If the term "freedom of the hills" means freedom to wander the streets of a glitzy resort with a drink in your hand after a hard day of riding, this is the list for you. We've compiled our picks for the biggest and best celebrations of ski and snowboard culture. Some of them feature athletes performing at the cutting edge of their sports, most feature lots of live music and free beer, and all of them feature rowdy crowds of friendly revelers.
Where: Kitzbuhel, Austria
When: January 22-25
Alpine skiing's most important race, the Hahnenkamm combines the party and the prestige of the Kentucky Derby with the speed and danger of the Indianapolis 500. All-time alpine skiing great Franz Klammer told a reporter that even after winning Olympic gold in Sochi, Austrian skier Matthias Mayer would never be considered a hero until he won the Hahnenkamm.
From Friday through Sunday, crowds pour onto the slopes to watch super G, slalom and of course, the fearsome downhill. Each evening, they spill into the Austrian alpine village to celebrate. As many as 70,000 people flock to Kitzbuhel for the event, turning the quaint town square into a bratwurst- and beer-fueled bacchanal. Polka to Oompah bands dance through the streets, or squeeze into the Londoner, a dank pub that hosts a massive party on Saturday night after the dowhnhill. Tradition dictates that American and Canadian racers, usually shirtless, sling beer at the crowd from behind the bar.
Where: Aspen, Colorado
When: Jan 22-25
The most surprising thing about the X-Games? All of the events are free. Hit the Big Air, Slopestyle, and Superpipe venues stacked onto the bottom of Buttermilk Mountain, which can be accessed from anywhere in the valley on the free bus system. There are also three separate evening outdoor concerts (also free) by national touring acts (TBA), and cheap lift tickets for college students—they can get two-day passes to Ajax, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass for just $85 during the Games. Consequently, the downtown streets will be crowded with young revelers shuttling their way between the private parties, which makes for a rowdy scene. But with all the crowds packed into the comp venues, you'll get blessedly empty slopes.
Where: Moena, Italy
When: March 11-15
This 19-year-old telemark festival has scrapped its freeride competition in favor of more backcountry ski touring in the region's famed couloirs, and it remains the best international winter party in the Dolomites. Over a week in March, participants can shred any of the 1,200 kilometers of runs and 450 lifts included in the Dolomiti Superski pass, and sign up for backcountry ski tours with the gregarious and boisterous Italian Scufons, a backcountry ski club. There are lively, grappa-fueled parties every night.
Where: Jackson Hole, WY
When: March 26-29
This will be the second year for Jackson's major winter party, which includes three free shows from national touring acts (TBA) both downtown and at the base of the ski area. The event coincides with Jackson's best race, the four-stage Pole, Pedal, Paddle (alpine, Nordic, bicycle, boat) that spans from the resort to the Snake River. Also available: Jackson's legendary slopes at high tide. If you can, stick around for Gaper Day, on April 1, to join in the mountain-wide costume party.
World Ski and Snowboard Festival
Where: Whistler, British Columbia
When: April 10-19
Whistler's 10-day spring fling features five days of snowboard comps like slopestyle, halfpipe, and boardercross, followed by five days of the same for ski competitors. All 10 days feature free live music and a sampler of art events like fashion shows, filmmaker and photography showdowns, and a roller derby competition. The festival's official motto: "Party in April. Sleep in May."
Where: Verbier, Switzerland
When: March 25-28
The last stop on the Freeride World Tour is usually the toughest. The Verbier Extreme is held on the imposing 45- to 60-degree north face of the Bec de Rosses, which, according to last year's women's snowboard champ Shannan Yates, "is more rock than snow." Because the overall title is usually on the line, "people go bigger," Yates says.
After watching the comp through your fingers, join the revelers at a raucous winter carnival in the chic town of Verbier, which takes place regardless of whether the contest is delayed by snow. It features massive television screens throughout the village (showing past and current contests), slackliners spanning the rooftops, and a snow globe filled with dancing models in bikinis. Late night, hit the Pub Mont Fort, which pumps music all night long. "Someone in the crowd always seems to get naked there," Yates adds.
High Roller Hold 'Em
Where: Heavenly, California
When: April 4
Heavenly Mountain Resort straddles the California and Nevada state line, which means gambling is legal on at least half the resort. Organizers ante up on that theme with the High Roller Hold 'Em, a large purse, big air invitational that attracts snowboarding's biggest stars. Each rider is dealt two cards, each featuring a different trick. Riders bet on one of their tricks, then must execute it to win that round. The round goes to the competitor who lands the highest difficulty trick, qualifying them for the final. The night-time event features fireworks, a DJ, go-go dancers, and for good measure, a laser-light show.