Zalaznick: So long Chair 10
Vail CO, Colorado
Question: Which will be more scarce around here in 10 years ” slow chairlifts or the middle class?
Vail’s double-diamond dinosaur, the plodding Highline Lift, is gone, to be replaced by a “high-speed quad.” (That means it’s fast and can fit four skiers). It also means less rest between trips down some of Vail Mountain’s steepest, most challenging runs.
And can those beasts of the Back Bowls, chairs 5 and 17, be long for this resort town? I, for one, hope the pine beetles gobbling up the forest’s pine trees chew them up soon, too.
But wait ” are we in too much of a rush to get up and down the mountain? Is it in some way obscene to want to maximize our time on the snow as if we were harried office workers cramming in time at the gym on the way to some Manhattan skyscraper?
If every lift ride is seven minutes or shorter, won’t we miss those valuable conversations with tourists while our ski-booted feet fall asleep?
I, for one, have given enough out-of-towners directions to Blue Sky Basin and yes, when I hit the slopes, I want to spend it on the slopes, not dangling in the air.
Only a few purists will miss those old clunkers and the long, ponderous, chatty chairlift rides; only a few purists will be repulsed by what I would call progress. But there’s a reason we don’t ride around in horse-drawn carriages anymore.
While the resorts are juicing up the lifts, a not-yet formed committee is promising to ask for money to propose building at least 500 affordable homes every year. At the same time, the county is beginning to plan for the inevitable development of Wolcott, the biggest remaining open space on the valley floor.
Both initiatives will use up more open space when ground is broken. As the lifts get faster, the land disappears, and it’s all part of the same growth pressure.
The point of faster lifts is to put more skiers on the mountains. And more people on the mountain means more people in town, which means the valley will need more waitresses, sous chefs, housekeepers, nurses, bus drivers, paramedics, police officers, and so on.
Where are these people going to live? There’s a good chance they’ll settle down in one of those 500 new homes a year.
Will the purists clinging to visions of a vast empty ski valley with a few taverns at the bottom of chugging chairlifts try to save the land in Wolcott and elsewhere when the next few Miller Ranches are planned?
Paving the whole area over would be a shame, but so would not facing reality and not paving over some of it so there are, for instance, still skilled nurses working in the emergency room when you get to the hospital (perhaps you broke your ankle because you went down Highline too many times).
And what about West Vail’s mostly vacant benches? If there were ever a push to build affordable housing there, some neighbors would likely complain about their property values going down. But are they willing to make that sacrifice to ensure their children have qualified teachers?
We seem to have conflicting desires in the High Country. We moved here to be near the backcountry, to have daily contact with mountain streams and wide-open spaces, but we also seem to want big-city-caliber services, particularly when it comes to health care, public safety and dining.
And though the two desires seem less and less compatible every year, a semblance of balance can probably be maintained if we are willing to give up a little on each side: Give up a little land but demand fewer big boxes; find homes for a few nurses to raise their families and keep a little open space.
Assistant Managing Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 748-2926, or email@example.com.
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