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Archival Inkjet Print | 137,5 cm x 110 cm (Edition: 5 +2 AP) u. 85 cm x 68 cm (Edition: 6 +2 AP)

Intensive Care Units

Party time at the chalet

When the intoxicating effect of skiing wears off – the accelerated heartbeat returns to normal, body weight is felt again, wind no longer provides an overdose of oxygen forced into the lungs with each breath – when the elation of the day fades and night ponderously comes up from the valley, then it is time for mulled wine with a shot of hard stuff. Each thrill attracts another. Après ski is the logical consequence of skiing, as alcohol is a consequence of alcohol.

In Jack London’s autobiographical tale, King Alcohol, the ecstasies of the natural physical experience merge seamlessly into the artificial delirium to be had in saloons. America’s expert on the beauty of nature and the depths of drunkenness was himself an alcoholic. He wrote about the “white logic” of drinking, that it is only given to the unshakable drunkard. Erect he stands at the bar, and the more glasses he tilts back, the more disillusioned his view of the world. He reaches an excess of mental clarity, he sees the meaninglessness of existence, but retains his bearing. This was proudly reported by the narrator when he was a rowdy youth who once drank a seal hunter under the table.

In our era of chic mixed drinks, this type of machismo is being threatened by extinction. But there is still room for the adventure of being blindingly drunk on the ski slopes. Why do all the slopes lead to a bar? In the midst of the grandeur of winter mountain panoramas, why is the skier greedily driven to strive for cheap booze? Lois Hechenblaikner, the photographer, shows us the Alpine partying infrastructure with unusual sobriety. In daylight, he visited hospitable looking pubs and documented their sterile melancholy: the parade of plastic stools, the flaccid artificial flowers, the sad paper penguin, the kitschy log cabin on a snow-free village street, the bar, a hand-carved filling station.

From countless reports, we know “la tristesse d’après”, which fill newspapers and television stations with conviviality during the ski season. Here you see raucous people dancing to primitive pop music like “Anton aus Tirol”. Lush girls wearing dirndl dresses are serving hot liqueur nick-named balls-biter. But only due to Hechenblaikner’s silent photos with no people in them, the secret attraction of the nightmarish party scenery becomes apparent. The tubes for mulled wine, schnapps and beer coming from the hidden tanks lead directly to the centre of his invisible fear; the skier’s greatest fear on the edge of sobriety is that he is about to crash into the gray reality that follows the extraordinary rush of adrenalin from the slopes. The state following inebriation is the state before the next bout of drunkenness. That is why Jack London longed for a saloon in the vast expanse of Alaska. That is why Ernest Hemingway enjoyed his drink after extended ski tours through Montafon. That is why Hans Fallada could not stop drinking and Thomas Quincey could not stop consuming opium.

Every instance of intoxication is a delimiting experience, however the border we all wish to transcend, is fear of death which in everyday life acts as a brake. We avoid risks because we are aware of our mortality. In high-risk sports we get a kick of immortality in our own lifetime. For man cannot live without occasionally releasing the brakes. In the words of John Wayne in the Western The Shootist: “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink alcohol.” Never trust a skier who has never thrown himself into the inferno of après-ski.

Evelyn Finger

This article appeared in ZEIT MAGAZIN Nr. 6, 2010 along with Lois Hechenblaikner’s photographs.