Why the ski town is seductive

Vail 2015 World Championships Fireworks

On the amazing appeal of doing nothing.

A ski town is a place of perpetual adolescence.

This fact becomes clearer to me every second I remain in Vail, Colorado. People do not come to a ski town for any particular reason besides looking for something new. People do not come to these places with goals, and as long as they remain, one must assume that things have not changed.

The ski town is simple. All you really need to know is right there in the name: “ski town.” People come to these places to ski, to adventure, and to make just enough money to string things along. If you’ve got a job, a ski pass, and enough for that next six pack or bud sack, what else matters?

The Ski Town atmosphere reminds me a lot of college.

I moved to Vail with my girlfriend immediately after we graduated university. It sure beat moving back in with our parents, and as a lifelong lover of the outdoors, I couldn’t complain about living in the Rocky Mountains, either. The place would be a stopping point; a brief interlude in which to ski and seek out our passions. We’d had our share of people and parties, penis and pussy; college gives you all that, backgrounded by education.

Vail offers the same things, but backgrounded by skiing.

I can justify the college experience, but not the ski town one. Maybe college seems more justifiable to me because it was the first time I found myself in that sort of young wild and free atmosphere. But in my own head, I tell myself it’s okay because, statistically, a college graduate will earn twice as much money over the course of their lifetime as someone who never attended university. In college, no matter what else you are doing, you are at least working towards something.

In a ski town, you are working towards nothing.

Many of the young people who move through these places have not gone to college, or have graduated college long ago and left their ideals far behind. The people who move through these places are lost and wandering. They make lots of money and they spend lots of money. They are rich in experiences, but poor in futures. They are a new class of American drifter.

These are not bad people.

These are good people who enjoy the fruits of the earth and value their bodies more than any Wall Street accountant in New York. Before all else, it is important to establish that people in Vail are happy.

The pervasive happiness is what makes it so very difficult to do anything of substance in this town.

We work towards long-term life goals in order to feel fulfilled. We do it to impose a sense of progression on an ultimately inconsequential and random life. We do it to create happiness, long-term fulfilling happiness of the sort that your grandparents might talk about.

Gratification in a ski town is quicker, and more primal.

Someone once described snowboarding to me thus: “no matter what’s wrong in your life, no matter how badly you failed that test, no matter how many guys your girlfriend cheated on you with, when you’re on that mountain, none of it matters.”

This ode is surprisingly apt— I hope the similarities to the way a drug addict might lovingly describe his substance do not go unnoticed.

When there is instant gratification a few steps from your door, it seems a shame to waste it. And snowboarding is not a bad drug. I firmly believe in the transformative power of outdoors fitness. It has the power to change lives and improve people. This is part of what makes it hard to do anything else in a ski town.

I have 50,000 words of a book to show for my junior year of college. I can now ride double black diamonds; I have that to show for living in Vail. Both are solid achievements. They both took dedication, time, and hard work. I grew from both experiences.

Here, I was going to explain the difference between the two milestones; yet, even sitting at a keyboard with the explicit intention of separating the two, I can’t do it. I cannot explain why one of those experiences should be more worthy than the other. I know, in my heart, that writing the book is the “better” accomplishment. It might, maybe, make me some money some day. But probably not.

Maybe I feel that way because writing a book is more societally acceptable.

Ski culture lives off to the side of mainstream America. Many people from all walks of life enjoy downhill alpine sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but usually for no more than a weekend or two a year. Even the people who spend every possible weekend in the mountains are looked down upon by the hardcore skiers who make their homes in these resort destinations.

“Ever since Vail Resorts moved their headquarters down to Broomfield, it’s just all wrong,” a middle-aged Vail local told me on a chairlift. “They’re all weekend warriors now. They just don’t understand about this,” he said, gesturing to the expanse of fresh, weekday powder shining below us.

Ski enthusiasts and ski bums are a protective group, but they’ll welcome anyone who genuinely wants to share their passion. Anyone. It doesn’t matter how many drugs you do, how much your family hates you, or how short your resume is: a ski town will take you in. Ski towns will accept you for you. And realistically, you can live in a ski town forever without ever changing one iota, as long as you can stand doing the unskilled work of washing dishes or helping people get on chairlifts or serving people food.

In a ski town, there is no push to improve yourself off the mountain.

But ultimately, isn’t all of a human life in pursuit of arbitrary goals? What makes a house in the suburbs and a $80,000 a year job any more valuable than a mountain apartment and a job you can leave at the base of the gondola?

People here in the mountains are direct, grounded, and in pursuit of animal passions. Put to paper like that, this lifestyle is both seductive and scary.

I can see why some people choose to stay here for decades.

But to me, it just feels a little off.

The Evil Genius of Vail Resorts

Vail resorts logo

I recently bought stock in Vail Resorts.

Here’s a fact I bet most ski bums don’t know: Vail Resorts is a publicly traded company. It is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker MTN. You can buy and sell shares in the company using any online stock-trading tool.

