April 7, 2023 | SPORTS | By Pierce Sullivan
Dust and dirt flew up in the rearview, leaving a hazy trail wandering behind my truck. The smell of overworked ski socks and spilled beer oozed from the backseat. The pile of skis in the bed rattled as my tired truck rumbled over the wash boarded road. Waze’s estimated time to arrival was finally under 20 minutes, a welcome relief after the double-digit hours to arrival calculated at our morning departure.
At long last, buildings sprang up around us as my poor Ford Ranger, 3000 miles older than she had been the week prior and whose cheerful red paint was barely discernible under a thick coat of grime, pulled into Centennial, Wyoming: the home stretch to our destination.
This story begins 10 days prior, when a group of friends and I embarked on a “tour de ski” of sorts, working our way through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, with our only intention being skiing whenever and wherever we could. We managed to arc turns at nine different places, both in bounds and out, including some iconic stops such as Alta, Jackson Hole, Teton Pass, and Big Sky.
On the final night of the trip, our crew lounged around the dinner table in Driggs, Idaho. After hours of recapping deep turns and hefty slams, a revelation came to the surface: if we were to ski the next day, that would mean that we would have done so every day of the trip. It seemed to be the perfect ending to a trip that started with the mantra, “ski whenever, wherever.”
There were a handful of obstacles facing us. For starters, the 11-hour drive home the next day. The logistics of getting from Driggs, Idaho to Colorado Springs, Colo. before classes started in a mere 36 hours were not conducive to skiing.
This brings us to a moment even further back on the trip, a few days before, while skiing at Big Sky, Montana. I rode up on the lift with a skier who was a student at the University of Wyoming who was also up for spring break. During our lift ride conversation, he told me about Snowy Range, a tiny ski area, just past the small town of Centennial, Wyo., which at the time I figured I would never visit. With just about 1,000 vertical feet, a handful of trails, and outdated lifts and infrastructure, there would be no reason for me to leave the comfort and amenities of a large resort.
That was until we all sat around the table in Driggs. It just so happened that Snowy Range was on the way from Driggs back to Colorado Springs. “On the way” is a relative term, of course, on a 3,000-mile trip, but it was well within the margin of justification. The ski area – note how it is not a “resort” – was well out of distance to make it before lifts closed at 4:00 p.m., so we decided to skin up after hours.
Given ski areas’ notoriously strict uphill access policies, I called in advance to clarify, as no guidelines were posted online. When I reached customer service, I was informed that there was no policy; if you were out of the way, you were in the clear. In that moment, all I felt was relief that I wouldn’t have to pay some exorbitant price to power myself uphill.
My expectations for skiing at Snowy Range were low. With the late season, small ski area, and not a lot of terrain, the stars were not calling for great skiing, especially compared to the “world class” ski resorts I had just come from.
Oh, how I was wrong.
The best comparison to highlight the beauty of a place like Snowy Range was a previous stop on this rambling spring break road trip: Jackson Hole, Wyo. A resort often considered the pinnacle of ski culture worldwide and teeming with faux Bavarian buildings and exorbitantly priced chicken tenders, all in the shadow of the iconic red tram, Jackson Hole epitomizes what ski culture has become.
In contrast, Snowy Range boasted a pothole ridden dirt parking lot, rapidly turning into a mud pit in the spring sun, a cozy lodge, and a few janky lifts. During the skin up, patrollers coming down did not deride us for not having uphill passes and instead just supplied a friendly smile. The skiing was not anything remarkable, but the soft spring corn had me smiling from ear to ear.
Is the skiing at Jackson Hole objectively better? Without a doubt. Did I have more fun at Snowy Range? By a long shot.
My visit to Snowy Range brought me to question why this has become accepted as the status quo in skiing. The ski industry has seemingly reached a consensus that Jackson Hole is what the skiers want. That all these amenities will undoubtedly make skiing more fun and make skiers more likely to come back.
Snowy Range proved to me that you do not need all the luxuries that resorts now prioritize to make skiing fun. Perhaps it isn’t the sprawling base villages and bubble chairs that make skiing fun, but just the skiing itself.
Colorado has become the epicenter of this disease that is spreading throughout skiing. Specifically, the ski resorts on the Front Range, Copper, Keystone, Breckenridge, have all become corrupted by this rampant materialism. Even mountains like Arapahoe Basin, which is often considered the last frontier of authentic ski resorts in Colorado, have begun to cave.
Replacing the old triple lift with a high speed six-pack, charging for parking, restricting uphill access — these symptoms are spreading like wildfire across Colorado and beyond.
But places like Snowy Range can remind us that this is not what skiing is about. At the end of the day, it should be about getting outside and having fun with your friends: a way to let the little 12-year-old trapped inside free for a while.
But for some reason, we have come to accept this new form of skiing as the norm. The stress and animosity that surrounds these overdeveloped resorts is antithetical to what skiing should be.
It is on us to stop frequenting these mountains, and to remind ourselves that skiing is about having fun, nothing more.