From saunas to Jacuzzis, reindeer steaks to BBQ spare ribs, Schnapps to Budweiser: As an American rider on hiatus in Europe for over two years now I can confidently pin point what makes snowboard culture European, and what makes it American.
It's more than just outerwear, food and slope design. It's a combination of things, the core of a culture dripping in self confidence, individualism and national identity. To better catch my drift, here are the top five differences when it comes to living the snowboard life in North America versus snowboard life in Europe.
In Europe: You're naked
My first Euro sauna was in Hemsedal, Norway. I had the perfect post-shred plan to pull and never thought twice about a counter culture interrupting. Cockiness took over sensibility and I proudly strutted my ass into a sauna wearing a bikini and holding a case of beer. It wasn't long before a father and his two twenty-something sons joined, who entered with nothing but a moist face towel effortlessly hanging around their waists. To me, this was shocking.
It was a tight space to pack in this much perspiring flesh, and the father parked himself on the bench above me. I sat there with eyes shut, trying to look relaxed as I sipped beer -- knowing uncomfortably well a mere piece of cotton was all that divided a dad's sweaty, hairy sac from my face. The air got hotter, the stench of man odor snaked into my nostrils. I lasted five minutes before exploding out of there with laughter and a pure feeling of terror.
In N. America: You're clothed and drunk
Listen up because this is from personal experience: In America, it's only natural to bust into a sauna with friends, beers and bathing suits on. Maybe even a joint or two. We know the hot air get us 100 percent loaded, that's the whole point. It's great and we love walking out delirious, super dumb and sliding on the floor in our own sweat laughing like a bunch of idiots. There are never, and I repeat never, men with sweaty balls close to your nose and loincloth wrapped around their hipless waists.
2. Apres Ski
In Europe: Bavarian folk and Bon Jovi
Oh Jon Bon Jovi, why didn't your fandom die with the 90s era of neon and Milli Vanilli? While North America pressed on from the world of flannel-shirt rock Bon Jovi skipped the pond and nested himself and his Billboard classics into the bars of every ski town in Europe. And if it’s not Livin On A Prayer it’s Top Bavarian Folk Hits To Slap Your Thigh And Swing Your Beer Mug To. And come on, we all are secretly in love with this stuff. We try to hide it by doing a mocking jig in our saggy shred pants, but really we want to grab a partner and boppingly waltz on tables.
In N. America: Reggae and 80s Hair Bands
It should come as no surprise. North American riders are obsessively trying to be irie because we can be so damn uptight. Ski areas blast reggae from dawn to dusk, and after that it’s Drunk Music Time. And what’s the best drunk music for a ski town filled of men snowboarders in their 20s and 30s? For us, it’s Guns N Roses, AC/DC and Aerosmith, with occasional Johnny Cash guitar to lick out a better “small town” vibration. We are usually too cool to dance and think it’s way better to air guitar, chest slam and break glass.
3. Fashion Faux Pas
In Europe: Euro gaps and spandex
Rule: Spandex is a privilege not a right. This statement applies to every turf fate plants your two feet on, but apparently some people simply don’t get it. We riders are smart enough to let this condition of “rule rebellion” alone, though we still are the ones who suffer the consequences of their ignorance on the slopes. It’s not fair, I know, and we growl, sneer and roll eyes but things just don’t get better. But have pity on the ones with a severe case of Euro Gap, they don’t know any better. And one day they’ll be sorry.
In N. America: Cowboy hats, Starter jackets and jeans
This is quite possibly the most embarrassing sight on a North American ski slope. Think U.S. riders are loud and obnoxious? You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve heard a man in a football jacket, cowboys jeans and a cattle hat from Kansas chat you up on a chair lift as he fumbles with ski poles. Tuning out his blubbering won’t work because he’ll poke you on the shoulder until you unplug and point your finger at some random mark on the ski map which helplessly flaps around his face. It’s ok though, because at the end of the day he’ll be the one with a wet ass mark the size of his lost ranching hat.
