Beyond the Valley of Spring Break

There's more to do with a week off than just drinking, having sex and behaving like an idiot There's skiing, for instance, or sailing or scuba diving, all of which can be followed by drinking, having sex and behaving like an idiot

Killington, Vermont. Credit: Christian Aslund

Skiing

Spring break happens right when the conditions on most mountains are at their best – a season's worth of snow has built up bases, lift lines are often short, and the warm March sun means you can shed layers of clothing, not to mention enjoy bikini contests.

Killington, Vermont $
Killington is the biggest resort on the East Coast (it comprises seven mountains), and in March – when temperatures have climbed from February's subzero numbers, howling winds have subsided, and spring storms occasionally dump massive snowfalls – it can feel just like out West. Ground zero for much of the snowboarding action is the mountain's regulation-size half-pipe (420 by 12 feet) and extensive-terrain park. In March, the Bud Light Boarder Fest attracts the East's best riders, who vie for the Big-Air, BoarderX and Halfpipe titles. Skiers have a dizzying array of options – from Outer Limits, a true test of bump-skiing skill, to Ovation, one of the mountain's steepest slopes and a proving ground for the area's best talent.

Après-ski choices in Killington are the stuff of legend. The party attitude may be fueled by the surplus of free love – Skiing magazine once ranked Killington as one of the top five resorts for people looking to hook up for the night. Most of the action starts at Charities, for the town's best happy hour and free wings, or at Outback Pizza and Nightspot, where you'll find the local crowd and the good vibe. After that, it's a mad rush to get into the Wobbly Barn or the Pickle Barrel, where the wait can be as long as the lift lines on the mountain. The Wobbly Barn's drink of choice is a Turbo – a pint glass filled with Stoli Orange, club soda and orange juice – which teams of three race to finish with straws. At the Pickle Barrel, known as the House that Rocks Killington, headlining bands appear weekly.

Summit County, Colorado $$
Colorado's Summit County offers access to four different resorts within twenty minutes of one another – Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin ("A Basin"), Copper Mountain and Keystone – and some of the best slope-side partying in the country. Most students head for A Basin to escape family types and to challenge themselves on a few of the West's storied runs. Gauthier, billed as the steepest chute in North America, can be downright frightening, and North Pole Plunge is peppered with big, scary rocks. If you make it to the base intact, the party begins literally a few feet away.

At "the beach," a 700-foot row of empty parking spaces lined up against the mountain's base, the only rule is that anything goes. Epicures bring along grills and kegs, while the more industrious have been known to set up hot tubs and moor ice sailboats to their party paraphernalia. The annual bikini contest was put on hold last year because too many contestants decided to forsake the suits, but hopeful fans are spreading rumors that it will be reinstated in 2000. As night falls and temperatures plummet, the party heads to the nearby Snake River Saloon, where the bartenders warm up the crowd by breathing fire Bacardi-151 style and bands play three nights a week.

Valdez, Alaska $$$
Valdez, by nature, is a place for serious powder hounds only. The mountains in this area, on the western edge of the Chugach Range, receive more than 700 inches of snow annually. And thanks to a phenomenon known as the maritime snowpack, it sticks to the nearly vertical slopes. To reach them, you'll need an airlift. For seventy dollars, Alaska Backcountry Adventures will helicopter you 6,500 feet up and drop off you and your buddies with a guide. (If you're intimidated by the altitude, fifty dollars will buy you a ski-plane lift to a tamer 4,500 feet.) This is not a trip for the novice – you won't be able to hop off the chopper without your avalanche beacon, and it's recommended that you also tote a collapsible shovel and a snow probe. In March, most runs are blanketed in fresh powder every day.

