Subscription Preview

To read the full article, you must log in or subscribe. Enter your email address:

Ski strangeness and caged chickens


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. …”

From our friends

From a HUGE admirer

I just want to tell you that I'm a huge admirer of High Country News. The reporting, the stories you write — it's so important to those of us in California who see ourselves as part of the West and share all its issues. And they're always all so well-written. When people I know move to the West, I give them a gift subscription.

— Dr. Stephanie Pincetl, UCLA

HCN in the outhouses of the West

From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

Ray Ring, HCN Senior Editor