was retold. It kept snowing. Even the atmosphere was amok.

In the morning, as the teachers congratulated themselves on not having put down any kind of damage deposit, the sun rose over a scene of cold, bottle-strewn, vomit-stained destruction the likes of which no one had ever experienced but which would now form the benchmark for all legendary ski parties to come. The sleep-deprived 7 a.m. breakfast of slippery fried eggs and WonderBread was intolerable and the bus-ride home a silent, hungover hell. Nevertheless, a smile creased every nodding head — the best party ever had made this the best ski trip ever.

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.

Add a comment