This tiny town also plays host each spring to the World Extreme Skiing Championships and the king of the Hill Extreme Snowboard Competition, lending what laid-back locals kindly call a Mardi Gras spirit to the place. You can raise a glass of Alaskan Amber to the environment at the Pipeline Club, where Capt. Joseph Hazelwood had his last drink before steering the Exxon Valdez into a reef.(It's also one of the best spots to catch the local blues band Moon Doggies). You'll find a more radical gang at the Roadway Inn, headquarters for snowboarders looking to relax before competing for the king of the Hill title.

Valdez is a five-hour drive from Anchorage (many spring breakers rent an RV for the trip) or a forty-five-minute flight on ERA Air for $172.

Surfing

Ever since Gidget was released in 1959, surfing and spring break have been synonymous, so it's only fitting that March produces some of the best conditions on the world's great breaks.

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina $
This time of year, surfers and wind-surfers hold sway in Cape Hatteras, a slip of a town at the easternmost edge of the state's string of barrier islands. This precarious geographical position, as far out into the Atlantic as nature will allow, puts Hatteras in the path of numerous storms and fronts, which kick up serious wind and surf. Add to this the year-round warm water (thanks to the Gulf Stream, which whisks by just a couple of miles offshore), and it's easy to see why the town is home base for the Eastern Surfing Association and revered as Mecca for windsurfers.

In the spring, northeast winds get serious for a couple of days at a time, and surfers catch head-high waves that break fast and hollow near the Cape Hatteras Pier. The same conditions prompt the windsurfing set to hit the legendary Canadian Hole (or Le Trou Canadien, as locals call it) on the island's inland side. It's rumored that a group of Canadians found the spot after they saw Jaws in the Seventies and thought better of plying their sport on the open seas. What they discovered was an arm of Pamlico Sound with shallow water and a consistent wind, and sailboarders from all over the world have been flocking there ever since.

After coming off the sand, try the Mad Crabber for a cold Foster's, the Hatteras drink of choice. Relive your best rides to the backdrop of the Crabber's big-screen TVs rolling endless surf videos and live music from local bands. For more of the surf motif, check out Hodad's, which is decorated with old boards and other beach memorabilia. On the way home, don't miss the Brew Thru, a drive-up window where you can order booze. For a cheap stay, try the Surf Motel, or, if the weather is nice, pitch a tent among the dunes in the Frisco campground.

Todos Santos, Mexico $$
You don't go to Todos Santos for the party (which is in Cabo San Lucas), you go there to surf, devour amazing tacos from roadside stands and down countless margaritas, all while gaining a better appreciation of what Brian Wilson meant when he sang about the warmth of the sun. This tiny town, located on the western edge of the Baja peninsula, is a dot on some ten miles of pure white-sand beach, where waves from winter storms roll long and clean, and whales breach within sight of shore. Four miles north of town, the Pescadero Surf Camp, run by a couple from Oregon, offers open-air palapas for five dollars a night, complete with thatched roofs, hot water and electricity. If you're a surfing neophyte, catch a quick lesson – they guarantee you'll be riding a wave within an hour.

In Todos Santos proper, you can reserve a room at the fabled Hotel California. Try a shrimp, shark or dorado taco at Javin's or Pilar's, and grab a Tecate at Las Fuentes. On your way out, snag an extra bottle and head to Punto Lobos, where you can trade with a local fisherman for his still-flopping catch. For a heavier dose of MTV-style spring break – butt floss, bikini contests and booze – Cabo San Lucas is eighty-seven miles away. There, try the Giggling Marlin's secret concoction of multiple liquors and fruit juices, appropriately called the Skip and Go Naked. Down four glasses and your name will be added to the roster of all-stars lining the walls. If you can still walk, hit the equally notorious Cabo Wabo for one-dollar Jell-O shots. But don't stay out too late – the north swells in Todos Santos will be rolling in early.

