The last survivor of closing bashes
Early in the day the large, well-equipped police presence patrolling the outskirts resembled the American Special Forces mustering before launching an attack into the cave complexes of the snowboard Taliban. My imagination half expected to hear grooming cats clanking through the trees, crushing all the snow forts in a coordinated offensive.Despite the forts, BB&B remained good-natured and tolerant of outsiders, which can be tough with large crowds and alcohol. Congratulations to all the participants and thanks to the discreet and friendly law officers for helping to keep it that way.BB&B needs to remain peaceful to survive. It is the last survivor of Vail’s traditional local end-of-season bashes. Fifteen years ago, Vail had a bunch of pretty cool events for this last week. The Mountain Formal, the Rental Cup, BB&B and The Great Race. BB&B hangs on, as its anarchistic roots make it hard to squash. No organizers to pressure. No plans, just a flexible drug-consuming mob materializing in the woods for a party. The other events all fell into disfavor with the powers that be, struggled for permission, then died.The local business association covetously eyes Whistler’s Ski and Snowboard Festival and tells us we need to do something. Strange, this cry for more fun when the Lionshead Merchants Association helped kill The Great Race by shunting it into the of-season (when everyone is in Moab), then closing it for lack of support.In its heyday The Great Race stood as one of the best festivals I have seen anywhere. Every spring I still mourn the demise of this race. It had all the ingredients of a classic: First a costumed parade of satirical and very politically incorrect racing floats. A tank chasing a half-naked female disguised as Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses,” with the Iranian “book of the month club” coming to mind. Then a relay race involving tricycles, flippers (for running), ski boots (for swimming), the costumed float and whatever else Wal-Mart had on sale that week. All followed by a bizarre lip sync competition and you had the ingredients for a tradition. It could have been the marquee event that publicists dream of. The Great Race provided the structure that inspired madness needs.When travelling the world, one is occasionally lucky enough to drop in on some town’s thousand-year-old festival. These old celebrations are far removed from the same old “big air,” “celebrity race,” “national parade of the country de jour” with the predictable anthems, music, soldiers, sponsors, etc. These local festivals often predate the countries on our modern maps, definitely pre-date marketing departments and are all insane, dangerous, world famous and a blast. Consider the running of the bulls in Pamplona, the Campo in Sienna, the Trei Ceri in Gubbio, the Cheese Rollers in the Cotswolds and some lunatic logging festival in Japan, to name a small few.None would pass an insurance liability audit, but a rational legal system assumes that participants accept the risk. Bulls are famous for their trampling and goring skills. If you choose to jog with them, the odd hoof and horn imprint should not come as a surprise.Over hundreds of years, arcane rules, procedures and costumes have been adopted that make no sense to onlookers or anyone, really. When pressed, even the local participants only explain with a flamboyant “it’s tradition.” For these events tradition takes all. Nothing is compromised for outsiders; they can take it or leave it. In my experience they take it in droves.The magnet of a hysterical town, some game, race, parade or combination that makes ESPN’s extreme games look like a social bridge foursome and confirmation that homosapiens are a fun-loving illogical species is irresistible. Tourists hate feeling like tourists. Staged Greek folk dances in the hotel lobby by waiters on a night off lack the all-embracing energy of these big local parties.With a little prodding and support, the Great Race could have evolved into the anchor for the final week, between the cultural extremes of The Taste of Vail and the BB&B. These are all participatory events, the key to a good festival.I guess I’ll have to make do watching big air on a variety of machines at the Revolution Spring thing. I don’t expect the Great Race to come back, anything that far outside the box will always have trouble finding acceptance. But how do you invent a festival? Steal and adapt one from somewhere else or put together a think tank of the more inspired and free spirited locals [the names Packy and the General get mentioned a lot here]. Traditions happen by chance and over time and it’s a shame we nipped one of ours in the bud before it could flower.My advice to anyone trying to come up with ideas, get people involved or it’s a performance, not a festival, and keep promoting the mountain with good deals. Playing on snow is more fun than watching others.Alan Braunholtz, ski instructor and raft guide, writes a weekly column for the Daily.