Olden Days

I just saw this trailer for a film coming out this fall, and I want to see it.

I learned to ski on the “back” side of Pikes Peak. When I left Colorado in the mid-eighties, there were copious ski areas. The morning ski report was long. When I look at a ski area map now, it’s not like that. It shows the “mega” resorts that remain.

These ski areas weren’t resorts at all, many of them. They were places you could go in a day. Pikes Peak Ski Area was right off the Pikes Peak Highway — easy access. It was small, some rope tows, a poma and a chair lift. The snow was usually pretty good because it was on the north side of Pikes Peak — it was high, shaded and fairly well sheltered from the wind.


Pikes Peak Ski Area

These ski areas often didn’t have many runs or amenities — no fancy hotel to spend the night, no shopping, food was often burgers cooked on the mountain on oil-drum grills and eaten standing up, but with season passes that cost $25 for a family, they made the sport accessible. The focus was on skiing.

Back then, too, there was a little reverse snobbery. Real Coloradans didn’t wear fancy ski clothes because skiing was part of who they were, an every day thing, nothing to get dressed up for. Fancy ski clothes revealed that the skier was from Chicago — or worse — Texas. For a while it was popular to ski in bibbed overalls. I didn’t; but I did ski in jeans. When I started X-country skiing, I wore those clothes to the down hill ski areas because there was political contention over “skinny skiers” using downhill slopes. I had to make my point, right?

Andy and Me, A-Basin, 1982

A friend and I at Arapaho Basin, 1982. I’m wearing knickers, high wool socks and layers.

Some of the small ski areas have grown up — Arapaho Basin back in the day was smallish and funky, but now it’s expanded and appears to be more closly linked to its neighbor, Keystone. I can’t say for sure; I haven’t been back.

Right now the local ski area — Wolf Creek — is the center of a big fight between conservationists and a rich Texan who wants to develop it into a resort. A ski resort would pretty much destroy the vibe that Wolf Creek wants to maintain and that the people here are comitted to. It’s a tense and murky situation since the economy of Southern Colorado is depressed and a ski resort would help, but, at the same time, it would put “our” ski area out of the reach of most people who actually live here.

I like the idea of small, local ski mountains, but economically, I can see they stopped being viable. Climate change has made the snowfall less dependable than it was when I was a young woman. Maybe there’s no connection between thousands more people driving into the mountains every weekend from Denver to Vail, Aspen, etc. than there were thirty years ago and the fact that we have less snow. No idea.


17 thoughts on “Olden Days

  1. There was the same fight in the Okanagan when I was a kid. Only the land in question belonged to the First Nations. They didn’t mind ppl skiing, they didn’t want them on their land. It was a hot potato for years.

  2. This is what is happening everywhere there’s skiing. About the ONLY place it isn’t happening on this coast is northern Maine which is just too long a drive for most people, unless they happen to live up that way.

    Massachusetts doesn’t have great skiing, at least not downhill. We do have a lot of very good cross country areas, many of which are in my backyard or down the street (by which I mean maybe a quarter of a mile away).

    We do have the Blue Hills which is a state park and while not free, it’s family day trip and it’s just 10 miles out of Boston. You can see the hills from the city. They aren’t great mountains like you have, but if you want to ski and you’ve got kids or are a bunch of teenagers, it’s easy (buses, trains, etc) to get to and there’s a ski lift, picnic areas, etc. Otherwise, like you, most of the really great areas are all full of fancy resorts.

    I don’t think we’ll see an end to this, either.

    At least they can’t steel hockey skating from the kids — especially since very few adults are on the hunt for a frozen pond. Every icy piece of river or pond is up for hockey. The kids will be there, every winter, even if it’s dangerous.

  3. My husband, born and raised in the UP, went skiing in Aspen during every break when he was in college in the ’60’s. They all attended Michigan Tech, so they’d all pile into whoever’s car would make the trip. They had no money, so they bummed food wherever they could. Terry learned he could ski free if he would work on the Ski Patrol. He loved every minute of it.

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