Tamarindo, Costa Rica $$$
Tamarindo Bay, or T Bay, as it's known, was catapulted from sleepy fishing village to prime surf destination when Endless Summer II was filmed there in 1993. Located on the country's Pacific coast, the two-mile swath of sand harbors four impressive breaks, which produce year-round. In March, westward-humping swells pile into the bay all day, and as you sit in a lineup waiting to catch your ride, you're likely to spot some of the sport's legends, such as Wingnut and Robert August, both of whom had major roles in the two Endless Summer flicks. Hot-shots head to Playa Grande, where overhead surf is common – but to get there, you need to paddle across an estuary loaded with hungry caimans.

The best place to catch a sunset over the Pacific isn't on a board. Make like a local and order an Imperial at the Monkey Bar, where the eponymous howler monkey, clad in a diaper, will pose for pictures and throw temper tantrums if you don't feed him. After the sun goes down, the party moves on to numerous joints where natives tempt visitors with guaro, a sugar-cane liquor mixed with nitro or other mild psychosynthetic additives and sipped from plastic bags. Not surprisingly, it's known for a killer buzz and a wicked hangover. If the guaro doesn't have you seeing triple by midnight, hit Noai Disco.

When it comes time to crash, the Tamarindo Vista Villas Hotel and Resort is more than just surfer-friendly – it's the boardroom of Costa Rica's surf culture. Every room in the place overlooks T Bay's best breaks, and, of course, board storage is free. If you're looking to save a buck, there's also camping nearby – just watch out for the monkeys.

Fishing

It's always been an iconic form of relaxation, but get aboard the wrong boat in the wrong town and you'll feel a little like a cross between Gilligan and Ahab. The following spots are spring's best places to wet a line – as well as to find a little non-piscine action.

Destin, Florida $
Thanks to Destin's location – it's one of the state's westernmost cities – boats here have but a brief run to the "100-fathom curve," a monumental 600-foot drop in the ocean floor. The upwelling of currents along the curve attracts fish like bugs to a zapper and allowed the town's founding fathers to deem Destin "the world's luckiest fishing village." It's probably one of the busiest, as well. Boats of all sizes take from one to forty hopefuls out after king mackerel, amberjack, various bottom species like snapper and grouper, and the occasional behemoth billfish hanging around the curve for an easy meal. To maximize your chances of landing a lunker, charter a boat that accepts no more than six people – this ensures that you'll receive decent tackle and assistance, and spend less time avoiding the seasick patron next to you.

Although Destin once harbored a solid influx of spring-break revelers, it has lost some of its panache to Panama City, just sixty miles east. But before you blast out of town, hit the deck of the Fudpuckers on the beach for a rummy cocktail. In Panama City, things tend to get a great deal less laid-back. Club La Vela, touted as "the world's largest nightclub," packs as many as 7,000 people a night into its 140,000 square feet of bars, dance floors, open-air decks and, of course, stages for bikini and wet-T-shirt contests. Once you're well stimulated, try Sharky's, which gained fame a few years back for its faux-sex contest that looked a hell of a lot like the real thing.

South Padre Island, Texas $$
The only thing that outnumbers the spring-break crowd at South Padre (the island's population of 2,000 swells by 138,000 in March) is the area's game fish. Near the shores of this fabled party town swim schools of redfish, flounder, sea trout and huge black drum – many of which can be pursued with a fly rod from a skiff. Farther out at sea, forty-foot sport-fishing boats target marlin, which rise like miniature submarines out of the depths to inhale bait as big as footballs and then blast skyward. Some of these fish easily top 500 pounds and can lock anglers into epic battles. The 876-pound state-record catch was pulled in by a boat off Padre in 1988.

The wind, which can hit twenty-five knots, may put a damper on the angling but not on the partying. Groups of students from the University of Texas have been known to hunker down during big blows by digging deep bunkers on the beach (provisioned with numerous kegs). For those looking to escape the reality of a well-enforced minimum drinking age, the Mexican border lies just twenty-five minutes down Texas Highway 48. Visit the town of Matamoros, where bullfighting and discos are the big draws. In Padre at sunset, head to the Wahoo Saloon for a beer on its open-air deck. Afterward, visit Dirty Dave's Deck at Sea Ranch for a pitcher of Padre Pain Killers (a volatile mix of three types of rum and fruit juices).

