Times stokes cloud of controversy over Breck pot vote

Breckenridge, the quaint Victorian mountain town at the base of the state’s most popular ski area, suddenly is known around the nation as the highest town in Colorado’s high country – and not at all because of its 9,600-foot elevation.

The largely symbolic Nov. 3 vote that decriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by a whopping 71 to 29 percent margin has made Breck the de facto kind capital of Colorado ski country, which has some visitors canceling trips and some business owners freaking out.

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The New York Times, the news source for one of Colorado’s top domestic destination markets, last week took note of the refer madness, quoting Breckenridge Resort Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Carly Grimes trying to quell the anxieties of vacationing families. Grimes promised, “This is not going to become a little Amsterdam.”

Yeah, too high and dry for all those canals.

Vail Resorts, which owns and operates Breckenridge ski area, chimed in by assuring guests that the ski company reserves the right to test lift operators if they appear stoned, and that employees are trained to be “hyper-vigilant” to watch for people skiing stoned or drunk.

At one time, back before the Great Recession, Vail Resorts even had a mandatory drug-testing policy for new hires, as well as a grooming policy (for hair, not snow) to keep things neat around the edges. Both were dropped when the Great American Ski Bum became extinct during the economic boom of the 1990s and resorts were having a hard time finding lifties from the U.S.

Breck – an old mining town with a reputation as one of the best snowboarding and freestyle venues in Colorado – is no stranger to controversy over keeping the party going off the slopes. In 2002, Vail Resorts eventually had to pull a national ad campaign that told snow riders, “The hill may dominate you. But the town will still be your bitch.”

Blood-bucket (slang term for a ski patrol toboggan) chasing Denver attorney James H. Chalat, told the New York Times that marijuana had only been a factor in one skier-on-skier collision out of the hundreds of cases he’s litigated over nearly 30 years. Alcohol, perfectly legal to quaff at any mid-mountain restaurant, has been a factor many times, he told the Times.

“If somebody is stoned, that’s not helpful,” Chalat said. “It’s a dumb thing.”

Look for things to get a lot more dumb in Colorado’s high country, though, if a grass-roots group called Sensible Colorado gets its way in coming elections. The group, which backed the Breck vote, knows where its base of support lies.

According to the Aspen Daily News, 12 counties along the Continental Divide (plus Denver and Boulder) with some of the state’s more liberal ski towns supported Amendment 44 in 2006 – an unsuccessful statewide bid to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of pot for anyone over 21.

Sensible Colorado is now targeting many of those communities for Breck-style “Legalize It” campaigns.

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