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They are proliferating now at almost the same frenetic pace that once introduced fast-food eateries and all-night laundromats. Find a hill with a dependable blanket of snow (or maybe a winter's worth of icy boiler plate) and a passable road nearby, and you will find men willing to sink their money, their teeth and their dreams into it. They will erect stanchions on the steeps, string up lift lines, hang seats, park cars, install a ski school bell, a row of flush toilets, a supply of radar-baked cheeseburgers, a cash register and—lo!—the world is presented with still another fabulous new ski resort.
It has come to seem almost like Richard Brautigan's The Cleveland Wrecking Yard, where complete surplus environments were scrapped and put up for cheap sale and fast assembly:
"...The waterfalls all had price tags on them. They were more expensive than the stream. The waterfalls were selling for $19.00 a foot.... I was very curious about the trout stream.... Oh, I had never in my life seen anything like that trout stream. It was stacked in piles of various lengths: ten, fifteen, twenty feet, etc. There was one pile of hundred-foot lengths. There was also a box of scraps...odd sizes ranging from six inches to a couple of feet...."
Well, perhaps it has not come to that yet. The hills, trails and frills of American ski resorts do not come precut or precast in hundred-foot lengths. Nor do they come cheap. Nor do they come easy. But they are coming very quickly.
The past couple of years and this new season of '72 have seen a whole grand coast-to-coast wrecking yard full of American resorts launched, each with its own high hopes—and high promise of being, somehow, something special. And how does one choose?
High in the Rockies of Colorado are the burgeoning $6 million Keystone Mountain, owned by the Ralston Purina folks; intimate Crested Butte, named after a mining town two miles south of the peak; lovely unfinished Telluride, also an oldtime mining settlement; and big, ambitious, $12 million Copper Mountain—which opens this year with no less than 25 trails and a three-story glass restaurant with a 60-mile view. North of Denver is cute little Sharktooth with one slope, one wire-rope tow, one warming hut and all of its runs under floodlights at night.
Or there is Maine, with struggling Evergreen Valley, once dreamed of as a $40 million wonderland but now merely a $4.5 million area with three lifts and legal troubles. And there is Burnt Meadows Mountain, two tow lifts and three trails spread daintily over acreage that was turned to ashes and stumps in a 1947 forest fire. In New Hampshire is Onset Ski Area on Crotched Mountain near Bennington, and there on the Oscar Rosebrook Range will be Bretton Woods, a modest little spot for bunnies, which its developers are pitching as a mountain designed with an eye to "broad lateral scope" rather than trying for "the greatest vertical drop in the East." Outside Spokane is 49 Degrees North, as the new ski resort at Chewelah Mountain is called, with three chair lifts (the longest 6,900 feet with a vertical drop of 1,850) and over near Harrisonburg, Va., suh, is Massanutten, four chair lifts in the mild old Shenandoah Valley hills (maximum drop 795 feet), a mere two hours from Washington, D.C. Up in New Jersey is the Playboy Club's Great Gorge area (a B-cup mountain if there ever was one) and there in Pennsylvania is tough little Jack Frost Mountain, a hardy hill that joins with the Poconos' venerable and respected Big Boulder area, now a quarter of a century old. And in California, where Mineral King still has all of its Disney-sized ideas beached in the courts and Squaw Valley has been nipped by the black frost of bankruptcy, there are still brave new resorts in bloom. Notably, there is Northstar-at-Tahoe, which plans a $100 million showplace eventually but opens this year with a lot less (10 miles of trails and five lifts), and Kirkwood, which figures on a $60 million facility someday but opens now with six condominiums, a day lodge, 14 trails and four chair lifts.
The ski resort boom is deafening and it is possible—though not probable—that it has yet to reach a fortissimo. There could be much more to come, but there are those who say that the bull market in ski resorts is already fading. It is true that there is a sharply diminished supply of accessible mountain land for ski trails and facilities. It also is true that the Federal Government, which has leasing rights to a huge majority of America's mountain lands, is becoming more and more reluctant to allow lovely wild areas to be used for further commercial development and private profit. Then, too, there is an ever more dedicated—and rapidly growing—legion of devout conservationists and ecology evangelists who believe more ski areas are a desecration of the wilderness. They are not entirely wrong; certainly the U.S. is nearing the point where the life expectancy of a golden eagle and the well-being of an aspen grove are issues more critical than the installation of still another hundred miles of ski trails. This is particularly true considering the inevitable bulldozer destruction and mountain upheaval that come with the arrival of the roads, heavy traffic, sewage lines, parking lots and all-round environment-busting stuff required by a respectable profit-making ski resort.
Still, the new plethora of mountains polished and hillsides groomed for skiing has produced at least a few admirable specimens of really tasteful architecture and genuine concern for nature-blended planning. None, so far, quite matches the resort that has happened—and is still happening—in lovely, winding Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountain range 25 miles above Salt Lake City, Utah.
The place is called Snowbird. It is named for a little, unheralded silver-mining claim (which proved to be silverless), one of hundreds of such claims that cut a vast patchwork of hopes and scars across the mountainsides 100 years ago. In summer one still can see an occasional rusted one-track, one-man rail line laid along the slopes of Snowbird—and beneath the surface there is still a honeycomb of mine shafts and tunnels where men once burrowed for riches. Some found it: in all, about $37 million worth of ore was packed and chipped and tunneled out of the sides of Little Cottonwood Canyon.