Wednesday, November 19, 2008

While we're talking about things that should be nationalized...

You know what really pisses me off?
Paying hundreds of dollars for a season pass to ski down mountains. Mountains that are a natural and glorious feature of the earth. Just who the fuck decided they could own slopes? Who decided that could be private property? It's a mountain. With snow on it. Snow that nobody had to buy or produce. Snow that we're lucky enough to have fall straight from the heavens to the earth. Really good powdery snow, just perfect for skiing.
And you know, it's not even that I have to pay to use it that pisses me off. It's that I'm paying a rate that allows for a landowner/developer to earn a profit. Why couldn't the federal government develop the land for the people's use? Maybe our use fees would cover maintenance costs (ever heard of a national park?). How hard would that be? To have the same great skiing but managed by a non-profit government branch? Why does someone get to profit off mountains? I mean, let's say the ski or outdoor recreation industry were nationalized. How does society or the economy hurt? Just as many people will be employed. More people will be able to take advantage of local, natural recreation. Can't we have ANY land use that's by the people, for the people? 
Check out this awesome book about land use and land ownership in the contemporary American west. It's a little more intelligent and thoughtful than my rant, and I know T, at least, is interested in the political and theoretical implications of land reform/land as private property. In the book, Trimble begins an investigation of dwindling public land in the state of Utah, and a plan by oil mogul Earl Holding to turn some of Utah's last public land into a cash-cow ski resort, using the 2002 Olympics as an excuse to get it done, despite major opposition from the local community. While researching Holding's dirty business dealings and writing a book about the need to preserve public land, Trimble falls in love with a piece of undeveloped land himself, and begins building on it. Bargaining for Eden is a fascinating look at the many facets of land issues, from the sentimental to the political and economic.


ln said...

It's so true. The particular activity of skiing, and the particular feature of snow-capped mountains, are privatized and EXTREMELY expensive. I mean, I grew up around some mountains in New England where people paid to ski, but not us.

Imagine paying rates like this to walk the grand canyon, or take a dip in the Pacific ocean.

Of course, skiing involves man-made infrastructure like lifts (unless you want to ski back up ...), which is different from a natural, unmodified beach. But you're definitely right that we could be enjoying it much more affordably.

Here's a question I genuinely don't know the answer to: is skiing environmentally sustainable? Are there skiing establishments or practices that are more eco-friendly? I know cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing, are things that can be done more cheaply, and often in national park land. They also don't use electricity and don't usually build giant lodges at the top of said glorious mountains.

What is it about the downhills?

Arvilla said...

There definitely are sustainable ski practices.

You're right that cross country is the best way to go (in terms of, not only sustainability, but cost as well). You can cross country ski anywhere, and when that's what we want to do, we don't pay a dime, except to get into a public park. It also causes little to no damage to the environment. You can cross country ski around trees and you don't leave a trace that you were there.

The next most sustainable practice, when we get to downhill, is more dangerous. That's what my poor friends and I liked to do in high school. It consists of getting yourself up a mountain, driving an ATV in many cases, and skiing through natural runs. In other words, you find a steep clearing that doesn't appear to have too many trees, and you go for it. When you get down far enough to have enjoyed yourself and gotten a thrill, you hike your ass back up the hill. A lot of people are seriously injured or killed when they hit trees or go off unseen cliffs. doesn't include any serious degradation to the landscape. Of course, if this occurred widespread, instead of just among suicidal groups of high school kids, you'd have some degradation caused by the ATV use...still, not the same you'd have when entire mountain faces are plowed through to create safer, developed ski runs.

Then the next worst way to ski, and I'm convinced is the only viable approach if you want to encourage open access to recreation, are the traditional "resort" type settings. They all require quite a bit of destruction, but not all resorts are created equal, in terms of sustainability. The greenest resorts are in the western United States, particularly in Utah, Colorado, and Oregon. Sundance, owned by Robert Redford, is one of the best. It's small, and it isn't extravagant. They have a comparatively low number of lifts. Which means getting to certain runs requires more hiking than at other resorts. Additionally, ski resorts in the West have to make less of their own snow, because well, it snows more here and it stays on the ground longer and it's of a higher quality. Those are just the basics of what makes some resorts more sustainable than others. Here's a good break down of all that goes into a ski resort and ways resorts can make themselves better than others.

But honestly, what if there were developed public ski areas that weren't "resorts." What if we changed our mindset about it and didn't even want a resort any more. We might have lifts and nice, safe, developed runs. But we didn't expect to feel all bougie for being there. We didn't need pampering. We didn't need fancy cafes, that you can only imagine how much it costs to heat and supply electricity to and deliver gourmet supplies to. That, I think, is the best compromise for outdoor recreation, sustainability, and affordability.