When gasoline-inspired flames devoured the massive, splendid Two Elk restaurant atop Vail Mountain in October 1998, many people automatically blamed environmental activists. After all, a federal judge had just allowed the Vail ski area, already the nation's largest and busiest, to expand into an area where evidence of the rare Canada lynx had been found several years before. Then, in an untraceable e-mail message, the amorphous Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility "on behalf of the lynx."
But others saw a much longer list of
suspects; Vail Resorts, the ski area operator, had angered more
than just environmentalists.
Nearby Minturn, an
old railroad town, felt it had been mugged of millions of dollars
in water rights. Merchants in Vail feared the leviathan
corporation's continued expansion into lodging and retail sectors.
Other ski area operators were infuriated by Vail's acquisition of
its two largest rivals in neighboring Summit County - a transaction
that failed every antitrust smell test.
Mistrust ran so deep that some wondered if the ski company had set
the fires itself to gain sympathy and insurance money.
Daniel Glick, a special correspondent for
Newsweek, arrived in this seething cauldron
intent upon figuring out whodunit. He decided the bigger story was
not the fire, but the rancid atmosphere around it. The resulting
book, Powder Burn, might better be called
page-turning prose, Glick strings together Vail's story, from its
1957 gleam-in-the-eye conception to today's frenzy to slice up the
last of the raw land for leisured enterprise, mostly in the form of
second homes. It's a familiar story across the West.
Glick's best reporting covers the fire and its
subsequent investigation, which has yet to name an official
suspect. More ambitiously, he tries to unravel the increasingly
concentrated power of Vail Resorts Inc. and its dangerous
implications for Colorado's high country. He does this very well.
In other ways, Powder Burn
disappoints. Time and again, the author misses the ironies, the
nuances, the puzzling contradictions that make Western communities
so interesting. He settles for the easier story, the by-the-numbers
plot that pits God-fearing locals against the Evil Empire.
Ultimately, Powder Burn is
entertaining, but it lacks the depth and insight to be