Rants of a Ski Bum during Death Throws of Mountain Towns

Sep 12, 2008

Rants of a Ski Bum during Death Throws of Mountain Towns

Current mood:aggravatedSeems that most of the small mountain towns of the American West I have had the pleasure to call one of my many homes have all but fallen prey to the Bigger & Better mentality favored by Real Estate Developers and Corporate Monguls. I returned to the Sierra, Wasatch and Rocky Mountain Range’ last year and was dismayed by what I saw since I have been in Alaska. Most of these places are now somewhat sterile and full of Wal-Marts, Home Depots, Lowes, Chevron and Shell Gas Stations (No Longer Service Stations) McDonalds, Burger Kings, Taco Bell, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc. blah blah blah. A little history for those of you Not” in the know. I started skiing Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe California in 1976 when it was simply a ice skating rink, and the mountain with a small A-framed lodge where people brought brown bag lunches. Mothers enjoyed knitting near the fireplace waiting for their kids to get off the mountain while others lounged on the deck drinikg beers and hot toddy’s now, unfortunetly it is a Mega-Disney-like Ski Mecca with its own zip code and a plethora of entertainment, shopping and dining choices. Back then it was simple, friendly and fun family oriented place focused on skiing for skiing sake but now its all about the latest trend you wear and what new fangled piece of gear you have. Back then you could see people in Levi’s riding on garbage can lids down the frozen Truckee, now its probally owned by some crazy land hungry fanatic that hates people having a good time on “HIS” property. The last time I went to that old lake in the Sierra’s I almost began to cry as it was no longer the wild Blue-Green Emerald I remember as a youth but yet another example of Private Beach’s ridden with Empty Mansions where people only stayed a few weeks out of the year. During the summer, the lake had damn near become impossible to launch a boat into without paying a fee as everything had mostly been bought and sold, my Dad still talks about how back in the 1950’s when he had the opportunity to homestead there, Long Gone Days, I’ll tell ya that since you cant even do that in Alaska anymore ( back to that later). I moved onto Salt Lake City, Utah in 1980 where the Wasatch Mountains were not the home to the Olympic Dreams/Nightmares bought and sold like used cars in 2002, but I remember a place where you could be postholing with a snowboard ( None of the resorts back then allowed them on “Their” Property that was actually leased from the Forest Service) alongside those who were 3 pinning with no animosity towards one another, only greetings and info talk of the Mountains. A far cry from what I experienced hiking up Teton Pass last season where I felt like I was trying to summit a peak in Tibet due to the crowds, dogshit, beer cans and total lack of regard or respect for the mountains or eachother for that matter. Even the Backcountry has felt the effects of overpopulation and overuse. Those resorts back then, even though lacking a diversity of riding implements seemed pure unlike the water that now flows down that range with a horde of pollutants from the snake like tail to headlight automobile “jam up” to the resorts that just keep on building more and more lifts, shops, restraunts, day spa’s, salon’s, coffee houses, climbing walls, bars, dance halls and the like that seem to only serve the purpose of driving up day lift ticket prices from a one time price of $20 to the now average of $70. I dont know how the regular Joe can afford to take his family out for a weekend these days but have noticed that all those who have the luxory of doing so come from a differant place other than the mountains and drive some type of monsturous all wheel drive SUV instead of an old Landcruiser, pickup truck or VW Bus that seem to be all to fleeting these days. As the “Ski Area” becomes a “Ski Resort” comes with it the inevitable infrastructure that is neccesary. I also seen the same trend in places like Snowbasin, Utah, Crested Butte Colorado, Club Yellowstone and Big Sky Montana, Sun Valley Idaho, Mt. Bachelor Oregon, Taos New Mexico, Wolf Creek Colorado, Whitefish Montana, and sadly the list goes on & on……… One and All fell into a cardboard cutout of the ski town next door that compete with eachother like all those conglomerate food chains, gas stations and home improvement chains afore mentioned, which all seem to get homoganised into something fake and distant when those planners proposed affordable housing and good paying jobs. In contrast what I seen on the outskirts of these towns were the Mobile Home Parks with over populated trailers and ski bums and employees that didnt speak English. It would seem that in the ski industry, only the “Upper Crust” tend to make the money while those who actually operate it and “serve” the customers or guest simply get the shaft. I kept on moving ahead ever Northward to escape the raping and pillaging of what should be considered Every Man, Woman and Childs Playground, only to be pushed further and further away from those places I held dear. It is what brought me here to Girdwood as well to Alyeska Mountain that seemed to promote a real skiing experience but soon even after all the promises of the new owner made to keep it that way on the contrare the swimming pool was soon closed off to the general public who was not a part of the Club, the price of a day pass and season ticket has shot through the roof to pay for the upgrades and most recently the GBOS with with all their infinate wisdom has secured lands and re-zoned them for future development. I am sure the demise of another beautiful mountain town is but around the corner, yeah the argument can be made that the improvements have made a diffearance but to what degree I ask? I can only think of when the Canadian Real Estate developer Intrawest bought out Copper Mountain, Colorado, a Ma a & Pa mountain that was a sleeper and sat in between Vail & Breckenridge Mega Ski Resorts. We all thought it was going to be great idea with more lifts to serve more terrain and more shops to buy tourist goods, but what we found when it was all said and done was an empty village with cold pillows, yet strangely even after a heafty storm would dump a few feet of snow, it was ultimately eaten all up by the hordes of those hungry for but one piece of the pie they couldnt afford to live or barely play at. It was to be sold with huge snowmaking systems, immaculently groomed runs and huge terrain parks instead of deep powdered bowls and natural gullies that were mostly maintenance free. I can only hope & pray that the fate of this town does not befall to the same pressures of others have, that I have unfortunetly witnessed in my life time

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