High up, look right, off the polar peak lift at Fernie Snow Valley (ski the griz), you'll find Lizard Bowl — a modest inbounds approach tucked right into a wind-scoured draw. Go left and you'll shimmy down a ladder of used truck tires chained together by ski patrol to hold snow on the leeward side of the ridgeline. Head right and you'll encounter a seemingly never-ending field of VW bug sized moguls.
It was there, in 2008, where 10 of us — buddies driving in from Seattle or flying into GEG — started what is now a 21-year-and-running tradition.
Lap number one, I purposely, but incorrectly, chose the bumps. As I dropped into the trough, I could see my buddies' heads bobbing through the icy white snow globes. Like whack-a-mole, the poms of their hats popped up and down between the bumps and trees.
Lap two, once we descended the tire gangplank with quizzical caution and clicked into our skis, you must point it straight through the choke before it widens into a powder-filled bowl. I had chosen wisely. Light, loose powder rose over my knees. As I skied out to the base of the bowl, I looked back over my shoulder, and person after person dropped in, making big arching turns, while hooting and hollering down the run. I thought to myself, "Yep, 'Guys Ski Trip.' What a tradition."
Once a year, for the past two decades, 10 of us descend upon an unwitting ski town for "Guys Ski Trip." The goal is to blow off some steam in search of knee-deep powder, cheap beer and to find out who still has the agility to perform standing backflips in ski boots. (I have never been able to, let alone on the dancefloor in a bar.)
The tradition is rooted as much in skiing as it is in camaraderie. Through girlfriends, breakups, wives, kids, divorces, new jobs, lost jobs, promotions, graying hair, death, COVID and injuries, we are there for each other throughout the year, but get to physically rip laps and celebrate the fine sport of skiing once a year. Mimicking the ski legends of Warren Miller, Jim McConkey and Bill Briggs, we never could completely commit to the ski bum life. But for four or five days a year, we forget about reality, focusing instead on chairlift banter and hot laps.
The rules are fairly simple: a new destination every year, no repeats, all under $1,000 (this worked until year 11, Sun Valley, Idaho), at least one viewing of Aspen Extreme simply to test our knowledge that we still can recite a vast majority of the movie, no uninvited guests and be ready to ski, no matter what pain you'd dealt yourself the night before. Ten has generally been the number. It is perfect for chairlift math at most mountains. Some have come, and some have gone, but the core 10 has stayed strong.
The commitment to Guys Ski Trip is legendary. One year, a guy flew in from Uganda. Oddly enough, he outskied us all after coming in jet lagged and from the hot summer weather of Kampala. Another OG member showed up with a blown knee just to be sure we had good spots for apres drinks... just holding down a table for 10 until our thirst and hunger got the best of us.
Although we've aged, I am confident we can still keep up both on and off the hill. We have tamed down the late nights in favor of local flavor. For example, curling. If we're in Canada, we lock in a night of high stakes curling, taking over the sheet with our unorthodox lower 48 game. Or hockey. Many small towns have a local team. Showing up 10 deep to cheer for the local club makes for a fun night, and you're guaranteed to meet the locals.
A WAY OF LIFE
A tradition, of course, needs a name. Owing to the group's dedication to make Guys Ski Trip an annual rite of passage, we trademarked our brand as "Boss House." T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, sunglasses, buffs, koozies, flasks, CDs (yes we are old) all embossed with Boss House. You could spot a Boss House Guys Ski Tripper from two concourses down in the Denver airport because they'd be dressed exactly like yourself with 21 layers of Boss House gear. Unfortunately, Boss House has not quite taken off to the point that it has afforded us influencer status or takeover bids from Elon Musk, but it certainly adds flavor to any Ski Town USA.
The origins of Boss House are similar to the original Coca-Cola recipe or the 11 herbs and spices in the Colonel's chicken. Highly secretive and simple. A steadily repeated phrase, a mantra, that has become our simple motto. A term of encouragement and badge of camaraderie.
The Boss House crew has been fortunate enough to fly in helicopters, ride in toboggans, lay down a skin track, accidently wreck rental cars, befriend local celebrities and hot tub until the sun comes up. But the reality of a ski trip is that, as ski patrol director Carl Stall says in Aspen Extreme, "Skiing is the easy part." The realist part of ski trips are the friendships. Checking in on how everyone's kids are doing. How the apple harvest was the prior year. Who is going to move somewhere warm so we can all come crash at their house. Who is the next snowboarder who will convert to skiing...
The friendships are the fabric that hold the traditions of skiing together. I am humbled every year to get to call these guys my best friends, and I laugh to myself when, at 5 am, the overly jovial flight attendant asks me as I sit down, ski boots slung over my shoulder, "What exactly is Boss House...?" ♦
Nick Pontarolo is an attorney in Spokane.