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  • This article by Jonathan Thompson originally appeared in the Dec 08, 2009 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0


Ski strangeness and caged chickens

News: Dec 08, 2009
by Jonathan Thompson


For people in ski country, the months between late September and early December are a sad and desperate time. Gray days, cold nights and nary a flake of snow drive recreationists indoors, wreaking havoc with their circadian rhythms. Everyone with any sort of sense — and a trust fund — flees to warmer, beachier climes to sit out those agonizing weeks. Those who stay would be better off just trading in their flip-flops for a tight, white jacket, the kind with strong straps, padding and hefty buckles. Because, when left unrestrained, some people do strange things.

Take the case of Lauren Slaff, in Durango, Colo. Slaff, a personal chef, moved to the area from New York City a couple years back, choosing the town for its proximity to Purgatory ski area. This fall, she bought a weekday pass for the winter. Only later did she discover that, during the early season, Purgatory might only open on weekends. Slaff, who thought she was getting ripped off, protested to resort management. They offered her a refund. She turned it down, and instead got the Durango Herald to write a hard-hitting, front-page investigative piece on the issue.

In response, the resort refunded Slaff’s money, took her pass away, and told her to take her skis and go slide on them somewhere else.

So the Herald ran another front-pager, which was in turn picked up by every ski-town daily within 500 miles, the Denver Post and even the Huffington Post. More than 100 comments popped up on the Herald story alone, most slamming the resort for not giving locals a break. At least one commenter suggested that Slaff lawyer up and go after the ski area for violating free speech rights while operating on federal land. It’s all part of the strange phenomenon in which ski-town citizenry views ski areas as semi-public entities, accountable to the public, rather than as private businesses.

“Look, let’s face it: We all who ski here, live here, and work here have a stake in helping Purgatory succeed,” wrote Ken Wright in a post called “Kicked out of Purgatory — and into the Soviet Union” (Dude, that is sooo last century) at his San Juan Almanac blog. “And that’s why the local community has a right — hell, a responsibility — to discuss decisions and actions by the management of our local ski resort in public forums. …”

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