Vail Daily column: A theory of ski town conflict

T.J. Voboril
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The charms of the Vail Valley play a siren song across the country and around the globe, attracting residents, part-timers and visitors from all corners. Along with skis and bikes, the migrants bring with them additional baggage in the form of variegated mores, outlooks and histories.

Each occupy their own particular place in the socioeconomic hierarchy of their hometown. This intermingling of backgrounds can create lasting friendships based on mutual respect and shared perspective, but it can also be the source of incredibly ferocious conflict.

For those of us who choose to call the valley home, the community has a way of smoothing out any rough edges with which one may have arrived in Vail. Living day to day among your new friendly neighbors tends to extract some of the Queens or Southie or some such locale not renowned for its gentility. Invested in the place for the long haul, there is a significant disincentive to cultivate a reputation as a boor or worse.

Scare resources

Conflicts that arise between permanent residents tend to be over scarce resources: powder, fishing holes, good men/women.

These conflicts also tend to be resolved without too much proverbial bloodshed. This is not always the case, as some citizens have chosen to import their realpolitik in an attempt to impose their will in both business and recreation.

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Imported titans of industry

Their perceived success in this endeavor may be illusory as “victory” without respect is pyrrhic indeed.

Disparate geographies tend to cause the most conflict in the context of second-home owners and tourists. Massively successful and accustomed to being regent of from whence they came, these kings/queens can have a difficult time getting along with the other titans of capitalism that congregate in the valley.

Just as the high school valedictorian arrives at college and realizes he is no smarter than anyone else, it can be hard to accept that one is not as special as once thought. This engenders feelings of inadequacy and is a hit to pride and ego. A wounded ego is a dangerous animal that can lash out when threatened.

For example, for reasonable people, if a neighbor (say, a CEO from Chicago) painted a wall the color of eggshell instead of the cream originally intended, that would not be cause for alarm.

However, perhaps feeling that he has something to prove in his new Vail environment, the New York bond trader decries the color selection and complains to the HOA. A battle has begun. The rules of engagement will not be governed by the laid-back ethos of the Vail Valley, but will be sourced from the more ruthless home environs of its combatants.

Each being used to getting their own way in their own universe, compromise becomes unlikely and the spark of conflict has turned into a conflagration.

Tourist trouble

Visitors, largely bereft of attachment to Vail and lacking knowledge of Vail’s social morays, can create conflict when they bring home with them on vacation. Texans are accused of being the most frequent violators, but any overbearing milieu can incite discord.

The orderly progression of lift lines is thrown into disarray by those visitors who come from areas in which securing a chairlift may require hand-to-hand combat. Progression through traffic circles has an analogous problem when visitors hail from cities where yielding is akin to hari-kari.

Generally, visitors are here to maximize their individual enjoyment, a goal that often clashes with the good of the collective. In the quest for the best meal, the best room, the best hike and the best view, the tourist may at the very least rub people the wrong way. The more nefarious cases result in strife with hotel staff, guides, servers or fellow travelers.

In order to all play together peacefully in the same Vail sandbox, an understanding that Vail is its own place with its own particular modes of interaction is required. We share our pails and shovels and if a shovel is accidentally buried or a speck of sand inadvertently is cast into an eye, the remedy is a hearty apology and maybe a juice box, gratis. There is little tolerance for tantrums, hoarding or bullying. The first-time or occasional playmate in the sandbox might come from a sandbox that encourages such untoward behavior. Unfortunately, we don’t have a system of conflict adjudication quite as effective as a timeout.

T.J. Voboril is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril, LLC, a local civil litigation firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, or visit

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