Wedged between several wheels of sausages and hunks of ham shoulders sits a pair of decks. A DJ is perched on the counter and the whole of Han’s Butcher’s Shop seems to be bouncing. Outside a gang of nuns jostle to squeeze in alongside a circus strongman and a troupe of animal onesies.
Scenes like this, alongside chair lift speed dating, icy dance-offs in a snowy boxing ring, Voga (a hybrid of Yoga and vogueing) a heaving subterranean tennis club gig venue, cable car raves, a pool party and an Arctic disco in an igloo… means Snowbombing is back.
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In 2000, there was a small but popular club night in the French Alps. It has evolved into an unrivalled music festival on snow. Run by event maestros Broadwick Live – seasoned pros at the helm of numerous international festivals – the 18th instalment of Snowbombing 2017 was a blizzard of lunacy and frosty abandon.
Snowbombing resides for one mad week in the spectacular surroundings of the Mayrhofen ski resort in Austria. Mayrhofen is a scenic alpine market town with less than 4000 inhabitants – some of whom run for the hills when between five and seven thousand revellers descend on the place, hell bent on cramming as much manic fun into a week as is possible, risking physical injury and nervous breakdowns in the process.
The bulk of Snowbombers are British and Irish so there is an inevitable atmosphere of ‘Brits Abroad’ on occasion, but it’s all in good spirits and the atmosphere is friendly and inclusive. There’s a broad age spread as well, with 20-somethings rubbing shoulders at the bar with hen and stag party groups and plenty of well-seasoned, grey flecked ravers too.
The latter are obviously the most familiar with some of the 80s icons lending a nostalgic glow to this year’s proceedings. The perpetually beaming Mr. Motivator is often spotted in his spandex leading mountain-side stretching work-outs or bopping behind the decks, Pat Sharp is shorn of his mullet but still banging out the cheese and the legend that is Eddie The Eagle Edwards is either giving inspiring Q&As after the screening of his acclaimed Hollywood biopic, or picking up waifs and strays on the chairlifts and taking them skiing for a few hours.
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For some the epic event begins on April 1st with a road trip. A convoy of 150 cars cross four countries and arrive with much spectacle and fanfare in Mayrhofen. Most festival-goers however, fly into Innsbruck, Munich or Salzburg and jump onto an airport transfer bus. Once the full contingent has arrived this dainty-as-a-doylie little town becomes a non-stop whirlwind of hedonism and winter sports.
Snowbombing promises all the fun of the festival experience with not a tent nor a pair of wellies in sight. One thing required of all comers though is some redoubtable stamina. The sleep quota is paltry. Especially with FOMO levels running at a peak high all week. With most evenings winding up at 5 or 6am, and the chair lift up the mountain starting at 8am, most people are lucky to bag more than a few hours shut-eye per night.
But somehow everyone manages it. It has to be the clean mountain air and the curative powers of snow fuelled fun. If the night before invades your waking day with the distinct fear that you behaved like a weapons-grade wankpuffin… what better way to dispel such thoughts than by carving down a vast mountainside in the warm sun with your mates? Hangover: 0 Get Back On It: 9.
And with so many world class artists lined up across over 20 venues in the mountains and those in the town centre, you have to stay involved. He who rides the tiger must never dismount, even if you’re staring down the HariKari black run – the steepest slope in Austria – with no sleep in the bank and Roni Size due to smash out a set in Rompa’s Reggae Shack. You just get on with it.
Over the course of the week every venue stays packed. The Racket Club – an underground tennis club turned cavernous rave den – witnessed some killer sets. Run The Jewels played much of their 'RTJ3' album and made the sweat drip from the ceiling. Grandmaster Flash effectively played a wedding DJ set with the likes of ‘Staying Alive’, ‘Play That Funky Music’ and ‘Apache’ dropped, but being the original decknician he makes it something out of the ordinary. Andy C knocked out the benchmark best in Drum n Bass and DJ Yoda widened eyes and ears with his trademark mash up skills. Groove Armada, Dusky, Eat’s Everything, Bondax and Gorgon City all shake the deep foundations of the Racket and give good reason for its pivotal place in the festival.
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More headline performances are seen above ground at the Forest Stage – an enticing forest clearing surrounded by towering pines, lit up by thousands of fairy lights and crowned by a snowcapped mountain view. The Courteeners and Blossoms provide some guitar relief from all the electronica. There is also a smattering of cover bands that go down brilliantly. Antarctic Monkeys and Noasis fill the Fun Haus club – a shrewd move to book acts that can fulfil the desired result of a full to the gunnels venue singing back all the lyrics for a fraction of the price of the real thing.
Elsewhere Snowbombing delivered Europe's largest outdoor fancy dress street party in the heart of the 'hof, which was soundtracked by Elrow, whilst the Brück’n Stadl, often referred to as the alpine Berghain, saw Berlin’s other club – The Watergate – take over for one night with affable Swede Axel Bowman putting in a belting set.
The mantle for best non-dance act goes to Kent’s finest – Slaves. The duo was a blunt and abrasive antidote to the abundance of club music and they rallied the crowd, exuding character and charm whilst unleashing caustic punk rock bangers. Slaves later join Chase & Status on stage and the entire area is rammed for the final Forest Stage headliner.
The Smirnoff Arctic Disco is where Mike Skinner kicked things off and where DJ Yoda ended another triumphant Snowbombing. Tickets are hot for this one as just 400 people travel up 2000 metres to the plateau of Mount Ahorn to find a massive igloo compete with dancefloor, bar, fur-lined chill out rooms and a canopy of stars outside.
Snowbombing really is peerless when it comes to offering A-list artists performing at unforgettable venues. And when you’re not at one of said venues, you’re still on the piste – albeit one of the 200km worth of glorious snow groomed slopes of the Zillertal Valley and Hintertux Glacier.
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Snowbombing (snowbombing.com) packages for 2018 will be announced in the coming months.
Words: Nick Rice
Photography: As Credited