In 1970, the late great Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, where Aspen was just starting to blow up. Thompson ran on a platform of tearing up all the pavement in town, legalizing drugs, and re-naming the community "Fat City" to deter real estate hype and close-minded visitors.
Nearly 50 years later, hype rules and ski towns have paid the price. Thompson spent his later years in a drug-addled haze of gin and despair, in no small part driven by the pain of watching what had been the coolest mountain town in America turn into a place owned by Saudi sheiks, twats in leather pants, and other glitterati who didn't ski. After Aspen, every other great American ski town has followed suit.
They're all Aspens now, where locals are squeezed out by empty mansions that will never house anyone. The ski industry, once the province of quirky family founders and dashing European pioneers, is now mostly a collection of properties in the portfolios of corporate conglomerates and sleazy hedge funds.
A similar fate has befallen the ski media, where keen minds with sturdy livers and a passion for deep-snow immersion are being replaced by ad platforms and data-collection services known to the rest of us as "social media." In turn, consumers of media have become ad platforms themselves, blithely turning their lives into an advertorial photo shoot for Instagram and Facebook, as if the Marketing has crawled inside their heads and taken control.
Because it has.
Actual real life, the texture and vicissitudes of reality, has become subordinate to Marketing Reality, where everything is better, prettier, cooler, and more satisfying. It's as if every experience is a Tinder profile, Airbnb listing, or bluebird powder day.
Sadly, all this hype is killing ski towns and keeping us from focusing on the stuff we should be doing, like actually skiing, the Thursday night co-ed wrestling league I'm trying to start, and not living in a Subaru. Everything that's good in these places is the product of the fierce and weird energy of skiers: people who own semi-feral huskies, know what a mustache is for, live by the rhythms of nature and the seasons, who will be your friend for life after a single day's adventure, and who will risk their life to save yours.
While Thompson himself would ironically be consumed by his ultra-marketable alter-ego, the writer was certainly onto something with his campaign for sheriff.
The success of feeds like Jerry Of The Day and Kookslams suggests the mechanism to our eventual freedom may lie in turning marketing against itself. If you live in, or love, a ski town, it's time for some Anti-Marketing. I propose the following solutions:
1. Rename every ski town in the spirit of "Fat City." Steamboat would be Flatboat; Crested Butte becomes Crusty Butt; Vail is Vile; Squaw can be Squat; Jackson turns into Jacking Hole; and Little Cottonwood would simply be The Traffic Ditch.
2. Leak rumors of savage bear attacks on the groomers and in expensive wine bars.
3. Pass regulations requiring real estate agents to provide clients with a thick packet of graphic information about how to survive bear attacks, avalanches, forest fires, hookworm, and Mysterious Bacterial Infections.
4. Institute mandatory No-Plow Days during holidays.
5. Fart loudly and frequently in crowded public spaces and claim it with a hearty "Welcome to Jacking Hole!"
6. Airbnb listings would be required to replace the words like "luxury" or "slopeside" with "moist," "fungal," or "built by desperate immigrants living four to a room in a mobile home 50 miles down valley."
7. In public, always make sure to talk about Chairlift Disasters and the out-of-control chlamydia epidemic in town.
8.Ban all forms of Powder Alerts from ski resorts. They will only be allowed to release alerts for Crust, Refrozen Mank, or Flat Light.
9. Never Instagram anything nice. Accepted material would be relegated to squalor and misery, lift lines, bags of dog shit at the trailhead, blown edges, blown knees, and tourists fighting for parking spots.
Instituting these steps could turn things around pretty quickly. If you took all the marketing money spent in ski towns last year and turned it into housing or schools or mental health support, it might have been worth something. Instead, 99 percent of it went to benefitting corporations, creepy foreign-financed hedge funds, real estate development, and Mark Zuckerberg.
So let's just kill it, and start the Unbullshitting. Only then may we be able to actually live in a ski town without having to sleep in a Subaru.
This story originally appeared in the October 2018 (47.2) issue of POWDER. To have great stories like this delivered right to your door, in print, subscribe here.