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Alta statesRick Kahl – know thyself

Rick Kahl -- know thyself

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As in — better than a new espresso machine but not as good as a full-service spa?

Don’t get bitchy, he says. It doesn’t suit you.

Essentially, explains Kahl, people are now importing their urban sensibilities to their chosen mountain settings. “And I don't think that’s going to change any time soon,” he adds. “These people appreciate the mountains almost as much as you do. They don't experience the mountains in the same way, but that doesn't mean they are any less committed to their mountain lifestyle. They have their own priorities, and the mountains are one of them. They will keep on coming.”

And they’ll continue to make an impact on ski town life. “Of course,” he says, “many mountain towns have become so urbanized that it has begun to erode the original attraction of the place. In some spots, there's not much of the original culture left, and sometimes, that's a real loss. But is their new culture less worthy than the original? That's a very hard question to answer. It seems to suit them fine.”

But Kahl doesn’t back away from the question. Au contraire. He has very strong views on the subject. “My own answer is that the growth has been mismanaged and misguided. We should have been able to incorporate this influx of visitors to the mountain without displacing the culture.”

He stops speaking. Mulls over exactly what he wants to say next. “The continent’s big destination resorts — from Aspen to Whistler, from Snowbird to Squaw — have all focused their efforts on the high end to the exclusion of everyone else, including the locals and ski bums who initially gave the resorts their character. And that’s caused all sorts of disconnects.”

In other words, he says, “it's OK to encourage wealthy folks to visit the mountains, and for resorts to cater to them. But was it necessary to squeeze out everyone else to do so? I don't think so, especially since it chased away some of the very people who gave resorts cachet in the first place. Not to mention the people who allow the resorts to operate…”

Sound familiar?

What I like most about Kahl, is that he’s not afraid to question his own bias. And he doesn’t disappoint here. “But that sort of criticism is way too easy to make,” he says. “Life is never ideal, and anyway, it's far too late to ask for a do-over. What's done is done. Where can we go from here to salvage the best possible future? That's the question that interests me.” He laughs. “And I don't have a clue what the answer is…”