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I am not going to write about the Squaw Valley Development in this column

You’re welcome. Or, I’m sorry? I don’t know.
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*Correction: The Alpine Initiatives website at the bottom of this story was incorreclty linked. The working link is alpineinitiatives.org/

MUTE GRABS

By MIKE ROGGE  |  Moonshine Ink

What I do know is, I’m naming this column Mute Grabs. For one, there is a gap in the conversations I’m having in the North Lake Tahoe region. We presume, wrongfully, several aspects of ski town life — that ski area management, development, and marketing are for us or against us, that one is either a local or tourist, a core skier legend or a Jerry-of-the-Day gaper. Reality, where I hope this column lives, is more grey bird than anything.

Over the next several months we’ll look at outside examples of just how life in a ski town really is for our snow brothers and sisters in dirtbag cultural centers abroad, near, and far. I won’t be telling you how to think, but rather hope you will do so from a different perspective.

Secondly, this column owes its name in part to the fact that mute grabs are cool. Try one. Google J.F. Cusson. If you don’t know that name, he taught Jonny Moseley the 360 mute grab two months before the 1998 Winter Olympics. Thirdly, you’ll learn something, like you did in the previous sentence. How valuable that information is, I have no idea. After all, you’re the one who chose to live in a ski town and read a ski town column. Who knows. Maybe you’ll win the Olympics. I don’t know.

Ski towns change. That, I also know. It’s inevitable and there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop progress. To better understand this line of thinking, I called up my friend Mark Shapiro. Approaching 70, Mark’s lived in and around Verbier, Switzerland, for five decades. He’s been a front row witness to the beginning of le ski extreme several years before the film Blizzard of Ahhhs was released.

Mark is widely accepted as ski photography’s godfather and the first photographer living in Europe to have his images published in Powder. His work inspired the journeys of North American hardcore skiers to the Alps in their quest for adventure and powder snow. Through his lens, Mark captured the beginnings of the proper ski bum culture in the Clambin neighborhood of Verbier that is disseminated and celebrated throughout the world today.

During his decades in Verbier, Mark watched the ski area that transformed him change into a destination resort and eventually into whatever it is when you pay $100 for a pizza, as I did several years ago. It was the cheapest option, and not very good, for the record.

Mark’s a gregarious man with a deep baritone voice. Hearing him speak about ski bum culture is like listening to Newton discuss gravity. His perspective is informed by experience.

“You start out young,” says Mark. “You’re full of piss and vinegar, skiing your brains out every day, [partying] every night, hoping to get laid. And then time moves on. These places become popular with more than just a ski crowd. Most of the ski bums in Switzerland are trust funders slumming for a winter … and I couldn’t care less.”

Mark’s lack of concern is born of focus rather than jaded localism. He’s skied 47 years of great lines, he tells me, and has very little regrets. Ski bumming, after all, is about skiing. And if you’re not doing that, then what are you doing in a ski town?

“I can’t get angry [with development and change],” he says. “Time moves on. Resorts get bigger. The resorts are going the way they’re going. You just have to accept it as it is. It’s not unique to any one place. Try and do your best to deal with it. Life’s not so bad.”

As our own community wrestles with its future, the solutions we put forth perhaps matter less than the manner in which we do so. In other words, chill out. Don’t stay silent, but don’t go screaming. Find your line. Mark’s watched Verbier change, yet has no regrets. He’s kept his focus and kept on skiing. And that’s about the only thing in the future we can control.

In lieu of compensation, Moonshine Ink will donate Mr. Rogge’s word rate to the nonprofit Alpine Initiatives at his request. To learn more, please click in to alpineinitatives.org alpineinitiatives.org.

 
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March 10, 2017