4. Waiting For The Lift
In Europe: Confusion
As my English mate Bex would say, “There are two methods of getting on a lift. Push and Kill or Elbows Out.” The struggle to get on a lift in Europe is like being in a white trash heavy metal mosh pit – chaotic and violent – when it really shouldn’t be. It’s an endless cycle of impatient cut offs, avenged shoving and short, fearful breaths as thrusting neighbors play bumper cars with your gear. Pretty soon hairs rise and blood boils until eventually Hulk Hogan syndrome kicks in and you fist your way to the front. Don’t even think about trying to get on the same lift as your friend, it’s every man for himself at this social gathering.
In N. America: Rows
It’s a simple solution to the above-mentioned emotional carnage, if you’re willing to wait about an hour for your turn. In North America we have a maze of lines to linger in for busy lifts, and there are people whose job is to bark out “FIRST ROW” when it’s time to move forwards. It’s a level playing field of slow-motion edging, and it gives you time to scope the base for hotties. Still it takes longer than the Euro way, and some ski areas have maps with blinking lights next to the lifts where lines exceed a one-hour wait. That’s what we get for not building amazing underground trains, like Switzerland.
5. The Drugs
In Europe: Smoking spliffs on lifts
When I first saw someone rolling a joint with tobacco I thought I was getting ripped off. It wasn’t until after living in Amsterdam for eight months when I realized spliffs were the norm in Europe. “Why would you smoke only weed? You’d get too high, it would be impossible to function,” a wise friend on a chair lift once said. Made sense to me, and I nodded in approval as we sat there hot boxing on a lift under a plastic snow shield. It’s a great method for a good time, except that it makes me a smoker and I suck at rolling joints.
In N. America: Packing pipes in slope shacks
Everyone knows about the grass-smoking laws canning people for life in North America, but that’s the South and snowboard life thrives Westward. Mountain towns love the pure, sticky bud, and since riding with a bong in your hand is tricky we opt for glass pipes. I’m talking handmade, swirling eye candy glass, not crack pipes five euros a pop in souvenir shops. And since we’re always paranoid of getting busted we sneak into tiny huts hidden amongst the trees in ski areas like Breckenridge. If someone knows of a shack like this in Europe please enlighten me, my email is Audrey@method.tv.
Audrey, Elbows Out
After three months of settling in
It's not that I haven't taken lessons before. I have.
It's not that I'm not surrounded by German-speakers. I am.
So what is it?
Is it my pronunciation being so horrible no one gets me? It happens.
Is it those five-second pauses I take before pronouncing words like einbauschrankscharnier? It happens.
Is it the laugh I get by Austrians each time I order a verlangerter at a cafe? They always laugh.
I don't know, but I keep trying despite the ongoing realization that I sound like a baby...gah gah.
Anyway -- everyone I'm still in
To be a local in
My nearby cafe is Dreiheiligen (Three wise men) Cafe. I first waltzed in there because I thought the whale-sized piece of gold cake teetering over the sign was a sure bet of sweet times. Short lasting, my eyes glazed with icing curdled when I saw the cafe covered like wallpaper with coo coo clocks.
That's right, coo coo clocks. About 50 on each wall, and they worked.
I stood in the doorway thinking, 'My God, I've walked into a time bomb the size of a house because the giant gold cake told me to.'
On closer examination, I noticed each clock was set to a different time. Even now, I don't know what's worse. Fearful yet intrigued I sat down and ordered coffee. My eyes wandered as I slumped into the seat. I waited for the sounds to make my skin crawl like nails on a chalkboard or a knife scratching porcelain plates.
And you know what? It wasn't that bad. Alright, sometimes the clocks with pendulums as big as my head get annoying, but for the most part it's white noise. So I've become a regular and have gotten to know the Dreiheiligen crew. The place is run by a family -- the father bakes, the mother finances, the daughter serves. The daughter rocks, even if she wears a small glitter sticker next to her eye like a fixed body part everyday. The mother is nice, though her dog is more of a menace under my feet than a soft footstool.
