To be singing "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" at 3:15 a.m. in the aisle of a bus, one had better have a good excuse. This group, on this night, had the best: They were skiers.
Washington skiers. Forty-two of them. Members of the Ski club of Washington, D.C. Off for three days on the slopes at a resort called Snowshoe. Awash in beer, good cheer, down parkas and anticipation. Almost Heaven, you might say.
Unless you looked outside.
Total snow. Falling snow. Blowing snow. Drifting snow. So much snow that Dave the bus driver, running more than three hours late, was threatening to blow his cool. He sat at the wheel, staring hard, cursing creatively. But winter means it in West Virginia, so better late than never.
Suddenly, a sign appears. Could it be? It could.
In wild-chills of minus 40, the group unloads its skis and bags. One might think it is bedtime. But these, as they say, are free spirits.
"You ready?" says on well-lubricated gent. "You know it," says 1-A. And off they go, rolling around in the snow like 6-year-olds, hefting it, communing with it, throwing it, relishing it.
So it goes on a ski weekend. "Tis a time for a kind of zaniness and looseness the big city would never allow. But above all, it is a time for the fear, challenge and exhilaration known as skiing.
Not that this mostly young, mostly single group did not find time to party.
The club stocked 12 cases of beer and three of wine on the bus, and most of it had gone the way of all liquid by the West Virginia border. And once at Snowshoe, a four-year-old complex atop a 4,848-foot mountain, the boozing was joined by cruising.
"I love you," said one man one night, to a woman he had met in the Last Run Bar ten minutes before. "Isn't that nice?" she replied. Twenty minutes later, they had "broken up." Asked about it, the man said: "It just didn't work out. I thought I might be in love with her. But I guess I 'll try another one."
Does ski trip flirting ever lead to, um, uh, more? "Well, people are people," replied Bob Hearn, a Washington real estate developer, with a twinkle in the eye. But at snowshoe, the people also would have had to be magicians. Most were housed four to a room, one sex per room.
And they seldom lounged there. By 9 a.m. at the latest, and until 4 p.m. at the earliest, they were out on the three major Snowshoe trails.
Washington's Ski Club is known as a looney-tunes bunch, and at a Snowshoe, that reputation was never in danger.
One afternoon, a young skier was riding a chairlift behind three Ski Clubbers. "What time is it?" he asked them. They responded with a chorus of "It's Howdy Doody Time" that had the whole hill doubled up.
The next day, an innocent made the mistake of asking about the club's mascot, Malcolm. He figured the 500 people sitting in the cafeteria at the time might protect him from embarassment. No chance. Out surged several bars of "Malcolm" (to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme song). The audience especially liked one lyric: "Forever let us hold his scales on high."
Yup, scales, Malcolm is a trout. Or was. Most of him was eaten two years ago during a Ski Club jaunt to Vermont. But Malcolm's head was rescued and is now mounted on a music box.
From there, he serves as the guiding force, and source of motivation, to Ski Clubbers. Never was that more evident than during the highlight of the Snowshoe weekend - the club race.
This was a slalom just like those in the Olympics. Racers had to scoot around 14 gates (actually firmly implanted flags), heading sharply downhill all the while.
It was a race against an electronic clock, so suicidal corner-cutting counted for a lot more than form. As Brandy Smith of Silver Spring put it, as he gazed down the course, "Surviving this is going to be a major feat."
Jim Hart, a labour Department analyst from Alexandra, survived best. He ran the course in 37.7 seconds, only six seconds behind Snowshoe pro Sam Douglass. But, brothers and sisters, he did not run alone.
"Medals for Malcolm!" Hart shrieked, as he sped through the last gate. Like a congregation, the Clubbers waiting at the finish chanted: "Medals for Malcolm!" Many standing nearby had no idea who Malcolm was, but so riotous was the laughter, they did not dare ask.
Still, not all were doing what they had come to do.
Back in the cafeteria, Eliot Greenwald of Washington, an attorney for the Federal Communication Coramission, was sipping tea. "Felt lousy since last night," he said. "This can happen on a ski trip."
And in the lodge next door, Dolores McKillop, a math teacher from Arlington, was wrestling with a remarkable problems. She had been skiing all morning with the key to her room in her pants pocket. Both it and she got cold. So, trying to return to her room for more clothing, she inserted the key in the lock - and broke it in half.
That gave her more than enough time to muse on ski weekends in general.
"You know, I tell my friends I'm going on a ski weekend and they say, 'You're that hard up?' But all I'm really here for is the skiing."
Jane Forman, a management consultant from Washington, noted that the social whirl is only a inescapable issue during the bus rides up and back,
"The worst moment for me." she said, "is someone drops you off and there you are and you have to decide, 'Am I going to be a party person or not?"
For some, however, the choice is not difficult. Ed Spring, a parking garage administrator for Montgomery County, said he joined the Ski Club during his separation and divorce. "It's really been a great way to get going again for me," he said.
Going. That's just the thing about a ski weekend. It never stops going.
"Washington always seems so much duller after one of these," said one Clubber. And with that,she was off down Cup Run yet again.