Sunday, November 6, 2011

What is to become of the small ski hills?

What is to become of "mom-and-pop" ski hills like Kelly Canyon? Everybody is scratching their heads over the owners' decision this year to close the hill on Sunday. I haven't talked to them, but I thought about this while reading a story today in the New York Times on Snow King in Jackson, Wyo. (A link is posted below.)

Once again, we seem to be in the position of losing something we love but don't have enough desire to save. I think about where so many people of my generation, including my wife, learned to ski -- Pine Basin -- and the KIFI Ski School, which sent buses there. Started by men who'd learned to ski in World War II, the ski school gave thousands of kids the opportunity to learn a lifetime sport at very little cost.


Nine or 10 years ago, I'd been to Kelly Canyon with my son, Bill, on a Sunday afternoon after church. I'd noticed on the map that the vertical relief at Kelly was 975 feet. No great shakes compared to Jackson Hole, Sun Valley or even Grand Targhee, right?

Everything is relative. I grew up in Delaware, the second flattest state in the nation (Florida is first), and remember going to the Poconos to ski. Of all the resorts in eastern Pennsylvania, there was one revered above all others: Camelback.

Out of curiosity, the day after our Kelly trip I called Camelback  to ask how tall their mountain is. The answer was 800 feet. Yes, the hill that students from Brandywine High School would ride four-and-a-half hours on a bus to ski is smaller than one a half-hour from my home in Idaho Falls.

The economics of ski resorts today are more about real estate than they are about recreation, which for all its glamor is essentially an expensive add-on. I was interested to see the Times article put Grand Targhee in the same class as Jackson Hole, because I think it occupies a no-man's land between hills like Kelly and the bigger resorts.

It's easy to say we need to put our money where our mouth is if we want to save one of the things that has made living in the West such a great thing. But the day could be coming, and soon.

Jackson, Wyo., with Snow King in the background (Photo
David Swift for The New York Times)