ODE

LEARN­ING TO LOVE THE HUNT

SKI - - CONTENTS - By Heather Hans­man

The ski-town cougar is not to be feared or ma­ligned, af­ter all. Girls just wanna have fun.

We would walk by, pre­tend­ing not to look, ig­nor­ing the Jimmy Buf­fett and the screams.

I was barely 21 when I moved to one of the cougar cap­i­tals of ski coun­try. My just-out-of-col­lege friends and I scrimped our ticket-scan­ner salaries, ex­ist­ing on que­sadil­las and cheap après beers, tak­ing the free bus from em­ployee hous­ing into Vail to party. By Jan­uary we saw our­selves as true lo­cals, and as we walked down Bridge Street, we’d sneer at the pin­na­cle of what we con­sid­ered pa­thetic: a packed bar called the Red Lion where a gui­tar player named Phil Long played ’80s hits to a crowd mainly com­prised of ladies of a cer­tain age from out of town.

You may rec­og­nize the scene. Open-throated cov­ers of “Don’t Stop Be­liev­ing,” span­gles, fur. Sug­ary shots, such as Kamikazes, lined up like sol­diers ready to march into bat­tle. A cougar’s lair.

A cougar is, ac­cord­ing to Merriam-Web­ster, “an older woman seek­ing a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with a younger man.” And the ski-town cougar, if we’re gen­er­al­iz­ing here—and we most en­thu­si­as­ti­cally are—is a par­tic­u­lar shade of that: glitzed up, prob­a­bly not ac­cli­mated to alti­tude, and camped out in the epi­cen­ter of a Venn di­a­gram of “not my town,” “high­in­come bracket,” and “look­ing for hot young sin­gle dudes.”

The Red Lion, of course, isn’t the only place you can spot them. That loosely scrib­bled car­i­ca­ture holds in lots of places: Tio Bobs, in Por­tillo, Chile, for in­stance, or vir­tu­ally the en­tire town of Aspen. I’ve seen cougars buy­ing shots for the New York banker bros in Killing­ton, try­ing on cow­boy hats in Park City, and flashing miles of cleav­age and whitened teeth while laugh­ing too loud at a bar in Breck­en­ridge.

Ski towns, es­pe­cially fancy ones, are a par­tic­u­lar kind of fan­tasy land, propped up on a se­ries of stereo­types that track pretty close to true: The al­most-too-stoned-to-bump-chairs liftie; the bar­tender who prob­a­bly should have left/stopped drink­ing/changed ca­reers years ago; the trust-funded self-ti­tled semi pro. And the cougar, the most re­viled by judgy younger girls. My friends and I, in our cute bean­ies and flan­nels, new to town but al­ready feel­ing like we owned it, would rip them apart. What are they do­ing here? Do they even ski? How do you even turn in those su­per-tight pants with sparkly stars on the ass?

The Red Lion was the op­po­site of what I thought ski-town life should be. Watch­ing the crowd cackle through the win­dows it was easy to as­sume that they were des­per­ate. That they didn’t get the core of what it meant to be a skier. That they should back off the dudes.

We spent a lot of time look­ing down our noses at peo­ple on va­ca­tions, es­pe­cially ones we thought were step­ping on our turf. We didn’t re­al­ize that we were our own kind of ski-town cliché, fresh-meat sea­sonal work­ers, de­fen­sive of our newly found iden­tity.

I spent more years in the moun­tains. I got older and wiser. I watched the sea­sonal shift, the cast of char­ac­ters, the new ticket scan­ners from Texas, the same randy Aus­tralian in­struc­tors. I fi­nally started to re­al­ize that my idea of ski­ing wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily ev­ery­one’s idea. In the pas­tiche of ski-town life, I learned to love the the­atri­cal­ity of the cougar hunt.

So yeah, maybe they were try­ing to take down much younger guys at the bar. Maybe they skied two blues and called it a day. Maybe stilet­tos aren’t prac­ti­cal in a snow­storm. What­ever. They’re not my an­kles.

Af­ter al­most 30 years, Phil Long moved on to a dif­fer­ent Bridge Street bar, and I, thank­fully, don’t live in em­ployee hous­ing any­more. But as I head into my mid-30s, I get the ap­peal of be­ing ridicu­lous on va­ca­tion. I want to go back to Vail and scream Jour­ney lyrics to a packed bar. Sounds like a good time. And who knows, soon I just might be ogling the young dudes and lin­ing up the shots. Seat­tle-based writer Heather Hans­man, a for­mer Colorado pa­troller and SKI ed­i­tor, re­mains a moun­tain girl at heart but claims she never was much of a partier.

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