The father, however, frightens me. A man his size apparently needs striped pants that end above his ankles, a white apron to cover a beastly belly, and a big baker hat to look even taller than he already is (and it skims the ceiling when he walks, I mean stomps. He stomps). If he wanted to, he could just wait behind the corner each time I enter and jump out at me with his bear-like hands while shouting "HAH!” But no, he likes to prolong the intimidation.
He sits at the same table, the table with an excellent view of the entrance. Hunched over and smoking, he watches each customer walk in and look at the cakes displayed behind the glass counter. And oh man, you better take a long hard look at those cakes because the Frankenstein who made them is right over there. And when the slice is set before you, pause for a moment as he watches you and expects an eye opening, mouth widening expression. And if your body movement takes a break from the "cake-eating" exercise, he’ll notice and wonder why you've stopped. Was his cake not good enough, or are you just not grateful?
All of this makes me nervous. I keep having to remind myself that the big Austrian man that could lift cars for a living, instead, builds fancy cakes. Ok, not so tough anymore.
He must bake after hours because I never see him working. Cake ingredients cover his apron, his hands are stained with vanilla, yet he sits at his eagle’s nest and watches cafe life filter in and out with customers. Naturally he knows them all and talks with them despite how far they (purposely?) sit away from him. Most customers are men working blue-collar jobs. Construction crews, factory workers, old men with thick-lens glasses and canes -- they all love Cake Time. I enjoy my time there because I don't have to speak German to see what's going on. Enjoyable character needs no language.
My bar is an Irish pub called the Galway Pub. Go ahead a furrow your eyebrows at the fact it’s not Austrian, but they pour excellent Guinness and it's a very cozy place. The owner and bar manager are both Irish. I've gotten to know them pretty well after my Kiwi friend Harriet and I stayed there all night once trying to get her a job.
"You want a job here? Then you come tomorrow at 4 o'clock and pour me the best Guinness in the world. Then you'll get a job," he told us.
My reply, "Yeah ok. Hey, why don't you put on some good Irish music?"
"You want to hear good Irish music?!"
"Yeah, play your most favorite Irish band, ever. Impress us all."
He played U2.
Despite the lack of authentic fiddles it's still my Cheers bar, where they know my name, if I know so and so and how work is at the magazine.
And finally, my view of the
Vespas, trucks cleaning roads at 5am, garbage trucks, drunks yelling, off-tune piano playing at 1am -- it's a symphony of city life that makes my ears bleed and my nights long. What really acts as the grand finale is the youth center a few feet next to my flat. Kids come here four nights a week to do whatever juvenile delinquents do in Innsbruck -- get drunk, get routy, flirt, scream, fight, throw things. An encore came just last week when Lane Harlow and Chris Kerrigan came to visit. Some 16-year-old was going off about his driver's license, at six in the morning.
"I HAVE A LICENSE TO DRIVE MY MOTORCYCLE!"
"NO YOU DON'T!"
"SHUT UP, YES I DO, I'LL GO GET IT NOW!"
"HOW? YOU DON'T HAVE ONE!"
"I DO TOO!"
My blood boiled. I had now become completely pissed off.
"It's six and I'm awake, can anyone else in this room hear these fucking kids screaming?"
The entire room answered "YES"
I rolled out of bed and shuffled to the window. The sun was shining, birds sang, the Alps were alive with the sound of music... and that kid was ruining it all by flipping out in the middle of the road like he probably had been all night.
Motor skills slow and sleepy, I began to lift my arm and fully extend it out the window until the end came to my pointed finger. I leaned out and aimed right at a dot of black hair that furiously paced the street. I couldn't connect the required emotion needed for a sincere and full-hearted outburst in German. So I went back to my American roots, 100 percent, and gave it my all.
Silence. The black speck of heavily-greased hair revealed a teen with a disgruntled look. There was a brief pause as we saw each other's angry faces.
I fixed my stare, burned it into his eyes and belted out with a long American draw the heartiest word I thought to be most universal... and most fitting.
He walked away. I went to bed… and awoke an hour later to the lovely sound of 16th century Austrian church bells calling the elders to service... for fifteen minutes straight.
