Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental Movement

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Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental Movement
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Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental Movement
Whiteside, James
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental Movement | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 9:38:11 AM] Home Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental MovementColorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental MovementSubmitted by nwharton on 1-8-2013 07:33 AMAuthor: Michael W. Childers Publishing: KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 234 pages. Black-and-white photos, map, index, bibliography, notes. 6 x 9. $34.95 paperback. Reviewer: James Whiteside Environmental history and the history of sports are useful perspectives for investigating a wide array of political, economic, social, and cultural topics. Michael W. Childers ably combines both genres in Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and the Environmental Movement Childerss mise-en-scne is the 1998 arson that destroyed six buildings at the Vail ski resort, built for the resorts expansion onto previously undeveloped national forest land. The attack marked a significant turning point in a struggle pitting ski resort owners and the U.S. Forest Service, seeking to maximize development of the Colorado ski industry, against an increasingly vocal environmental movement. Childers traces the history of skiing in Colorado from the nineteenth century, when skis provided an important mode of transportation in snowbound mountain areas, to the early twenty-first century when massive resorts owned by a handful of corporations constituted one of the states major industries. As it grew, the industry encountered few serious obstacles, enjoying a generally accommodating partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, the agency in charge of the lands on which it built. Local and state governments also saw in commercial skiing the promise of economic growth and increased tax revenue. Until the 1970s very few people worried about the environmental consequences of ski resort construction and expansion, though an early symptom of environmental resistance appeared in the 1960s when mountain communities, environmentalists, and outdoor sports groups opposed routing Interstate 70, linking the resorts to Denver, through a wilderness area (cost considerations proved more decisive in changing the proposed route). Colorados political environment seemed to change after the International Olympic Committee in 1970 awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics to the state. Colorados business community and state government assumed that the public would be as enthusiastic about the Olympics as they were. That proved not to be the case as Olympics planners stumbled badly from the outset, arrogantly brushing aside community and environmental concerns about the games impacts. Opponents organized quickly and effectively, placing an initiative on the 1972 ballot banning the use of public funds for the Olympics. Passage of the initiative ended the chances of the 1976 Olympics being staged in Colorado and the International Olympic Committee moved the event to Innsbruck, Austria. Despite the apparent setback of the anti-Olympics vote, the ski industry continued to expand with little serious opposition. After all, as Childers shows, the decisive argument against the Olympics was the potential cost to taxpayers, not environmental concerns. As the industry pursued plans to expand into new EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWithin Colorado boundaries are lands once claimed by Spanish kings and Mexican governors.


Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and The Environmental Movement | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 9:38:11 AM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us areas, such as Vails Beaver Creek project, local communities, concerned with environmental and social impacts, raised objections. However, the U.S. Forest Service, the key agency in the expansion process, continued its policy of abetting ski area expansion and acknowledged no responsibility for impacts of development outside lands under its jurisdiction. Environmentalists and state and local government succeeded only in getting the industry to adopt some green policies and practicesoften largely symbolic and doing little or nothing to hinder profits. The industry continued to get its way with expansion plans frustrating some environmentalists, a small number of whom began to adopt extreme tactics to stop what they saw as unhindered environmental spoliation in the name of profits. Among them were the arsonists who attacked Vail in 1998. But the Vail arson backfired on the environmental movement. The ski areas owners cast themselves as victims of domestic terrorism, a view readily backed by law enforcement agencies and the press. In the end, the attack on Vail only helped the resort, and the rest of the industry, to implement expansion plans. Childerss study of this complex and fascinating history is backed by solid research in archival and manuscript sources and relevant literature. However, his generally sure-footed narrative is marred by a couple of minor errors. In the 1972 election, he has Democrat Patricia Schroeder defeating Republican U.S. Senator Gordon Allott for Denvers seat in Congress (94). Schroeder actually defeated incumbent Mike McKevitt. In his discussion of a proposed ski area at Marble, Childers says the areas famous quarry, which supplied stone for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, closed its doors for the final time after World War Two (98). In fact, the quarry has opened and closed several times since 1945 and currently is operating under Italian ownership ( accessed December 18, 2012). These are minor errors, detracting only slightly from Childerss important and useful study. Scholars and others interested in the history of skiing, and those interested in the complex history of environmental politics in the American West, will want to add Colorado Powder Keg to their reading list. Reviewer Info: James Whiteside, a retired University of Colorado Denver history professor and lifelong Colorado resident, is the author of Colorado: A Sports History (1999).