“Character can’t be manufactured. It grows out
of the people who frequent and live at your resort.”
– Rick Kahl. 2008
I’m going off again about
dysfunctional ski towns and broken social contracts and skewed cultural
imperatives when Rick Kahl finally interrupts.
“Aren’t you supposed to be asking
questions?” A friend and colleague since the
early 1990s, the 56-year-old editor of Ski Area Management Magazine has known
me long enough not to get sidetracked by my rhetoric. He smiles. Tries to
soften the blow. “Sorry — I mean, but wasn’t that supposed to be the
point of our conversation today…”
. So I try to shut my yap. After all, the guy
has just returned from the National Ski Area Association’s annual meeting in
San Francisco. And I know the shrewd-eyed Kahl will have insightful things to
say about the gathering of North America’s 500+ ski and snowboard areas.
Besides, a lifelong student of the game (he was top man at SKIING for many
years prior to his gig at SAM), Kahl always manages to reduce what appear to be
complex questions into simple, digestible issues. As long as I let him talk, of
course. For the soft-spoken Boulder resident isn’t the kind to compete for
“So tell me then: what’s
your take on the state of the modern ski town?” I ask. And then: “Are you
optimistic about the future?
Kahl smiles. “Well since
you asked… First of all, I agree with you that ski towns are undergoing
profound changes right now. And I also agree that not all these changes are
positive ones.” He takes a deep breath. Continues. “You see, I believe that the
mountains are the overwhelming, dominant feature of mountain-town life. They
are the source of a town's character. Would Aspen ever have come into existence
if it were at the base of a mountain like Buttermilk instead of Ajax? Or at,
say, Keystone? No. It was the mountain that defined the town. Ditto Sun Valley,
Whistler, lots of places…”
But times change, says
Kahl. Ski towns aren’t quite so isolated from the mainstream as they once were.
“Today, people don't have to decide to live in the mountains or in the city.
More and more of them can live in both. And yes, some of these newcomers do
indeed consider the mountain as just another amenity.”