A high country whodunit

  • Book cover of "Powder Burn"

  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 Heartburn.


In vigorous, 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 illuminating.


Copyright © 2001 HCN and Allen Best

High Country News Classifieds
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....