Eugene Buchanan: Ode to the shot ski | SteamboatToday.com
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Eugene Buchanan: Ode to the shot ski

Participants at the Breckenridge Ullr Fest get ready for a record-setting shot ski.
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Few après traditions rival the camaraderie — and cirrhosis — of the shot ski, that age-old contraption that lets skiers throw back their favorite, or not so favorite, libation within elbow-shot and splashing distance of their friends. 

I know as I recently had the honor of joining the shot ski ranks for the first time in years. It came not here in (Shot) Ski Town USA, but at a resort I grew up skiing — Lake Eldora. Thankfully, I was no longer an impressionable youth, just a gullible elder.

Around a fire that night, a shot ski surfaced alongside a gargantuan bottle of make-you-cringe Jägermeister. Naturally, as in dodging the selection process for a choir solo, I quickly moved back in the crowd to avoid the offending libation. But the ringleader, the editor of Freeskier magazine, saw my head behind the others and roped me in. So I cowboyed up with five other like-livered guinea pigs, and we settled into our shoulder-width stances. 

All this, of course, got me thinking about the device’s origin. Several theories have been brandished about by scholars, narrowing the shot ski’s start down to Norway or Austria. Norway makes sense because that’s where skiing started; it stands to reason, then, that they’d naturally be the first ones to put shot glasses on one.

Ski historian Morten Lund also credits Norway for inventing après-skiing in the mid-1800s, another shot ski feather in its cap. Austria’s claim, or blame, comes from its long-running history of the schnappski, where the shot glasses were simply balanced on top, sans glue, requiring even better teamwork, like those Dr. Seuss-like horns they blow.

As with the Jack Daniels that often goes into them, you can’t rule out naming rights, either. One researcher found that ancestry.com lists a few “Shotski” surnames in its registrar, dating back to 1871 in the winter land of Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

Regardless of its origins, the materials and construction are as simple as its name. All you need is a ski, some glue and several shot glasses. The skis come in all shapes and sizes — from telemark and Alpine skis to gargantuan Nordic jumping skis, which can accommodate a bevy of boozers. Snowboards have also been tried, though it’s hard to put lips to glass with their girth.

Which brings up the intricacies of different designs. A shape ski with an hourglass sidecut means the middle person is drinking last. Rocker? A little dribbly for those on the ends. Camber makes the whole ordeal a little springy. And, obviously, ski length dictates how many people can join in.

The theory has been tested on other apparatus as well, from hockey sticks to water skis, but the ski really is the best instrument. So good, in fact, that some people have gotten carried away with it. At Breckenridge’s 2013 Ullr Fest, a celebration honoring the Norse God of Winter, local Litch Polich had the brilliant idea to link 60 skis end to end topped with 192 shot glasses to set the then-record for the biggest shot ski in the world. 

This ushered in The Great Shot Ski War era, with other ski towns following suit. In October 2019, Park City got 1,310 people to take a simultaneous shot from 450 skis. Not to be outdone by its Epic sister, in December, Breckenridge regained the Crown Royale, getting 1,320 people to drink from a quarter-mile-long shot ski, formed in a horseshoe to stay inside the festival’s liquor license area. 

Unlike Tim Borden’s recent firework, Steamboat has never attempted the record. But plenty of local bars have shot skis, the biggest being a six-shot Atomic Nordic jumping ski at Timber & Torch. It’s rolled out with fanfare, says the resort’s PR Director Loryn Duke, with guests holding their hands behinds their backs and staff leveling it off to the shortest drinker.

“It’s been part of our restaurant scene for more than 15 years,” she says, adding the most popular elixirs are Jack Daniel’s Fire and Honey whiskey and tequila. Los Locos has a four-shotter it received from its Olmeca Altos tequila rep. It’s popular, said manager Mike Cronin, especially once it comes out.

“We’ll go days without using it, but once someone orders one it catches on,” he said. “And everyone loves taking photos of it.”

Corporate America has cashed in on the craze as well. Wisconsin’s Shot-Ski was founded in 2005, followed by such companies as Shotz Ski and InstantShotski.

While the one staring at me in front of the fire didn’t have such corporate touches — it was homemade, fashioned from a lightweight Dynafit ski — it did have its attributes, including a light swing weight, 98mm underfoot for stability and an ash-poplar core for liveliness.

So side by side with my adjacent imbibers, we raised the ski, stalled it at our chins while looking at each other and then tipped it back in unison. All for one and one for all. A second later, our Jägermeister grimaces signaling our finish, the crowd hooped and hollered while we almost hurled.

But behind our contorted expressions was the satisfaction of tipping, and getting tipsy, as a team. 

To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.


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