A light snow fell from a soft blue sky. On a trail I had no business riding, I struggled to keep up with my father as his black jacket faded into the distance. The trees narrowed, a panic ensued. At a snail's pace I slipped into a clearing, and sunk deep into the untouched snow. I unstrapped my bindings and assessed the situation. No cell service, no map, and no idea where I was. In a circle I spun, attempting to find some sign of direction, but instead I found an overwhelming sense of calm. Unlike anything I’d ever experienced, there in a valley of snow, towered over by thick pines in every direction, all of my worries slipped away. At the mercy of nature, my high strung tendencies no longer seemed relevant.
Eventually, I hiked out of that clearing, and found my way to the chairlift, where my father was waiting for me, worried. Expecting to find me demoralized and angry, I could see the surprise on his face when I excitedly recounted my journey.
Over the years, my proficiency on a board has improved significantly, and seaking out places of solitude has become my favorite aspect of snowboarding. But as an instructor, and resident of Keystone Resort, I have yet to enjoy this mountain as I have so many others. Plagued by one of the worst snow years on record, and a seemingly constant horde of tourists, with each passing day, my mood toward this resort sours more. Part of the Vail Resorts family of mountains, I’ve found Keystone to be void of character and extremely commercial. From Starbucks coffee, that’s even more overpriced than usual ($5.50 for a black coffee), to a base area that was constructed to look historic, but really just looks like the set of some low budget western, this resort lacks even the slightest inkling of personality.
“Tyler, you ungrateful piece of shit, why can’t you just enjoy this opportunity!?” Well kind sir or madam, for the most part, I am enjoying it. I know, I’m filled with contradictions, and just days ago I published a blog about the importance of enjoying the moment, but the reason I’m writing isn’t to seek pity. No, really, I understand how lucky I am to live this lifestyle, and to call the mountains home, but I’m writing this to highlight the growing corporate and commercial movement in the ski and snowboard industry.
I grew up riding Wolf Creek, a relatively small ski area in the San Juan mountains of Southwestern Colorado. 30 minutes from the nearest town, and hours from any city, Wolf Creek was the epitome of what skiing used to be. With $45 lift tickets and just one small lodge at the base, the Wolf Creek experience was an authentic one. And while I never did get to enjoy the prized backcountry esc trails of the mountain’s left side, I always felt a way to connect with the wild nature of it all.
Amongst clashing bluetooth speakers that blare out electronic music, metal, or some other ego boosting junk, massive clouds of vape smoke, and the smell of PBR, at Keystone, and Vail’s other mega resorts, I often feel as if the spirit of skiing and snowboarding is largely overshadowed by all the evils of conformity.
Here it seems people are far more concerned with being seen, and looking cool, than connecting with the beautiful and humbling nature around them. Just minutes from one of the largest interstates in the country and only an hour from the the towering skyscrapers of Denver, Keystone often feels like an overused piece of land that once was something special.
Earlier today I took a walk along a trail that connects the resorts’ two main base areas, and inbetween magnificent stretches of forest I found beer cans, cigarette butts, and numerous other abuses of nature. Long before emerging to the second base, the sound of obnoxious shouting entered my ears, thus removing me from a peaceful experience.
In the past year Vail Resorts has acquired Whistler Blackomb, a prized Canadian Resort and Stowe Vermont, an east coast paradise, thus broadening its reach even further. A trend that began several years ago with the acquisition of Park City Resort, this movement toward a monopolized ski industry is one that is deeply troubling. Originally created as a means of expression, as a way to experience nature, and as an ultimate escape, I am now coming to understand first hand how seriously endangered skiing and snowboarding are today.