Author questions ski resort impacts
“Downhill Slide” by Hal Clifford
“Downhill Slide” poses an interesting and thought-provoking question: Will national and international corporate ownership of ski resorts result in the destruction of the environmental and community values that make those resorts a special place?
The book points out quite accurately the economics. Small ski resorts previously under family or small business ownership are being acquired by a few large corporations due to market forces. The capital requirements of operating a contemporary ski resort cannot be met through the sale of lift tickets alone. Generating sufficient revenue to be profitable requires the resorts to go into retail sales and real estate development. Those developments, the logic goes, irrevocably change the environment and nature of the community.
From the author’s point of view, no good comes from any of this. Development destroys the environment, the increase in real estate values means that there is no affordable work force housing, and the resort experience becomes a series of homogenized Disneyland-style complexes which are disconnected from the residents.
While there is substance to that argument, it ignores an inescapable fact. To be successful today, resort communities must provide the visitor with an experience that they enjoy and makes them want to return. The integral components of that experience – recreating, dining, and shopping in a convenient and remarkable way – requires the very types of amenities “Downhill Slide” decries.
Lake Tahoe has seen, and continues to see, its share of this phenomenon, although in a different way and at a slower pace than other resorts due to its regulatory structure. And, like the other resort communities, Lake Tahoe is seeking solutions which recognize that for them the economy and the environment are not mutually exclusive – they are the same thing.
Finding such solutions will not be easy, but ignoring the issues is simply not an option. The author believes they do not exist and that only a return to small business/community based ownership of ski resorts will prevent disaster.
On that point we disagree. Communities can create their own destiny when they have achieved general agreement on what it looks like.
While that may mean going “back to the future,” there are other options that recognize market forces, community values and respect for the environment.
The Lake Tahoe community, on more than one occasion, has accomplished things the conventional wisdom had long deemed impossible. If the fears of the author of “Downhill Slide” is to be proven wrong, the same type of extraordinary effort will again be required.
The Pathway 2007 process to update the various Lake Tahoe regional plans is now under way. The results will set the course of events at the lake for the next 20 years. A “Downhill Slide” does not need to be the end result. The points the book makes, however, are deserving of consideration as the process unfolds.
-Dennis Crabb is a member of the South Lake Tahoe Branch Library Friends of the Library.