Love to all, someone send me some good hot sauce,
Audrey "Yodeling out to you" Sykes
Last time I wrote I was living in Hamburg, describing one of three unique features the city embraces -- the fish market.
I told you my next email would move on to the second attribute, which I'll keep my promise to. It might be more difficult now, though, since I just moved to Innsbruck, Austria. With that in mind, I'll explain the current situation, and finish Hamburg's Top 3 Bests next time. Maybe.
I'm staring at around 30 pairs of skate shoes in the hall. Right now, the second most breath-taking snowfall I've seen in my life is outside (somewhere in Norway is the first). My Dutch roommate Patrick is curled up in a small chair, concentrating very hard on The History Of Boardsports. It's a funny sight, Dutch people are the largest bone-structured white people in the world.
An Italian flatmate keep shuffling back and forth in the hallway, passing our opened door each time and quickly turning his neck to catch a glimpse of us. We must seem boring -- well like I said Patrick might look amusing -- but I'm cross-legged and hunched over on my bed writing this email. Still, Italian flat mate Maurino is compelled to look over and smirk.
When Maurino smirks, he looks like a full-on Italian, and right now super blazed on ganja. Still, the slight peek of his teeth project classic character stains only a 30-someting snowboarder from Turin can display. I haven't talked to him much yet; he's been away filming snowboard comps across the European continent and just returned yesterday. This morning, around 9a.m., Harriet and I were brushing teeth in our cramped bathroom that somehow fits a sink, bathtub, two people and a washer. Maurino, over six-feet tall, was able to stick his upper-half in the room and sway his arms around the floor as he tried to work the washer.
The washer. Not only is the door stuck and motor shot, but the cycle is locked on soak -- if one were to open the door I'm pretty sure water would rush out like a flash food. Maurino puts this together in his head as I brush, and pretty soon he's crouched on the bathtub wall yelling to the thing, "What the fuuuuuck! I need to wash things. Man, come on man." I can't turn around to look at the washer, I can just quarter turn and sit myself next to Maurino. Colgate foam in my mouth, I try to console the bare-backed Maurino as he cries, "I really have nothing clean to wear." In reality, I was really just trying to place my footing in the spaces to get out the bathroom.
I left for work this morning and Maurino was sitting at his desk, still shirtless.
Tonight, I always look up as he shuffles by. It's not because of Maurino per se, but because of what he's wearing -- the loudest, brightest, shocking yellow hoodie I've seen. From the corner of my eye, it looks like a giant yellow chick-a-dee is pacing through my flat.
When I arrived two weeks go, Ludi had no idea I was coming. It's problematic -- she's the one who more or less runs this flat. I stood in front of iron gates, nervously asking into a crackling speaker box, "Hi, um, I think I'm supposed to live here?" We met face-to-face in the doorway, both surprised to see each other. Her eyes gives me the once-over.
"Who sent you here?"
Ludi nods, points to a door and disappears into the largest area in the flat, her room. I soon find myself standing in a room with three beds, a surfboard, a dresser painted in Rasta colors, the skeleton of a Vespa and two human-size duffel bags I've lugged from Hamburg. Soon after I walked into Ludi's room; I thought it was the living room. By the time I realize what was up, two massive rats with thick pink tails scattered across my feet. I stumbled back and gasped in shock.
These rats scooting around the room were Ludi's pets, Siegfried and Roy. In fact, Siegfried loves daily outings and bike rides. "I'll keep him against my chest and he'll stick his head out because he loves the wind against his face," she once told me. "Wait, against your chest?" I asked.
Ludi studies a sort of bio-chemistry I'll never understand. Paper scraps and backs of envelopes cover the kitchen table -- all covered in doodles of figures impossible to wrap my head around. She's tough, a worldly women with a perfect image of mountain-living Austrians. Minus the yodeling.
