Photograph by Mark Epstein

To Quaff or Not To Quaff

Words by Greg "Chopper" Randolph 

As the sky pummeled the Tetons with a mythical 14-foot storm, men gathered in the subterranean grotto of Jackson Hole’s Bear Claw, striking a pose of elbow-bent pontification, awaiting the opening of the mountain. Piled snow rose in shadowy hoodoos and the reek of winter’s onslaught hung heavy in the air—or was it last season’s polypro? The year was 1986. Amid the drone of tall tales about yesteryear’s feats from fanatics worshipping at the alter of anticipation, the grizzly-bearded barkeep slung beer like hot dogs at a Red Sox game, sending each polished mug sliding down the malt-slicked bar into anxious hands.

As the night wore on and the drink grew heavy, the sound of glass on beer-slicked Formica mellowed by constancy into background noise—its significance lost in the talk of the epic dump crushing outside. With attention distracted by what might have been a glimpse of cleavage from the only member of the fairer sex in attendance that night, a lonesome beer coasted by all hands, careening towards the abyss at the end of the bar. A wary drinker, alerted by the familiar sound, turned swiftly and snatched the doomed beer as it sailed through the air, headed for the stale carpet.

The hero who snagged the frothy pint of delight by its handle mid-flight on its downward arc crushed it in a posture of heroic ascendency, smacked it upon the bar, spontaneously shouted, “Gelande quaff!”, and raised his arms gloriously to the bartender. Cheers rose up all around him and, with that, gelande quaffing was born.

The term “Gelande Quaffing” comes from two words distinct in their relationship to the international right to be a ski bum. Gelande derives from Geländesprung, German for the locked-heel form of Nordic jumping—a niche discipline practiced in only the hardiest of ski towns. To Geländesprung a great distance is not only proof of adept ski prowess but a bit of flash likely to secure a warm body on a cold night in a ski town where the odds are not in a man’s favor. “Quaffing,” it would follow, is the art of slamming a beer swiftly and—in an ideal world—cleanly, with no spillage and no waste. Combining the two in one great act, a new noun entered the American lexicon (minus the umlaut over the A) that winter, “Gelande Quaffing.” And a new ski town sport took root.

The Gelande Quaff experience lived in the obscure underground circles of Jackson until John Klaczkiewicz and Troy Beauchamp made Swift. Silent. Deep. (2009), the must-see story of freeskiing and its most notorious fraternity, the Jackson Hole Air Force…

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