For me and many others, Snowbombing began with a three-hour drive in a coach fully stocked with booze. "We've got beer and Jaegermeister up here at the front," the driver explained as we left Munich. "If you need us to stop, to vomit or for any other reason, please just let us know." James Zabiela, who was playing in an igloo later that night, sat at the front of the bus, explaining how his laptop had been modified for extreme conditions gigs such as this one. "You could spill a Red Bull across the keyboard and it would be fine." As we rolled into Mayrhofen, a group of drunk guys in frog costumes encircled the coach, whooping and banging on the windows with empty cider bottles. Someone told the bus driver, "I think they want you to honk the horn." He did, and the frog boys all cheered.
This saucy vibe is to be expected at Snowbombing. The 14-year-old event rolls two raucous holidays into one: the music festival and the ski trip. According to legend (or rather, the festival program), it began as a "holiday for a group of Mancunians" and gradually evolved into what it is today: a week-long event engulfing an entire ski resort, with thousands of attendees and nearly a dozen venues. Perhaps its biggest success is that, even at its current scale, it still feels rather cozy—more like an over-the-top summer camp than a huge music festival.
Photo credit: Danny North
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more up-for-it crowd. Pushing your own limits has always been a part of festival culture, but Snowbombing takes this to a new level. Its two main activities—all-night clubbing and all-day skiing—are so physically exhausting on their own that you'd think they'd be mutually exclusive. Not so for this lot. "You know, you stay out 'til the clubs close at six, get about an hour of sleep, then suit up for the slopes," one Scottish Snowbomber explained to me one night. "It's a bit tiring, I guess. But I'm having the absolute time of my life, mate."
That seemed to be the prevailing feeling. From the parties at night to the ridiculously boisterous aprés ski to the atmosphere on the slopes themselves, the vibe was endlessly upbeat. You can chalk this up to the buzz of the fresh air and the endorphins you get from skiing or snowboarding all day, and also to the fact that Snowbombing is remarkably hassle-free for a festival—long queues and overwhelming crowds are few and far between in Mayrhofen, so no one has any reason to be pouty.
Photo credit: Richard Johnson
As for the music: naturally it erred on the side of party-friendly. A climax of the week was the Mardi Gras fancy dress street party, which, along with the likes of Dub Pistols and David Rodigan, featured Austrian Filter House, a half-joke side project by Artwork and Ben Westbeech. Dressed up in traditional Austrian garb, they worked through a medley of accordian-laden versions of club hits, from Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction" to Julio Bashmore's "Au Seve" (or "Auf Beben"). "It started as a joke but it's gotten out of hand, now MTV want to do a segment on us" Westbeech said at a steakhouse later in the week. "I think we've created a monster."
But not all of the music is so flamboyant, and the program overall seems very carefully curated. There were about a half dozen different options every night, and each one aimed at a different sensibility. On the one hand, you've got Goldie, Krafty Kutz and Above And Beyond, on the other, Turbo Recordings, Swamp 81, Aus Music and the Innervisions crew. DJing at Mayrhofen's best off-mountain venue, a big alpine bar called Bruck 'N' Stadl, Dixon played just as deep as he might in a morning slot in Berlin, and had a full dance floor grooving happily. The next night, in the best set I saw that week, Maceo Plex smashed his peak time slot with thumping techno tracks and his own private edit of Jamie Principle's "Bad Boy." Watching a room full of English skiers and snowboarders dancing to a lo-fi gay house anthem, it occurred to me that sometimes this kind of crowd is actually more open-minded than the connoisseurs you get at other events.
Photo credit: Graham Turner
For me, the highlight of the week was without a doubt the Arctic Disco, a party high up on the slopes inside a genuine igloo—i.e. a structure made entirely of ice and snow—with room for maybe 100 people. Justin Martin and Eats Everything went back-to-back the night I was there, while people drank beer and mulled wine by a campfire outside. It was a truly unique and even surreal party experience—which in a way is what you're really paying for when you buy a festival ticket.
Obviously Snowbombing isn't for everyone. If you don't like doing jaegerbombs or having beaded necklaces handed to you by strangers, or if you'd be annoyed by an umpah band sneaking up on you and playing "Take My Breath Away," it's probably not your scene. But for a certain personality type, it's the best there is. When you overhear people comparing how many years they've come back (four, five, six times or more), you know the festival is doing something right. At this rate, they'll be coming back for years.