Patrick is my roommate. Yes, I share a room with a 24-year-old dude from Utrecht. He reminds me of a flatemate I use to have in Denmark named Potter. For example, he says things matter-of-factly. Like matter-of-fact, he has a girlfriend that was a little nervous about us sharing a room. Matter-of-fact, being able to say "Dui" and "Ein bierje" does not mean I know Dutch. Matter-of-fact, he was very sorry today that his dirty clothes stunk up our room.
Like Pottter, he also stutters a bit on his English. Patrick doesn't say much, and often looks up as he talks.
Patrick and I blend into one giant student who works and writes their thesis on the same company. We rise and sleep at similar times. So far, it's nice to have a pal in the same boat, even in a literal sense.
In respect to his girlfriend, I look away when he strips down to his boxer briefs before bed.
Also in this mix of tenants is Jason, my editor and an Englishman who has been on hiatus ever since I got here. He's in Europe somewhere, asking me how the bunnies are and others about mailing his monkey suit to him. Bunnies, we have two rabbits that live on the balcony. They go by many titles; each person who lives here has their own name for the furry duo. I've decided to call the one with mane-like front hair Keith -- he looks like Keith Richards when the wind wisps his hair a certain direction. The other, well I want to call him Coon because he looks like a raccoon, but I think I'll stick to the nonracist connotation of Rocky.
And there you have it. This is mag camp -- Maurino, Ludi, Patrick, Jason, Siegfried, Roy, Keith, Rocky and I. For at least six months I'm based here, writing my thesis and working for the largest pan-European snowboard print and online publication, Method Magazine.
Location: Innsbruck, Austria, a city surrounded by over a dozen ski areas, a mecca for winter sports, hasn't received one snowfall since December. It's almost April, and a storm expected to drop up to four feet on the slopes is underway. It's the warmest and driest winter the Alps have witnessed for over 1200 years -- and this weekend I'll be shredding pow lines deeper than, the size of me.
Audrey "Lights out at 9!" Sykes
When I heard someone tell me, "I thought you dropped off the face of the earth" and "Are you still alive?", I knew it was time for a new post.
The past few months I've been living in Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany (population in the greater area around 1.7 million) and located in the northwest part of the country (a four hour train ride east from Amsterdam). There are three points to make about Hamburg. I'll tell you the first one today.
First off, Hamburg has the second largest port in Europe and is home to about 40,000 university students. Now, the two facts might not seem relevant to each other, but then there's the fischmarkt. The fischmarkt is German for Fish Market, held on every Sunday morning from 5:30a.m. to 10:30a.m and is one of the main tourist attractions of the city. The German's say it's popular because it shows the true essence of the city -- a bustling modern Europe with a taste of the historic past and hectic present. I say it's popular because you see people act like true lunatics -- together, in a historic German way.
I say lunatics in general but there really are three distinct types of loons. The first kind I'll call the Classic Lunatic. These guys are sober, I think, and claim their insanity the classic way -- by shouting out nonsense to passersby and throwing things in their face, like fish. Yes, these crazy fish men point their sausage fingers in the air, brush their big bellies against cutting boards dripping with fish blood, wrap slabs of every sea creature imaginable in waxed newspaper and literally toss them into the hands of an onlooker.
The toss can be a graceful swing or harpoon torpedo, depending on how much fish he has to sell. And his face turns red, and his forehead furrows, and he SHOUTS SOMETHING IN GERMAN!, and you have no clue what he said but for some reason there is a kilo of squid that just slammed your chest and now the man wants your money.
There are dozens of them, their carts lined up and forming tiny allies on the harbor, each competing to see whose voice carries the furthest. If I stand back and watch them they remind me of those animals in small cages that can only pace back and forth, lashing out to those who watch them. Further down the market the men change their aquatic weapons to fruits and vegetables, not as smelly but there's definitely more weight in a giant, thorny pineapple.
So you've got the Classics that echo nutty phrases across the market. In reality, their turrets-like blurts are quite entertaining. "If someone doesn't take this fish I'll SLAP YOU!" "Someone gets this mackerel for five euro because IT'S UGLY! HIDEOUS!" "Three cauliflower for two euro OR ELSE!" Or else what? No one asks.
