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Ski the ‘burbs

My son and I had one of those epiphanic ski moments a couple of weeks ago: his first day on the big hill.Nick won’t be three until April, which some experts will tell you is way too young to start the sport, but it was 50 degrees out, he had skis, a helmet and a harness, so what the hell?He loved every minute of it.For me, the chance had finally arrived to share with Nick my love for a sport that has shaped a great deal of my life both personally and professionally since I first started doing it at age 10.I don’t think he had quite the epiphany I had mostly he just grinned, giggled and rolled around in the snow but I think some sort of impression was made.Now, every night before he goes to sleep, he asks if we’re going to ride the magic carpet or the chairlift or ski the next day. Maybe he did have an epiphany: life would be better if every day was a ski day.About the same time, I started reading Hal Clifford’s book “Downhill Slide: Why the corporate ski industry is bad for skiing, ski towns, and the environment.”The convergence of these two events has sparked a great deal of reflection on my part about the kind of ski experience Nick will inherit, and whether he’ll share my love of snowriding or fail to find the same kind of joy its given me over the years.The basic premise of Clifford’s book is that the pioneering, adventurous spirit that informed skiing in its early days in this country is dead, and that corporate consolidation and bottom-line profiteering have reduced skiing to an amenity designed merely to increase retail and real estate sales, thus filling the mountain valleys with suburban sprawl and all its trimmings.That’s a theme this newspaper has wrestled with for years, some would say hypocritically, since we survive (notice I didn’t say thrive) on the real estate ads made possible by that changing dynamic.I have to digress, though, and say that, while Clifford’s book is worth reading because it explores important subject matter for mountain-town dwellers, there are some problems.I’m just 45 pages in and I’ve already found three major factual errors: he writes that Vail cranked up its chairlifts in 1963, when it was actually December of 1962; that Vail’s Blue Sky Basin expansion was 4,100 acres, when in fact it will top out at 885 if it’s ever completed; and he puts Grand Targhee ski area in eastern Idaho. I’ve been there many times, and I can assure you it’s in western Wyoming.This is dangerous ground for a newspaper editor, since these pages, I’ll admit, frequently contain typos and occasionally factual errors. But I like to hold books to higher standards because of what I would hope is an army of fact checkers, even at smaller publishing houses. After all, books are forever, newspapers hit the recycling bin in a week.Those kinds of errors make me wonder what else is wrong that I didn’t catch, which is too bad, because I think this is an important topic for people who love ski towns and don’t want to see them swallowed up by suburban sameness.I know I’m part of the problem because I insist on living here and raising a family, thus creating a demand for Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart.But I hope 20 years from now Nick can find a way to live here and ski or snowboard or whatever they’re doing by then, and do it at least 50 days a year instead of selling real estate 60 hours a week and only getting up on the hill 10 days a season.Then he might as well live in the ‘burbs for real. The rent’s a lot lower and the gas is much cheaper.


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