Cozumel, Mexico $$$
The sailfish, known for its neon-blue, oversize dorsal fin and its penchant for tail-walking across the ocean's surface when hooked, is one of the premier game fish. And though sailfish don't know from spring break, they conveniently arrive en masse in the waters surrounding Cozumel at about the same time that the coed crowd makes its way to this Caribbean island. There are numerous ways to catch them – trolling, fly-fishing or with live bait – but only pure luck will help you keep them on the line as they take to the skies. Other angling options around Cozumel include the schools of bonefish and permit that cruise the shallow water in search of prey. Hook one of these fish and you'll swear you've latched onto a Stinger missile headed to sea.

Since Cozumel is such a hard-core fishing town, most night life begins and ends early, so don't waste time. Try Carlos 'n Charlie's for drinks and grub, then move to Neptuno to give your sea legs a workout on the disco floor. When things shut down, don't despair-twelve short miles away, the party is just cranking in Cancún. SeñorFrog's yard glasses of whatever you want will get you in the mood for the legendary contests at Fat Tuesday's – hot kiss, wet T-shirt, wet boxers and hot legs are just a few. Finish the night at La Boom, The wildest, wackiest nightclub of all. Its sound and lighting system occasionally simulates a nuclear detonation – just like the kind you'll feel in your head the next morning.

Diving

Getting into warm tropical water is a spring-break ritual, but getting under it is the best way to enjoy the sea. Scuba courses are taught at all big resorts and dive centers, and in most cases even a novice can kick around with the sharks and moray eels within a day.

Key Largo, Florida $
This is the Disneyland of scuba. Warm, shallow and exceptionally clear water makes it accessible to first-timers and old pros alike. Consequently, they arrive in droves and are herded onto huge dive boats. It doesn't make for Cousteau-like solitude beneath the sea, but it is cheap.

Most boats head for the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, resting in roughly thirty-five feet of water. In terms of square miles, it's the longest living reef in the Western Hemisphere, made up of cliffs, gullies and swim-through caves that you'll share with more than 600 types of fish and coral. The area is also home to the Benwood wreck, possibly the most hapless ship of World War II: In 1942, it was accidentally rammed while running without lights to avoid enemy detection; then, while attempting to ground itself for salvage, it was torpedoed by a German submarine and sank in fifty feet of water. Now, only huge grouper and schools of barracuda stand watch. For those who don't like to get wet, there are also submarine tours of the area.

Out of the water, Key Largo is a bit, more tame – maybe because the place is overrun with pasty-white New Jersey tourists and the old salts who hate them. To sample some of the best that the area has to offer, try Coconuts, a three-in-one restaurant, outdoor bar and nightclub, where karaoke, Top Forty tunes and Monday Night Football count as entertainment. For a seedier scene, venture to Woody's, on neighboring Islamorada – the house band is called Big Dick and the Erections...Florida Keys night life at its finest.

Aruba $$
The island of Aruba sits fifteen miles off the coast of Venezuela, smack in the middle of some of the world's finest diving. Thanks to the shallow reefs and shoals that mark the region as a biological wonder zone – not to mention the German torpedoes of World War II – many ships have ended up on the sea floor, making this area a wreck-diving paradise. The Pedernales was sunk in 1942 by a German sub in thirty-five feet of water. Before it could start to rust, the Navy cut it into three pieces, towed both end sections to shore and joined them to make a new ship. The center piece remains on the bottom, offering one of the few chances to swim directly into a ship's open hull and explore safely. Around the wreck, and scattered on the reefs surrounding the island, are more than fifty types of hard and soft corals, countless species of fish and various types of sea turtles.

