Thursday, December 27, 2001
Steamboat Springs Daniel Glick lit a match under some ski resort executives when he published a book this year about the 1998 Vail Mountain fires that became a treatise on the dangers inherent in a tourism economy.
It's enough to make longtime Steamboat locals, for whom Vail is a hideous four-letter word, chuckle. But, as Glick explains, the book, which chronicles the policies and politics that drove many to despise Vail and Vail Resorts, should also give residents of other ski towns pause. The message is clear: Steamboat Springs could be next.
"Vail happens to be a perfect metaphor for everything that's happening in the Western United States," Glick said. "You could just change a couple variables and it would be Steamboat."
Fresh off an around-the-world journey, Glick will be signing copies of "Powder Burn: Arson, Money and Mystery on Vail Mountain" at Off the Beaten Path in Steamboat one week from today.
The book is structured like a whodunit, but ends up as a biting social commentary. Vail Resorts, which owns a number of Colorado ski resorts and offers buddy passes to lure Front Range skiers, owns much of the land in Vail. And in the past decade, Vail has developed enough top-of-the-line real estate to lure the highest rollers from all over the country. With an influx of rich out-of-towners, the local economy has morphed to accommodate them, with thousands of low-wage earners servicing a wealthy class that is only present a few weeks a year.
Glick's premise, which is easier to believe in some chapters than others, is that anyone could have set the fires which burned buildings and a group of lifts including Vail Resorts itself. Because the arson, despite a thorough federal investigation, is still unsolved, the premise holds relatively true.
Although the Earth Liberation Front, an eco-terrorist group, sent out an untraceable e-mail to the Vail Daily Trail soon after the fires in which the group admitted to setting them, investigators still have not found conclusive evidence linking someone specific to the fires.
"Who couldn't have done this?" asked one local investigator quoted by Glick in the book. "The list of people pissed off at (Vail's owners) is pretty long."
Vail has butted heads with a number of groups over the past few years, including owners of local businesses, environmentalists, and the residents of the nearby town of Minturn. Glick interviews all these people to find out what they think of the company.
He also interviews people on the margins of the resort industry Hispanic workers living in trailer parks 30 to 60 miles away from their jobs, "bummed-out" ski bums trying to find a niche and low-level employees of the mountain itself.
Glick, a Rocky Mountain correspondent for Newsweek, said he has not done a lot of research in Steamboat, but knows the town is dealing with many of the same issues Vail has dealt with for the past 20 years.
He said one of the biggest differences between Vail and Steamboat is that Steamboat was a town before it was a resort, while Vail was literally cut out of mountains previously used by ranchers.
One of the book's failures may be Glick's reluctance to offer solutions to the problems he illuminates. Glick said he still does not have concrete answers to the question he raises, but he does think local governments and communities must be proactive in their approach to growth management and the construction of affordable housing.
"Growth will kill all of these towns if they're not somehow managed intelligently," Glick said. "It's untenable."