Vail resort fires subject of new book

'Powder Burn' examines motives

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— A tiny Western town is transformed from a high-altitude agricultural community to the location of a publicly held corporation controlled from the East Coast. The resort corporation dominates the social and physical landscape of the area and though much of the town depends on the resort for its livelihood, resentment is building.

Sound familiar?

That was Vail in October 1998, days before someone, who remains unidentified to this day, set seven fires on Vail Mountain, causing $12 million worth of damage. A radical environmental group, the Earth Liberation Front, claimed responsibility for the fires as an act of protest, but their claim wasn't credible.

Newsweek reporter Daniel Glick was sent to cover the story.

When Glick moved to Colorado as Newsweek's roving correspondent for the Rocky Mountains, he expected to be on the big mammal beat, he said. Instead, he ended up covering the some of the biggest breaking news in the country like the Columbine shootings and the murder of Jon-Benet Ramsey.

But no story stayed in his mind in the same way as the Vail fires.

"I did this one as a straight news story," Glick said. "But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be the perfect parable for the changing West.

"Vail wasn't even a town until 1962," Glick said. Vail resort was carved out of a sheep pasture. "In my mind, it is a vanguard of a shift from resource to amenity based economies."

Glick decided to explore the story further.

"Powder Burn," Glick's first book, is a 263-page exploration of the question -- who started the fires in Vail and why?

The work is non-fiction, but contains all the elements of a good fiction story.

"The characters are so great as they are," Glick said. "I couldn't invent the CEO who quit a job with a cruise line to work in Vail and walked in tasseled loafers to the lifts. My other favorite character is Roby Peabody. He's the prince of ski bums who drives a snow cat all night long and poaches hot tubs and buffets."

Glick took a year to interview the residents of Vail and write their story. Vail is only a two-hour drive from his home in Lafayette.

"I would go up there for weeks at a time," he said. "It was a lot of hanging out, drinking in bars and skiing with ski patrol. It was hard duty."

So what did he find out? Who did it?

"I honestly don't know," he said. The only thing he can say for sure, is that anyone in Vail could have done it.

On the second day of interviews, Glick asked a sheriff deputy to guess who might have set the fire.

"He said, 'Who couldn't have done this?'" Glick said. "Every person in that town had a motive. There was a lot of tension up there."

There were local business owners who were angry. There was a still festering fight over water rights and there were angry ski bums, chapped by strict corporate dress codes set for the mountain. Even the founders of Vail Mountain were getting angry at the direction the resort was heading.

"Honestly, I hoped to solve it," Glick said, "but I didn't."

By the time the book was on its way to the publisher, Glick was at the tail-end of a divorce and a single father of two children.

His new role didn't allow him the same freedom to jump back into breaking-news journalism.

"I needed a schedule that would allow me to pick up my daughter at gymnastics," he said. "A second book was born out of that."

Glick decided to take a trip around the world with his two children, 11 and 15 years old.

They stopped in Australia, Bali, Borneo, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal and Western Europe.

"The idea was to visit ecological wonders that were threatened by human development, so the kids could see them before they are gone," Glick said.

"It was one of the most amazing things. It was an odyssey into being a single father and it was a chance to get to know my kids and let them get to know me.

"We would be walking through the jungle and my son would ask me if I ever smoked dope, or why Vietnam happened or how did the Cold War start."

Glick returned to America and wrote a book about the journey to be released in June.

Meanwhile, he is touring Colorado with "Powder Burn," which was recently published in a soft back edition.

"This book is not just about corporate ownership," he said. "I am also asking what do these communities want to be and how can they become that when they have these macroeconomic forces that are bearing down on them."


-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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