Ski Shot Hangover

Dealing with Your New Year’s Hangover

If You Don’t Abstain, Here are 12 Tips to Ease the Pain.

Faithful readers of this blog know I’m a big, big fan of après ski. It’s as much a part of the ski scene as champagne powder and first tracks. Post-ski cocktails are not only a social lubricant, but they can also take off the edge of those bumps and bruises that a really good day on the hill can produce.

But if decades of skiing, and many years of après ski, have taught me anything, it’s that it’s all too easy to overdo it. Like standing over a windblown cornice at Whistler, or at the top of Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole, self-assessment is important. You don’t want to take unnecessary chances. As Clint Eastwood’s rogue detective Dirty Harry Callahan once quipped: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Why? Because, if you don’t, there’s usually hell to pay. Imbibing too much can ruin not only a good night out, it can also spoil the next day. That’s a shame.

Given that New Year’s Eve falls on a Saturday night this year, the timing is perfect for a quick primer on partying responsibly. Again, I’m no Pollyanna. I like to have a good time with my family and friends. But I’d much rather spend Sunday carving turns, and not watching college bowl games while nursing a throbbing hangover, gobbling pain relievers like Tic Tacs. No fun.

So, in the holiday spirit of sharing, here are a dozen tips that I’ve learned over four decades of après ski (some lessons came with a higher price tag than others):

Mix water and alcohol
Here’s a basic rule of thumb that’s almost never failed me: For every cocktail, have a big, 8-ounce glass of water. This helps on several fronts. First, the extra H2O will help to keep you feeling “full.” More importantly, it will help counteract the alcohol’s dehydration effect. And dehydration is the primary cause of that throbbing headache we associate with hangovers. Plenty of fresh water is the perfect counterbalance.

Ice is your friend
None of us, including the hockey players in the crowd, care for ice on the slopes. But ice in your après ski cocktails is a great idea. Drinks like martinis and Cosmopolitans are just too tricky. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience (no, I won’t go into details). But drinks with ice, like bourbon or margaritas on the rocks, provide a hedge against hangovers. Ice melts, and when it does, it will dilute the potency of any concoction. That’s a good thing.

Altitude’s double whammy
Altitude isn’t a huge concern in the Northeast, where our highest peak – New Hampshire’s Mount Washington – tops out at 6,288 feet. But head west to the behemoths of the Rocky Mountains and other ranges that exceed 10,000 feet. At those elevations, alcohol can wreak havoc on your system, which is already struggling with less oxygen. Drink judiciously. As always, moderation is your friend.

Drink less, but drink better.
Set your après ski budget, and then set your sights on the top shelf. In short, buy better booze, and drink less of it. Well drinks (or “house” drink) are a booby trap, because they can come back to bite you on the backside. That’s because cheap liquor simply has more impurities. More expensive alcohol, in general, starts with better ingredients, and goes through a more exacting distilling process.

The dark side
Come winter, my tastes turn toward “darker” spirits, such as bourbons, peaty Scotch whiskies, and anejo tequilas. But I need to treat those liquors with respect, and enjoy them with moderation. Studies show that dark liquors contain more “congeners” – the chemicals produced during fermentation that create the taste, smell, and color of alcohol – and those are more likely to cause hangovers. For example, bourbon has almost 40 times as many congeners as vodka. Imbiber beware.

Go easy on the bubbly

Other studies indicate that carbonated beverages, like champagne or the tonic in your gin & tonic, actually makes it easier to get a buzz on. The reasoning, according to WebMD, is that the gas that gives carbonated beverages their fizz also accelerates the absorption of alcohol into the blood.

Full belly before, full belly after
Even the most inexperienced partier should know that drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. A good-size meal, or even healthy snacks, helps slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream, limiting the “buzz” and any potential hangover. Which foods are best? WebMD suggests fats and carbohydrates that will line the stomach, including whole grains and polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 fatty acids (which are found in certain fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines) and some nuts and seeds (including walnuts). The next morning, an egg (taurine) and spinach (potassium) omelet will help reverse liver damage and replace electrolytes, respectively. Chase breakfast down with a big glass of orange or apple juice, which will restore your depleted blood sugars to a normal level. Bananas are also a great source of potassium. Put some slices on your Rice Chex, and don’t forget your multi-vitamin.

The Zzzzz’s have it
Most après ski activities, as the name implies, get going shortly after you step out of your bindings. That typically gives folks plenty of time to enjoy themselves, and still get enough sleep to allow proper recovery. Late-night carousing combined with too much to drink can really stack the odds, because alcohol impairs the quality and duration of your sleep. Plan accordingly. Poor sleep may not have a direct effect on your hangover symptoms, but it’ll certainly leave you tired and irritable. Not a good combination.

Fact or fiction?
So, does tossing back a quick shooter first thing in the morning after a big night out really help? This classic “hair of the dog” (that bit you) advice is somewhat legendary. But is it real, or just urban legend? While the science is thin, a next-day drink is believed to inhibit the conversion of methanol (one of the aforementioned cogeners) into formaldehyde, which is a chief culprit in a number of hangover sym;t er your liver won’t like it. Just don’t overdo it. Whenever you’re drinking in the morning, that’s cause for concern.

Get outside, early.
Oxygen is the primary fuel in helping your body to break down alcohol. I’ve always been a proponent of first tracks, but didn’t know that getting outside first thing in the morning, right after a good breakfast, would also help clear any cobwebs from the night before. Exercising outside is the best way to reinvigorate your metabolism. When you rev up your body, it generates more endorphins. And you’ll love how quickly those natural neuropeptides, produced by your central nervous system and pituitary gland, can readjust your post-party attitude.

Hair of the downward dog
If the weather outside isn’t inviting, try a yoga class. Yoga practitioners, like my brother Sean, swear by the recuperative powers of this ancient discipline. While I can’t guarantee that a few downward dogs will miraculously nip your hangover in the bud, yoga’s systematic breathing and meditation exercises will get your heart pumping, which delivers blood (and oxygen) to those dehydrated tissues and organs. That will also help bring your stress level down to a manageable level.

Abstinence has its benefits
Here’s one of the great truths of life – the only guaranteed method of avoiding a hangover is to skip the booze altogether. So if waking up to a trip-hammer headache doesn’t sound the ideal way to start your ski day, play designated driver for the night. We always talk about the “Skier’s Responsibility Code.” Well, those enjoying après ski also have a great responsibility too, especially in winter, when the roads back to your ski house can be a little sketchy. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised at how much money you’ll save.

Photo: Rebecca Scott

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