If you're lucky enough to get to Aruba in February, you'll have a tough time forsaking the land for the water. Carnival starts in midmonth and runs until the day before Ash Wednesday. The place to be is Oranjestad, the island's biggest city, where you can expect nonstop partying in the streets by scantily clad mobs of people in masks – the elaborate face shields give them the excuse to break free from all inhibitions. After you've lost your mask, head for the island's casinos, where you'll lose your shirt. And for the ultimate barhopping extravaganza, jump aboard Aruba's pub-crawl bus – it holds forty people and has a band onboard.

Adelaide, Australia $$$
To experience what it feels like to be the hunted rather than the hunter, make a trip to dive with Australia's great white sharks. After dive masters chum the waters with blood and animal parts, these twenty-foot eating machines with jaws packing multiple rows of three-inch teeth show up looking for a free meal. What they find is a couple of measly chunks of horse meat dangling from the mother ship. This is your cue to jump, which you'll be doing into steel cages that the sharks sometimes teethe on. Many say it's a life-changing experience; everyone says it's scary as shit.

The trips leave from Adelaide, on Australia's southern coast, and motor to the offshore islands of Port Lincoln, where New Zealand fur seals and Australian sea lions breed. For a great white, this mass gathering of warmblooded mammals is like swimming up to an all-you-can-eat buffet at Denny's.

To guarantee that you'll run into Jaws, you'll have to make the ocean your home for at least six days. Numerous well-equipped dive boats sail from Adelaide, and many even run day trips to surrounding islands to kill time while waiting for the sharks. During your brief stay in port, find the quickest route to Rio's and Jules, the city's two biggest discos and the best places to find some action – maybe even a man-eater – before heading to sea.

Sailing

A cruise ship may be a floating party, but you'll never get one to pull up next to a sandy spit with a thatched-roof bar and a cooler full of Coronas. To do that, you need to command your own vessel. If you have sea experience, chartering a sailboat is easy, but you can also hire a captain to do the tough stuff. The plunder and booty follow naturally.

Florida Keys $
With the recent explosion of the sailboat-chartering business, the Florida Keys have emerged as a cheaper and closer alternative to the Caribbean. Most boats start in Miami or St. Petersburg and island-hop their way down the chain until they hit Key West. With the three-day voyage complete, you can point the bow toward the Dry Tortugas, a sandy spot sixty-eight miles from Key West, for a little open-water sailing. The island houses a battered fort, now a national park, that was a jail for Union deserters during the Civil War. On the way out, toss a fishing lure behind the boat and catch dinner.

A lot has changed since Ernest Hemingway made Key West his hangout, but you'll be inspired to throw 'em down like America's favorite literary hero at Sloppy Joe's – Papa's favorite place to get loaded, raise a ruckus and start fights. From there, follow the noise to any of the rowdy bars lining Duval Street. You're likely to run into Harley types, German tourists, burned-out hippies and crusty sailors.

Bahamas $$
The key to having a good time here is provisioning your boat well (think cheap rum). Marinas and shops are scarce once you've left the confines of Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco, and boat traffic is minimal. But unlike in the Caribbean or the Florida Keys, if you run aground you're likely to be in sand and not on the rocks – so you won't have to explain to a charter company why its sailboat pulled a Titanic.

For a sail-in bar scene, you're best off docking at the different marinas of Great Abaco, but for a taste of authentic Bahamas, head to nearby Powell Cay, where the "bar" on the beach supplies music only. The Coast Guard plays no favorites in its all-out war on drugs – even a nickel bag can be reason enough for it to confiscate the boat and throw your whole crew into a hot, sweaty Bahamian slammer. Stick with the rum.

Virgin Islands $$$
The beauty of sailing the Virgin Islands is the ease with which it can be done. The Sir Francis Drake Channel runs through the heart of the chain, negating any open-water sailing and ensuring that you'll never be too far from other boats. Well-established routes make trip planning a breeze, and moorings at most natural harbors mean you don't have to tussle with the anchor. Water temperatures in the eighties make for perfect snorkeling conditions.