Another fact many skiiers may not know: Vail Resorts owns not just Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek in Colorado, but also Breckenridge and Keystone. The company also owns Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in California, and plans to combine Park City and Canyons in Utah to reclaim the crown of the largest ski resort in the U.S. next year (the record is currently held by Big Sky Resort in Montana).

Vail Resorts also owns much of the real estate and many of the businesses in the town of Vail. I suspect it is a similar situation near their other resorts.

To put those facts in context: Vail Resorts is a large corporation with well-diversified assets. They are positioned as an industry leader in a luxury market.

10 year MTN stock quote

The stock market is rewarding them.

All while the Vail Resorts empire is built on the backs of employees who are treated like shit.

But the brand standard persists for one simple reason:

Continue reading

Arapahoe Basin vs Vail: On the Character of a Place

A-basin ski area whiteout

Spent the morning at Arapahoe Basin today.

(Feeling about 70 percent back from that concussion. It was a conservative day.)

A-basin is a small ski area tucked away on the backside of Loveland Pass. It’s well-known here in Colorado for its unusually long ski season— A-basin is often the first ski area in Colorado to open for the season and the last to close. “The snow sucks but the people watching’s great,” is usually the way locals will choose to describe late-season skiing to you as you make small talk on a chairlift. It’s not unusual to see people grilling and skiing in t-shirts at the A-basin base as summer slowly melts away the previous year’s ski season.

Arapahoe Basin is more of a local’s place

You don’t see much international tourism to A-basin; really, they don’t even want it. There’s no lodging at the base, and parking is free. There are only a few chairlifts. They don’t have the fancy RFID scanners that Vail does— here, a man in a parka needs to scan the barcode on your season pass. A day-pass lift ticket costs $60, not $160 like it does at Vail. It’s archaic.

There’s something purer about A-Basin

Vail Resorts (MTN) understands how to run a business— just look at their stock curve:

10 year MTN stock quote

Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz has been described to me as “Kind of a dick.” Not surprising his company’s doing so well then. I just bought some stock.

With that said, there’s a reason Vail Resorts let go of Arapahoe Basin in 1997, after previously owning the ski area. A-Basin is out of character for the Vail experience.

The people who ski Arapahoe Basin are relaxed in a different way than you find in a resort town. The people you find at A-basin are everyday folks who enjoy skiing and the outdoor lifestyle on their days off, not the forced veneer of cheer and polished service that you find in a resort town like Vail.

Although A-basin has a reputation as a difficult mountain which actively discourages beginners, I spent the day snowboarding with an old friend who had only been twice prior, and he looked like he was having the time of his life. No long lift lines, no expensive restaurants; nothing fancy. We had a great time.

A-basin base area black mountain express

A low-key guy who doesn’t use social media much, he asked me to take a picture of him at the base.

It was a purer day than any I’ve had at Vail.

A Local’s Guide to Recreational Marijuana in Vail, Colorado

Native Roots Eagle Vail

“You’re from Colorado huh? How are those new weed laws treating you?”

Colorado Flag Pot Leaf

This is the first thing anyone ever asks me when I leave the state. No one wants to know about anything in Colorado except the recreational marijuana. Prior to the passage of Amendment 64 that question was “oh you’re from Colorado, do you guys like ski and snowboard every day?” (only the really lucky among us).

Since most of my readers are from outside of Colorado, allow me to answer the above question for you.

Marijuana has been a part of life in Colorado as far back as I was aware.

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, it was more uncommon to find someone who didn’t smoke than to find someone who did. Now Boulder is “nine square miles surrounded by reality,” as the saying goes, but I’ve lived up and down the front range and now in the mountains, and this attitude isn’t limited to Boulder. When someone in Colorado asks you if you smoke, they’re usually not talking about cigarettes.

Recreational Marijuana has changed little in Colorado. It’s unobtrusive and it’s convenient. It’s expensive. It matters more to the tourists than it does to the locals.

Marijuana tourism is a huge industry here in Colorado, and the shops have only been open for a year. Tourists are allowed to purchase marijuana products, but are restricted to a quarter of an ounce. Let me reassure you: if you are the type of person who is traveling to Colorado to buy your weed, a quarter of an ounce will be plenty.

A guide to marijuana tourism in Vail

  1. Marijuana is technically illegal to use on Vail Mountain and in the town of Vail
  2. There are no recreational marijuana shops in Vail
  3. Neither of these things present a significant challenge if you want to check out Colorado’s pot shops while you are on vacation in Vail.

Can international travelers buy marijuana in Colorado?

Yes. You must be over 21 with valid ID.

How do I purchase marijuana in Colorado?

It’s honestly nothing intimidating— about the same as purchasing beer at a liquor store. Upon entering the store, you will be required to show a valid driver’s license to prove you are over the age of 21. Recreational marijuana sales are limited to those above the age of 21. Those underage cannot even enter the stores.

Most stores won’t take down your information or put you into any sort of database, so you don’t have to worry about being tracked or entrapped or whatever else your paranoid mind will can come up with after you’ve indulged in a joint or two. I have not heard of any stores in the Vail Valley which take permanent customer records.

