Tom Ross: Turn and face the change

A younger generation assumes control of the 'Boat


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— "Ch-ch-ch CHANGES : Time may change me, but I can't change time."

I believe it was the late 20th century philosopher Ziggy Stardust (sometimes referred to as David Bowie) who said that.

Everybody in Steamboat Springs is talking about the changes on City Council and what they mean for our rapidly changing community in the wake of the Nov. 6 election.

I've listened to some thoughtful post-election analysis from a variety of people in the past three days, but no one has come up with the same take that I've been chewing on. And since I am the holder of an undergraduate degree in poli-sci, I've decided to use this bully pulpit to play politics.

When I look at photographs of the winners of this week's election, something leaps out at me. With one exception, they are significantly younger than I am. Everywhere the voters had a choice, they selected candidates who appear to be enjoying life in their 30s.

Aging baby boomers are driving the real estate boom here by investing their inheritances and hedge fund windfalls in vacation homes. But I'm convinced a younger generation is beginning to take control of this town's future. They are well-educated professionals who are building careers and raising young families. Bailing out of the Yampa Valley because the cost of housing is out of whack doesn't seem to be part of their plans.

It isn't clear to me that Steamboat's up and comers are willing to settle for deed-restricted housing. And if they are raising two toddlers, it's a safe bet that big-box shopping isn't a dirty word to them. If they are building businesses that depend even indirectly on our construction boom, growth is something they embrace.

The preceding amounts to little more than anecdotal observations, not demographic research. It would be wrong for me to assign all of those qualities to our new City Council members. And certainly, there are 33-year-olds in this community for whom avoidance of chain stores is a religious crusade.

Just the same, I've observed Steamboat's "generation next" every summer at the free concerts with toddlers in tow. And they parade by my home every autumn weekend on their way to Whistler Park. Many are jogging behind two-seater baby strollers that appear to have suspensions as elaborate as those of $2,500 mountain bikes.

"How are these kids making it in a town where entry level housing costs $500,000?" I often ask myself. "And how long will it be before they influence local politics?"

I'm thinking the time has arrived.

Steamboat's young generation of highly motivated professionals isn't limited to thirty-somethings. I'm surrounded by exceptionally bright twenty-somethings at work. I'm always surprised when one of them forms a semi-permanent attachment to Steamboat and convinces their parents to help them purchase a townhome. Maybe I shouldn't be. I was 26 when I returned to Steamboat for good in 1979.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that my generation of Steamboaters should cede all decision-making to the young pups. We have the same concerns about housing, preserving community character, transportation, workforce recruitment and more. In a participatory democracy, it's our obligation to connect with people who share our political goals and work for change. None of us should ever back down from that.

However, it might be appropriate to remind boomers of the words of another late 20th century sage, Robert Zimmerman (you might know him as Bob Dylan). He philosophized in 1964, when I was a politically aware 11-year-old, that "The Times They Are a Changin'."

"Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don't criticize

What you can't understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is

Rapidly agin'.

Please get out of the new one

If you can't lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin'"

I still get a little tingle when I hear that song. It's a safe bet that Dylan didn't have the parochial politics of a WASP-Y ski town in mind when he wrote the lyrics. But change is definitely in the wind in Steamboat this November.

I'm planning to roll with it. I won't hesitate to disagree, but I'm going to roll with a new generation.


Tracy Barnett 9 years, 5 months ago

As one of the graying generation who has been here for several decades, I applaud the young people of this community for stepping up. I look at those who have just been elected and wish I still had the energy they have. Most have young families, demanding jobs and now the time commitment of not only the meetings they must attend, but the preparation for those meetings in advance. It is refreshing to see a new generation of passionate citizens take hold of the reins in what seems to be a call for return to reason. There was change in the wind when I got here in the 70's. There was more change in the 80's. Each change takes some compromise and adaptation. Dylan's song resonated with me back in college and the words are still true today.


mtnkids 9 years, 5 months ago

the answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind


stompk 9 years, 5 months ago

A college degree doesn't make anyone more important.

It would be pretty tough to communicate without electricity.

It would be no fun to go out to dinner, if there wasn't cooks, waiters, and dishwashers.

But I have to listen to people that claim if you don't go to college, you are a loser, lower class.

I hope you trash piles up.


stompk 9 years, 5 months ago

Think about this. Whilst ya'll spent your time in college, there were people working at producing a service or goods, keeping the country going.

It's called a paid education in the real world.

Knowledge is gained, when one knows where to look, to find and assemble information.

Wisdom is gained, by combining that knowledge.

Didn't need college to learn that.


nightbird 9 years, 5 months ago

Well said Tom. To see this level of civic involvement from people in their 30's with families is great. I have been here a long time as well and the change that has recently taken place in City Council reminds me of the days when the likes of Paula Cooper-Black, Mary Brown and Rita Valentine took on leadership roles in this community. They were our peers.

At the time there were those that thought these young upstarts would ruin this place because they did not know enough and their priorities were somewhat different. You and I both know that Steamboat Springs survived. The reality is that we all win with greater civic involvement. If for nothing more than their willingness to become involved they have my support.


steamboatsprings 9 years, 5 months ago

Tom this is a very insightful piece but that is no surprise coming from you. I fit into this group you have defined. It energized me to read your comments that encapsulate and define so many of the thoughts and motivations that drive me to be involved (better than I had personally to date)

Some of us moved here but that doesn't mean that we love Steamboat any less than people born here etc. I loved Steamboat from the first time I visited and worked very hard to make it here. I like most of my peers value what makes Steamboat great. I can't think of a better place to live and raise a family. I love it here to the point I rarely leave.

We want Steamboat to hold onto all of the things we love and will work passionately to achieve that goal. At the same time more people are coming here as the baby boom retires and we can't stick our heads into no growth policies. Here's a little news for you, they are incredibly effective at accelerating the impacts that they are designed to avoid. Look at Vail and Aspen for proof. The market works much faster than existing polices can possibly add housing so we need to work with an understanding of how the market works to increase our stock of quality affordable market rate housing.

We will end up with more affordable housing, lower prices overall and they will allow the owners to maintain a full portion of the American dream that home ownership brings. Otherwise we end up cheating the people like teachers and firemen that are always there for us.

Jon Wade


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