Then there are the Modern Lunatics, and by that I mean Drunk Sailors. When sailors get in the harbor after being away at sea for ages, they want the two things they've always wanted for centuries -- liquor and whores. Luckily for them, the Reeperbahn is a ten-minute walk from the harbor and meets both demands.
Reeperbahn means Rope Way because it used to be a street run by sailors who, sold, sailing stuff. I guess that included prostitutes. Nowadays it's the central area for Hamburg nightlife, well-equipped with bars, clubs, concert venues and beer halls. Strip clubs, sex cinemas and sex shops are squeezed in between, but the prostitutes are scattered on the streets.
These aren't your ordinary prostitutes. They have missing eyes, legs and heads. No, just kidding. I mean it in a sense where they don't dress scandalous. In fact, there's a dress code each one has to abide by. In the winter weather, it's a puffy pearl pink or powdered blue parka, paint-on jeans, fanny packs (yes, those fanny packs) and platform sneakers by Sketchers.
Unlike Amsterdam, the girls aren't behind windows, they're on the streets. Which means groups of them attack men at once, like a full out feeding frenzy of hyenas clawing at their prey. It's crazy. They come from three directions, one grabs an arm, another grabs another arm, the third struggles and settles for stroking the chest, grabbing a waist or just following closely behind. Most of them have a superpower that can tell quickly if the man speaks German or English. So they walk a few yards with the man, whisper in his ear and hold on tight until the man pries them off with his hands.
Anyway, I don't know how much they charge but they seem to get a lot of business after 3a.m., that's when I see more ugly men with pretty girls with parkas at least. And that's usually the time the Modern Lunatics come in from the port.
So babes and boozing starts late for the Modern Lunatics, and naturally it carries on until morning. When the fischmarkt is up and running I can spot sailors dozing off on the sides of fish carts and on the harbor streets. Others stumble around and stare with red eyes as the tourist snaps a photo of their sailor hats, sailor overalls and sailor tobacco pipes. If they're not mumbling to themselves on the fish-juiced gutters, they're in nearby morning pubs that sell pilsner and schnapps, luring all lunatics in with the sounds of German folk bands and the clanking of beer mugs. This is where the Postmodern Lunatics come in.
The PMLs, as I'll call them, are the youth generation that just can't stop partying their big German asses off. They are college students, 30-something-year-olds with first jobs and even young travelers in search of unforgettable European moments. They started Saturday night drinking at a friend's house. They moved to a pub. They moved to a bar. They wound up on the Reeperbahn and were attacked by prostitutes until they took shelter at a club.
Drinks are cheap, the sun never rises, and five in the morning creeps up before the dance hall can finish Billboard's Top 40. The drunken craving for food kicks in, and wait a second, the fischmarkt has a LOT of food there! Awesome. Let's go.
Thus, PMLs are completely wasted at the fischmarkt. Wait that's an understatement. PMLs look like zombies with humpbacks and glossy eyes. They claw at things like pretty tourists and fried fish sandwiches. They try to speak but their motor abilities already struggle enough from lifting one leg at different times in an attempt to "walk". It doesn't work well. The only thing they do well is eat fried fish sandwiches and scare people. Unless they're in the morning pubs, and that's where the lunatics come together to embrace each other for being so much alike on Sunday mornings.
I've stuck my head into these morning pubs, but when I open the doors there's a fierce wind created from the sounds and smells of inside that always blows me away. Sailors and students with arms over shoulders, swaying their beers in hand and belting off-tune sin-a-longs to music I never wish to learn. Beer, fish drippings, body odor, salt, bad breath and tobacco mix together to form a swirl of nauseating musk that can only be favored by those who emit it. Basically, it reeks. Yet in a way, it's cute to watch a sailor smooch the cheek of a lawyer in a business suit. Maybe. If you look at it outside from a window.
And there you have it. Somewhere within it all I find myself content and pleased with what Hamburg has to offer. Soon I'll move on. But for now I'm here, trying to find my placement in a city that can't speak my language but sure as hell can entertain me.
Audrey "Ich sprekken die Deutsche, baby" Sykes