Boom and bust all at once
To this point, it’s a big year for skiers in this part of the ski universe, still befitting the 40th year of skiing’s grand dame and little sister that’s continuing to climb in stature herself over there at Beaver Creek.
Doesn’t hurt that the airport numbers are way up themselves, landing flights full of vacationers, the lodging and merchant classes’ best friends.
It’s all a sharp contrast to President Bush feeling the need to push a fresh $600 million package of tax cuts and state aid as a Republican-led Congress gets started with the new year session. Note to Dems wringing their hands over the benefit to the “rich”: who do you think pays the lion’s share? Of course they’ll benefit. The argument is beside the point, satisfying as the rhetoric must sound. Still, tax cuts in the teeth of deficits? Not so long ago it was tax cuts because of surpluses. Go figure.
Here at home, this early season and now Christmas holiday boom belies the austerity budgets the municipalities have inflected upon themselves in the wake of recent lousy revenue years, and most especially last year. We haven’t heard much local talk lately about cutting taxes. No, the conversation has been about balancing revenue sources by raising-the property tax, taxing construction materials to keep buses running for free, that sort of padding to buttress what the sales tax in lean years can’t deliver.
Suddenly a dichotomy exists, suggested by dueling headlines that crow about potentially record numbers of skiers, giant jumps in the usual business indicators, and the growing sense that this may well play out as a truly special ski season against a national backdrop of war talk and distinct lack of confidence in the economy.
Still, the day skiers and winter vacationers are coming.
It will be interesting to see if their spending will cover over the various problems that leaner times have exposed. Will a season-long boom quell talk about over reliance on sales tax in the upvalley towns? How soon does the labor shortage return as an issue? How about those empty storefronts?
It’s early to contemplate, but the dynamics so far suggest a switch in challenges if the season continues on the current track.
One of the bigger long-term challenges, of course, is the boom-bust nature of life in the mountains – whether mining, ranching or snow farming serve as the economic engine. Perhaps it will always be thus, summer marketing campaigns notwithstanding.
But all this is secondary to the reason for all the folks coming up here. That would be the snow and the break that riding it offers from the routine back home – whether home is Atlanta, Chicago, New York, or just minutes away.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.