Column: “Spring Break Stampede”

Rocky Mountain News, April 9, 2007

Great Bubba Migration Puts Spice in Spring Skiing

They come in a great swelling herd, a string of Chevrolet Suburbans that stretches all the way from Central Texas to the central Rockies.

They come with their snowsuits and their rear-entry boots and their thunderous, cheerful hoots. They are Longhorns and Aggies and Red Raiders and Horned Frogs, even a few Sooners, but when they come to the Rockies, the locals like to call them “Bubbas.”

“Bubba” doesn’t refer to just any visiting Texan, but to a particularly exuberant strain of tourist found in ski resorts during spring break.

They are easy to spot. You will know they’re in the parking lot because of what they drive. Ski resorts, of course, are never short on SUVs, but in Texas they reserve entire parking-garage levels for oversized rigs, and during Bubba time, the visitor lot becomes a veritable monster- truck corral.

You’ll know they’re in the bar because of the music they request. If the band has played 12 renditions of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in the last hour, chances are there are requestin’ Texans afoot. At the next table, you may hear the indisputable cadence of a Bubba ordering himself a Coors (pronounced “Curs”), and “a Curs Light for the little lady.”

And you’ll know they’re on the slopes because, what with the day-glo and the Dallas Cowboys jackets and the blue jeans, you can see them coming from thousands of vertical feet away.

I personally like the annual Bubba migration, which is, besides the flight of the monarch butterfly, the greatest south-to-north pilgrimage we see in this region.

First of all, Bubbas are what keep many smaller ski areas – those that are less Front-Range accessible and don’t have the destination cachet of an Aspen or a Telluride – afloat. I like skiing in those places, and I’d like them to stay in business.

Second, Bubba-watching is a highly entertaining form of armchair (or chairlift) travel – like going to a foreign country without expending the airfare.

Everything is different about Bubbas on the ski slopes, from their exotic plumage to their colorful language. In Taos a few years ago, a cheerful, cowboy-hat- wearing Texan and his wife took a wrong turn off a beginner run named Bambi and found themselves on a catwalk that crossed some of the steepest terrain on the mountain. “Honey,” the man called to his wife, “looks like Bambi grew horns!” You just won’t hear that from a local.

If you’re not as fond of the Bubba as I am, though, there are some strategies for making the most of your own spring break on the slopes. Just as one strives, on safari, to watch the elephants from a distance so they won’t charge you, there are a few behaviors you should keep in mind if you wish to interact with Bubba on your own terms.

1. Bubba don’t hike. Even when the slopes are wall-to-wall Texas, you can find alpine solitude if you’re willing to hoof it – even for just a few feet.

2. Bubba don’t wear goggles. When it snows, the spring-breakers tend to hit the bar. That means even when every room at the resort is booked, locals may find they have the slopes to themselves on powder days.

3. Bubba gives fair warning. The riskiest skiers on the slopes are, no doubt, the “drunk” and “self-taught” Bubba subspecies, which tend to head straight downhill without regard for those below them. My husband was hit twice, on the same run, by the same day-glo-clad Texan. The good news, however, is you can usually hear them approach. If you hear an exuberant “yeeeeehaaaaw” behind you, pull over.

All these strategies are field- tested, but let’s not forget one of the unmistakable benefits of the great spring break migration: the legendary Bubba hospitality. This species of Texan is remarkably friendly. Bubbas are generally far more interested in your own strange behaviors than you are in theirs. Strike up a conversation, and you will be guaranteed a free drink, a few chicken wings and a good chuckle.

So if you can’t get away from them, it can be an awful lot of fun to join ‘em. Their passage through our region is brief, after all: Classes start up again this week, and ski season ends soon after. It’s only a matter of time until you will, once again, have the mountains to yourself.