of ski towns
Commentary by DICK
change is a constant of life is axiomatic. Sometimes change is for the
good and sometimes not, and often it is a matter of opinion or, rather,
judgment, which it is. Often it is a bit of both, and almost always it
is confusing. Drastic or exponential change makes it difficult for the
people it impacts to understand or respond and effectively deal with it.
The more a person or a community understands about their situation and
the changes that impact them, the better off they are.
that the ski towns of America have undergone drastic, exponential change
in the past two decades is to seriously understate the case. Those
changes have impacted every aspect of ski town life: real estate prices,
traffic congestion and patterns, wildlife survival, population
demographics, quality of life, crime statistics, working conditions,
politics, economics, environment, and, most important, that indefinable
but vital aspect of every town¾the identity and very soul of the
community which is an amalgam of all of them.
understand change for what it is and what it is not is to have some
tools for coping and, perhaps, making some other changes in response. A
new book by Hal Clifford is a blueprint for the changes that have
befallen the ski towns of America, and it is recommended reading for
every citizen of every ski town, for every skier who visits ski towns,
for every person interested in the effects of the corporate bottom line
on the daily life of the common man and the larger environment.
Actually, it should be required reading.
book is titled "Downhill Slide" with a sub-title of "Why
the corporate ski industry is bad for skiing, ski towns, and the
environment." It is properly described as "an impassioned
exposé" of how America’s ski corporations "are gutting ski
towns, the natural environment, and skiing itself in a largely futile
search for short term profits." Most people who have spent their
lives in ski towns know this at some level, but "Downhill
Slide" is the first time that all the relevant history, the
pertinent facts, the well researched documentation and such an informed
insight has been gathered in one place so that the big picture can be
seen by the little people. Clifford has done a masterful job of
journalism, and the ski towns of America and everyone who loves skiing
and the mountains should be (and, I believe, will be) grateful to him.
For he not only describes the uninviting, destructive and inauthentic
cultural landscape of corporate American skiing, he suggests a genuine
alternative to the theme park culture and business of Ski Town USA. That
alternative is nothing more radical or complicated than shifting control
of local businesses away from absentee and usually corporate ownership
to local control. It is as authentic and American as Mom, apple pie, the
town hall meeting, self reliance and self determination.
Slide" is full of lines like "One does not have to be a
hard-core environmental activist to question the wisdom of letting
corporations develop public land in order to service their debt and
boost shareholders’ profits without materially advancing the public
good." Clifford dispels any illusion the uninformed or the naïve
may have that the U.S. Forest Service is able to protect publicly owned
lands for the public good. He writes, "There are plenty of
individuals in the forest Service who recognize their agency is falling
down on the job and who wish things were different. But so long as the
agency is obliged by Congress to find its funding in places beyond
Capitol Hill, it is going to be compromised in its stewardship of
America’s public lands. Those who pay the highest price for this
co-opting reside in the communities, both natural and human, situated
near ski resorts." The key phrase is "both natural and
evident and well documented, but not much publicized that Clifford is
accurate when he writes, "The development and expansion of large
ski resorts on public lands degrades the natural environment in ways
that are as pervasive, far reaching, and difficult to remediate as those
caused by excessive logging, grazing and mining. Around ski resorts,
these consequences are effectively permanent."
touches on the philosophical/theological schism in western consciousness
about the proper use of land, particularly public land. He asks, with a
touch of irony, "Is nature a warehouse or a temple? (Albeit perhaps
a temple with a gym attached.)"
Clifford does not leave unscathed the warehousers of Ski Town USA.
"The conceit," he writes, "Is that money can get for you
what you gave up. The implicit message in the marketing of the modern
skiing lifestyle, and especially of the real estate associated with it,
is that although the buyer chose at an early age not to drop out and
live an alternative life on the edge, but instead to stay on track with
his or her nose to the grindstone—that despite this fact, with enough
money, the buyer supposedly can go and purchase the alternative life he
or she did not choose. Stated like that, such as assertion seems
does. But there is nothing false about "Downhill Slide" or the
premise behind it. Hal Clifford has performed an invaluable service for
the ski towns of America. His book is a cautionary tale, and, more, what
it describes can be viewed as a microcosm of the effects of publicly
owned corporations on communities, their citizens, wildlife, and the
environment throughout the world. "Downhill Slide" is a
reminder of some of the consequences of ignoring John Muir’s insight
of 1869: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it
hitched to everything else in the universe."
Slide" is hitched to all our lives and is a great read.