Paul Kuzniar: Once there was a mountain … |

Paul Kuzniar: Once there was a mountain …

Paul Kuzniar

Once there was a mountain. It was a grand mountain in a range of grand mountains. In the winter, the mountain was blanketed with snow. In the spring, the snow melted into creeks and streams and finally into a mighty river. Melting snow nurtured plants and animals living on the mountain. Spring flowers were delicate and radiant. Wildlife was bountiful and exotic like a furry little lynx with pointed ears.

Early settlers encamped in the valley at the base of the mountain. Life was hard, but the valley gave up food and shelter and there was always the majestic mountain looming above.

One day, two adventurers scaled the mountain and imagined a grand vision ” a mountain to scale and to ski. They envisioned a town from the Tyrol planted in the valley. And with luck and pluck, so it came to pass.

It was not without hard work ” it took 20 years to attract visitors. Some came to ski; a few stayed. More people meant more services like cops and snowplows, and hotels and restaurants. Merchants came providing necessities and amenities. Eventually a town emerged with elected officials. And year by year, the mountain delivered its measure of snow and the small town gained a big reputation.

Another 20 years passed and the town prospered. So much so that 2,000 miles to the east in the canyons of Wall Street, the “suits” whiffed the scent of green and came hunting for lucre. They too were visionaries and they “bought” the mountain low and sold the mountain high.

As the community entered the new millennium, the town exploded with growth. Construction abounded. Just as the mountains poked the sky, so did cranes followed by dump trucks, front-loaders, backhoes, placement booms, dirt, dust, traffic tie-ups and tempers.

But it was worth it to investors and entrepreneurs because Vail was aiming up-market ” way up with sky-rocketing prices for luxury goods and services. Chateaus gave way to four-star and five-star hotels and spas. Designer dishes and vintage wines were a rich roux. Dinners ran three figures; lodging ran four and destination visits ran five.

But like the creek that passed through the town, everything flowed, nothing endured. Early warning signs were slight and ignored. Growth eased. Property plunged. Hotels gathered cobwebs. Shops closed. Tax receipts fell. Leaders argued about parking and housing. The town hired consultants who offered pat solutions, slick buzz words and eye-popping invoices. Consultants were attractive to town officials because it meant they didn’t have to make or rationalize their decisions.

Cooperation among leaders, voters, owners, investors, developers gave way to dissension: “my” superceded “yours.” Blocs formed, proposals floated like cotton seed, lawsuits loomed. Sharing turned to selfish, as witnessed by this second-home owner who pronounced in a public forum: “The only two things I care about in town are my condo and the lifts running on time.”

Rancor prevailed. Developers and town officials debated in public and argued in private. The company’s stock plummeted. A heavy competitor heisted a local leader, the one person with demonstrated ability to bring warring parties together. Leaderless, the town plummeted.

Time passed and a half-century later, a celebrated archeologist, daughter of a “founding” Vail family who earlier led expeditions from the Yucatan to the Himalayas, announced that she would do her final dig (she was fast approaching 80) in search of her roots in the valley. Except it wasn’t a valley any more. With the rise of global warming, the valley was now part of the Great Basin ” hot and arid.

After months of labor, she revealed her findings: ignorance ” those who were clueless to what was happening; apathy ” those who knew but didn’t care; arrogance ” those who said Vail was too big to fail; half truths ” those who twisted facts to their advantage; greed ” those grabbing a fast buck. What she never found was leadership.

Instead of laying a tombstone, she pulled out her “i-voice” and she began her chronicle ” “Once there was a mountain…”

Paul Kuzniar is a Vail resident. E-mail comments about this column to

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