Ski strangeness and caged chickens

 

FROM THE SKIOCRACY

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. …”

Anyway, the most upsetting thing about the whole fracas was that it distracted everyone from the really big news in Durango that week: During a town board discussion of a new backyard-hen ordinance, a giant chicken barged into the meeting, laid an egg and ran away. As of press time, the chicken remained at large. No word on the fate of the egg.

FACTORY FARMS EVERYWHERE

Which came first: Chronic depression? Or being shoved into a tiny cage for life? Researchers at Clemson University in Iowa are trying to figure out the answer to that question. Animal-rights folks have long seen egg factories, in which up to nine hens can share a 2-foot-by 2-foot cage, as cruel. California voters seem to agree: Last year, the state passed a ballot initiative banning such practices. The chicken industry, though — or at least the human beings who run it — is not so sure. And so, much to the dismay of animal-rights activists, the researchers want to study the subject some more.

“Think about the ... effects of not moving for up to 24 months,” Bruce Friedrich, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told the Associated Press. “Their bones and muscles waste away and they go insane.”

Which sounds a lot like what happens to ski bums, crammed into dilapidated condos during November, and … Oh, wait, that was a different story. Although it also ended with a chicken.

REPUBLIC OF SORTOFGREENSKI

Ski resorts are trying to lessen their impact on the environment. No, really, just because most skiers fly or drive to the slopes, which are actually just big clear-cuts, and because the chairlifts alone use tons of energy doesn’t mean that ski resorts can’t be green. Take Vail, where an earnest effort is under way to reduce, reuse and recycle. According to an Austin American-Statesman article, the resort fills up the equivalent of three city buses every week with recycling. Used engine oil is burned to heat workshops and the like, and the resort is looking to cut energy use by 10 percent over the next two years. In fact, Luke Cartin, environmental manager for the resort, can be found running around with an infrared scope to find heat leaks, that is, when he’s not tending to the bucket of coffee-ground-eating worms on his desk. In September, the resort even pledged to help restore land near Denver that was scorched in the 2002 Hayman fire. Before you get too warm and cozy, though, there is another side. Even as it agreed to help with the Hayman restoration, the resort also ended its three-year commitment to purchase wind-energy offset credits. Nobody’s perfect.

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