But the best part of the Virgin Islands is the night life. Most sailors start their trips with a visit to Foxy's, on Jost Van Dyke. The beachfront bar has a sand floor, where locals stoop to unbelievable levels during the limbo contests and patrons usually fall after testing some of Foxy's potions. In the morning, it's time to raise sails and head for Nor-man Island, where an early arrival will guarantee a good mooring and a short dinghy hop to Willie T's – the best floating bar in the Caribbean. Once on board, you probably won't leave until you see the sun rising. On your return trip, don't miss the Soggy Dollar Bar on the south side of Jost Van Dyke – it's famous for putting the "body" in "body shots."

Golf

In the past, a spring-break trip devoted to golf would have been like taking your Uncle Ed to an orgy. But the world of golf has loosened up its knickers, and you don't have to wear a tam-o'-shanter to get on courses anymore. It also hasn't hurt that the largest influx of new players are under thirty and that in the past five years more than 1,200 public courses have been built across the country.

Alabama $
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – with its seven golf facilities and eighteen courses stretching from Huntsville in the north to Mobile on the Gulf of Mexico – makes a golf road trip seem like one hell of a grand idea. The trail has been heralded as the best public golf in the country, as well as some of the cheapest. A foursome can play twenty-seven holes a day for four days at $150 per golfer. The trail's highlight is Grand National – complete with pot bunkers, double greens and the par-315th hole, which requires a 230-yard carry to an island green. At Oxmoor Valley, you'll start play at the top of Little Shades Mountain and wind your way down. And no matter where you are on the trail, the next round is never more than a two-hour drive away.

For the party, the best bet in Mobile is to drive forty minutes to Biloxi, Mississippi, where you can gamble gas money on the giant riverboats lashed to shore. For live music, hit Botcher's, in Auburn, or if you have a hankering to master a line dance, go to Roper's, a massive country & western joint in Huntsville. Good grub is a much easier score. Head to Dreamland in Birmingham (home to more barbecue joints than any other Southern city) for ribs, or drop by the Top o' the River in Gadsden for the half-pound catfish fillet.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina $$
Few sites in the world boast as many courses per square mile as Myrtle Beach. More than 100 of them take up turf in this shore town, where the word shag still means getting down on the dance floor. You'll need to call far in advance to reserve a tee time at Myrtle Beach National – many say its three courses have some of the finest finishing holes in the eastern United States. Arrow-head, voted South Carolina's best course of 1998, offers three unique nine-hole tracts. The Waterway layout is summed up by its fifth hole, a 387-yard par-4 brute with one side butting hard against the Intracoastal Waterway. For a chance to play some of the better courses, spend a few extra dollars to hire a golf booking agent.

Myrtle Beach is also home to Mother Fletcher's, the site of the most infamous wet-T-shirt contest in the country – it even spawned a video, which chronicles more than five years of action. Afterward, hit 2001 for more-participatory action on its three dance floors – stick with Pulsations, the techno-disco-Top Forty floor, unless you can shag or dig corny piano music. Not far away, Xanadu, one of the area's biggest clubs, will make most other spring-break hot spots look almost tame.

Monterey Peninsula, California $$$
For many golfers, the chance to play Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach is the equivalent of a baseball fan's getting a crack at taking a swing in Fenway Park. But be warned: If you make it onto Spyglass, it's conceivable that you won't make it back – the course's first five holes border massive sand dunes, and the greens can seem like they're in another state. If you do finish, you might also be broke – expect to cough up $225 for greens fees. For a cheaper and easier game, try the lush fairways and manicured greens of Pasatiempo.

The closest place with some buzz is Santa Cruz, one of California's original party towns, just thirty miles from Monterey. The beaches here pack people in from up and down the coast, because the soft sand and good waves are similar to the popular shores in Southern California. At night the rowdy crowds can be found at the Crow's Nest, dancing to rock & roll that can be heard blocks away. For live tunes, nothing beats the world-renowned Catalyst, a renovated bowling alley with numerous rooms and more bars than you can count.