After your ID is verified, you may be asked to wait in a lobby if the store is busy, or you may be shown into the bud room. If you have to wait, the dispensary will usually have menus and educational material available for your perusal. I would suggest reading the edible education card, lest you end up like hapless NYT columnist Maureen Dowd.

Tips on edible dosage

Once you are allowed into the bud room, you will wait in line and eventually talk to a budtender at the counter. This person can educate you on the wide variety of marijuana products available. This selection can be a little overwhelming for some people. As a tourist, stay away from some of the more gimmicky products, such as lotions and bath soaks, as these can be both gimmicky and expensive. Pre-rolled joints and vaporizer pens are safe, simple choices.

Make sure to factor a 30 percent tax onto any prices which are told to you— this hefty tax rate is used to support Colorado schools and other public works. It is a huge part of how Amendment 64 got passed and is a necessary evil at this point.

Where can I buy legal weed in Vail?

The town of Vail has no recreational marijuana shops as of January 2015. However, there are several only five minutes down the road in nearby Eagle-Vail. Many tourists charter taxis over to the shops. Some shops, such as Native Roots in Eagle-Vail, have partnered directly with taxi companies to make things even easier.

The Eagle-Vail dispensaries are the closest to Vail Mountain, but there are many other options throughout the Vail Valley, including in Eagle and Edwards. There are also a few recreational pot shops in Glenwood Springs, if you fancy a soak in the world’s largest hot springs pool after a few days skiing on the mountain has worn out your legs.

steamy hot springs winter night Glenwood Springs Colorado

The Glenwood Hot Springs is only a one hour drive from Vail, and an excellent way to close out your trip

Weedmaps.com provides an interactive, searchable map and database of the shops in the Vail Valley area, as well as elsewhere around CO.

How do I pay for recreational marijuana?

Cash, credit or debit are accepted at most shops. If a shop is cash-only they will always provide an ATM. You should not need to worry about this aspect.

Can I make a late-night run for pot?

No. Colorado law requires all transactions at these recreational marijuana shops to be closed before 7:00 p.m. This means that you should arrive no later than 6:30— the shop cannot legally sell you anything after 7:00 p.m., even if you are waiting in line.

What is the price of recreational marijuana in Colorado?

You can expect to pay 10-15 dollars for a joint of good quality bud, with occasional discounts or specials available.

Edibles will generally run between 10 and 35 dollars, depending on the concentration of THC. For a casual user, a 10mg dose of THC is usually more than enough to get quite stoned. The strongest edible legally allowed in Colorado is a 100 mg package. Be sure to examine the packaging or ask the budtender about the strength of the edible you are purchasing.

Marijuana by weight tends to cost around $20 a gram and $50-70 for an eighth of an ounce. The price you may have paid in high school, if you were buying illegally. Marijuana in the Vail Valley is extra pricey, like almost everything else in the area. Side effect of so many affluent tourists coming through. Prices are somewhat lower in other areas of the state.

If you are from Colorado many places will offer a local’s discount or an exemption on sales tax, so be sure to ask about that.

You can peruse the menu of the Eagle Vail Native Roots dispensary online to get a more thorough picture of product pricing.

Can I fire up a joint on the chairlift?

Legally: no. Practically: yes. While marijuana consumption is technically illegal on ski resort property, no one is going to bother you about it unless you are being a jackass. Be considerate of other people and the fact that a ski resort is a family destination, and you should be fine.

Where can I smoke weed in Vail?

Technically, if you are a tourist staying in a hotel, nowhere. Smoking marijuana in public is still illegal under Colorado law, and there are no cafes or bars which allow the activity yet. (One cafe in Nederland does allow indoor smoking but Nederland is a town full of old hippies and I’m pretty sure local authorities are kind of just looking the other way on it). But, as I said in the previous section: if you are reasonably discreet and not causing a public nuisance, you generally will not be bothered. Vail wants your money too much to make harassing you a priority.

In 2014 Vail police handed out only 19 citations for public consumption of marijuana, roughly one point five a month. So again, let me emphasize: be considerate and discreet, and you should be fine. If you know a local, you can smoke in their place of residence.

Marijuana is part of the ski town culture in a lot of ways, so although Vail does not like to emphasize it, it is there and it is accessible.

(As are many other substances rich people often indulge in, but that’s a post for another day).

Can I take recreational marijuana home with me?

If you are flying back home, then no. If you try, you will get caught. Period.

If you drove to Colorado and plan on driving back to your home state, then you could try and risk it. Bringing recreational pot outside of Colorado is illegal, but as you can imagine it does happen. Cops and state patrol in neighboring states are quite aware of marijuana bleeding out of Colorado, so be extra careful to properly seal your products and follow all rules of the road. It’s not the smartest idea, but if you think it’s worth the risk you’re welcome to try. Just don’t say I told you to.

If you have any other questions you’d like answered, leave them in the comments. I’ll respond.