Why I love Texas skiers.

Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 23 2006 7:02 AM

Fast, Burnt Orange, and Out of Control

Why I love Texas skiers.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
Click image to expand.

If you've ever skied in New Mexico—at Taos, Santa Fe, or a lesser-known resort like Sipapu or Red River—you may have noticed a bit of one-way friction. Texans come here every winter, by the thousands, on ski trips. They show up looking to have a good time, but the New Mexicans repay them by snickering and griping behind their backs. The bitch list contains these elements: They're loud; they're out of control; they get in the way; they wear jackets littered with logos (Longhorns, Aggies, Red Raiders) instead of proper ski attire; the women trowel on too much makeup and screech when they fall; the men dribble Skoal juice on the snow; they all drive SUVs; and they jack up the cost of living because they throw money around without discernment.

This conflict plays out elsewhere in the Rockies and is similar to the tourists-vs.-locals tension on display in any vacation spot. But things are worse in New Mexico, in part because Texas committed the long-lasting PR gaffes of invading the state during the Civil War (they lost that one) and again during the 1970s oil boom (they won, buying up adobe properties in Santa Fe that have since risen in value by roughly 1 billion percent).

I can see why those things would irritate, but New Mexicans' reflexive hatred of all things Lone Star blinds them to the fact that Texas skiers are a wonderful breed. New Mexicans should learn to love the go-for-it spirit of Texas skiers. And at the close of a Winter Olympics in which the much-anticipated U.S. Ski Team came off like a cross between Hamlet and Herman Munster, Americans as a whole should ask if the unabashed style of the Texas skier can be distilled, bottled, and administered illegally with a syringe.

I saw my first classic Texas skier 10 years ago at Angel Fire, a family-oriented resort in northeastern New Mexico that gets most of its clientele from across the border. I was on a long lift ride with three New Mexicans when a Texas skier—red-faced, fat, clad in jeans, a Longhorns jacket, and a seed cap—zoomed under us, hollering like Slim Pickens and not making any turns whatsoever as he picked up an alarming amount of speed.

"That clown shouldn't be doing that," somebody said in a superior tone.

Actually, that's exactly what he should have been doing. A guy like that probably skis once a year, tops. When that's your reality, you have two choices: You can take a lesson every year, eking out slow, dull little wedge turns under the tutelage of a bored instructor. Or you can drink a couple of beers, strap on your planks, and point 'em toward the parking lot.

And, yes, if you do it that way, you're going to crash hard and often. But how bad is a snow wipeout compared with playing high-school football in Midland or losing a bar fight in Dallas? This honorable mode of travel is known as the Texas Downhill, and Angel Fire (to its credit) celebrates it during an annual Big Ol' Texas Weekend that features a no-turns-allowed race.

I also defend Texans' much-derided ski-wear choices, which (while unsightly) make practical sense. Recently, in Santa Fe, I got stuck in a grocery-store line behind an affluent-looking pair of Spanish tourists who wanted to know where they could buy all-new ski clothing for their kids. For just one day of skiing.

No way a Texas family makes that mistake. When the ski trip approaches, they just raid the hunting closet. If there aren't enough camos, orange hats, and Carhartt overalls for everybody, they fill in the gaps with stuff from the gardening shed.

Needless to say, Texas skiers are a boon to the New Mexico economy. During a bad snow year like the one we're suffering through now, their presence keeps our ski areas open.

But I also love them for less mercantile reasons. In my experience, they are—without exception—very friendly people. I started skiing late in life (mid-30s), and I paid for it in the early going. When you're struggling to learn, there's nothing more important than the presence of sympathetic fellow stumblers. New Mexicans acted snooty. Texans shared my pain, and I had many deep, meaningful lift conversations that went like so:

Me: "How's it going?"
Texan: "Woooo. Man. I don't know."
Me: "I hear you, pardner."
Texan: "What I don't like is gettin' off the dang chair."
Me: "Me neither. But you hang in there."
Texan: "You too. And y'all have a GOOD day, awright?"

Just before Christmas, I "celebrated Texas skierness" by driving to Angel Fire and taking a lesson with a group of beginner Texans. They did not disappoint. There was a squealing mom with big hair and her husband's duck-hunting coat. There was a woman wearing enough makeup to terrify a Mary Kay rep. My favorite, though, was a high-school kid I'll call A.C., a huge, loud lunk who competes in calf-roping back home and basically ignored everything the ski instructor said.

"You pull that stuff up on the hill, you're going to get hurt," the instructor lectured.

"I don't give a shit," A.C. happily replied. Before long he was crashing rampantly and having a great time. We should all be so reckless.

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