Dreaming this Christmas of stimulus powder

For all of those grumbling about the President Obama’s wasteful stimulus spending on wine trains and golf courses, the Colorado Springs Gazette reminds us today that we have the New Deal to thank for at least two of Colorado’s ski resorts: Wolf Creek, and Monarch.

Monarch Mountain (Flickr, zachd1 618)
Monarch Mountain (Flickr, zachd1 618)

In 1939 — the year all three ski areas were born — the Great Depression had pushed the state’s biggest industries, agriculture and mining, into the dumps. The government was searching for ways to jump-start the anemic economy and give people work. Almost anything was on the table.

And so, when a growing number of ski fanatics suggested that, with a little help, they could turn the new sport into “white gold” that would attract millions in tourist dollars to Colorado, state leaders were eager to help.

According to the article, in 1939, the town of Salida pitched the Works Progress Administration on a rope tow and shelter house for a steep run called Gun Barrel—to the tune of $26,406.

“Gun Barrel was legendary for how steep it was,” said [Duane] Vandenbusche. “Few people made it down standing.”

[Wally] Koster said there were no safety precautions on the rope tow except a sign at the top reading “Let go or else!”

Meanwhile, skiing was growing increasingly popular at Wolf Creek, thanks to a Colorado Department of Transportation decision to keep Wolf Creek pass plowed. In 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a shelter cabin on the hill, which acted as a lodge.

The Forest Service would not allow anyone to sell snacks in the lodge, so a man from the San Luis Valley set up a grill outside and passed burgers and soda pop through a window.

It almost kind of makes you think that Warren Miller may have been right. Writing for New West last February, he bemoaned the $650 million earmarked to help Americans switch from analog television sets to digital—and suggested instead that the money should be used to get Americans out and skiing.

I have written before about this simple idea to get more people skiing, but now everyone would be doing their patriotic chore while getting their friends to learn an entirely new sport. The skis do not have to be the high-tech $800 model, but something with a lot of side cut so they turn easily and hang on to the manmade snow; like a mountain goat on an icy rock. This $650 million being spent on ski equipment could create about 200 million more winter sport enthusiasts. Instead of the new communicable virus that has just been discovered called the “obesity virus,” the newest disease would be the “sunburned gums from smiling and aching muscle virus.”

Imagine if [a] company could manufacture a ski that would only last for three seasons, instead of the 15 or 20 seasons that they now last, and retail at under $150 with bindings. Use federal bailout funds to supply every ski resort in America with 200 pair of these skis, plastic ski boots and poles and make them available for only $10 a day including the lift ticket. The only catch would be that they could only be used on the beginner’s chairlift. Everything would be color coordinated: lift towers, skis and boots. In today’s depressed economy you could easily convince some friends to take up the sport for $10 a day instead of the more than $100 a day it now costs.

You’ve got at least a few days off now—so get out there, do your patriotic duty, and take some turns!

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