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Should Denver’s Big Air Be Free? 27 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Economics, Skiing.
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It’s not often that I find at topic at the intersection of skiing and economics. In fact, this might well be the first time. But here we are. I hope you’re as excited as I am. Anyway. As you may have seen on some network (I don’t know which one it was), over the course of the last two days Denver hosted America’s first municipal ski and snowboard Big Air competition. No US city had attempted anything like it, much less pulled in an FIS World Cup event–the kind reserved for places like Aspen or Innsbruck.

Denver, though, dumped money into the project, erecting a 106′ ramp in the middle of Civic Center Park, a downtown icon between the capitol and Denver’s city and county building. Copper Mountain provided the machines and crews to make (literally) tons of snow. Skiers and riders competed for thousands of cheering fans. Switchfoot played.

Thing was, Denver charged for it. General admission tickets for the viewing area went for $45. VIP passes, which included dinner and drinks, set visitors back up to $200. Fine, you might say, but in a front page story in the Denver Post, some folks in Denver howled about this misuse of a public space. After all, parks were public, they said. Here’s Larry Ambrose, c0-chairman of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation Parks and Recreation Committee:

“It would be much better if it was free. I am not sure our parks should be venues. . . . I don’t want to say it’s a terrible idea. It’s a little silly. If it were free, it might be acceptable.”

His concern about using parks as venues holds merit. Why not use Mile High instead? But it only makes sense that a city pursuing the Olympics might demonstrate its public snowsports chops by hosting an event like the Big Air. It becomes a civic undertaking and a matter of civic pride: Denver demonstrated to America that is could plan, support and draw crowds to a ski and snowboard competition–when no one else had even tried. I suspect it will appear as a bullet point in Denver’s Olympic resume, but I’m a poor judge of those sorts of subjective things.

I know better the economics of the situation, and I know when things ought to be free. Denver’s Big Air didn’t qualify. Consider the essential argument these folks employed in advocating for a free event: public spaces should be available for free to all, parks are public spaces, and therefore the event should be open to the public, free of charge. But why should we agree with the first premise? In fact, in all fairness to Denver taxpayers, events in the city’s parks should not necessarily be free, especially when they draw visitors from other towns as this one almost assuredly did.

Consider what’s fair in this situation. While Denver residents do indeed support city parks and common spaces with their tax dollars, the money needed to host the Big Air comp went above and beyond that level support–the level generally agreeable to voters. To raise the additional money, Denver sold sponsorships and tickets to willing participants, leaving taxpayers (mostly) off the hook for the production’s expense. That is, the people and businesses who wanted to be a part of the event were the ones asked to pay for it. Sound fair? If you think not, then consider the alternative: Denver’s half-million taxpayers supporting an event that the vast majority of them would never see. That’s the alternative.

There are, of course, situations in which it makes sense for governments to provide services for their citizens without making direct charges. In economic parlance, those are called “public goods.” To qualify, the good must be non-excludable and non-rival. But that likely means nothing to you. In real english, we’re saying that the government ought to provide a good where there’s no reasonable way of excluding people from consuming the it and that when one person does consume the good, it doesn’t harm another person’s ability to do so.

Take the example of a fireworks show. You can’t really stop people from seeing fireworks, unless maybe you’re Ted Turner and you set them off in the middle of your 10,000-acre ranch. And when one person sees the show, it doesn’t really take away from another person’s experience. For a private company, those two facts equate to a certain conclusion: no way to make money. How can you charge for an event that people will still see for free anyway? Without governments, resorts and theme parks, there would be no fireworks. The world would be a sadder, though nicer-smelling, place. For the exact opposite, consider a Snickers bar: you can keep people from buying by sticking it inside a vending machine, and when I eat, there’s not a Snickers bar left for you. Too bad for you, but good for the economy.

So back to Big Air. In an economically perfect world, the government would have left the event up to a private company. It would have taken place at Ilitch’s or Mile High or some other private venue. But for the reasons discussed earlier, our civic ego demanded government, not private, action. And from there on out, Denver handled the event as the private sector would have. They sought sponsorships. They charged for tickets to provide the service, using market tools to best allocate resources. They went to Groupon. And though you may not believe me, those solutions work. They provide the greatest total benefit to the consumers and producers, in this case the city and the attendees.

So “public” is not synonymous with “free,” nor should it be. Denver’s Big Air was worth the price.


Vail Powder 23 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing.
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The Colorado Pass, one of the Vail Resorts’ several ridiculously low-priced pass products, gives skiers and riders unlimited access to A-Basin, Breck and Keystone–but not Vail. Of course not Vail, because on any given day, that’s exactly where you want to go. Forget the two hour drive. Forget the white-knuckle grip over Loveland and Vail Passes. Forget all that because Vail really is “Like Nothing on Earth.” I’ve said that before, and I don’t mind saying it again, even though I know Alta and Jackson Hole are probably like nothing on earth either. They’re both a ways from Denver, so we get Vail. And face shots.

Instead of writing this week, I’ve spent my blogging time editing my first ski video. The product is still a little rough, but as I learn to use the helmet cam a little better, and as I get the opportunity to ski some steeper stuff on a bluebird day, the videos will get better, too. So here’s the first shot at it:

No blog till Sunday 20 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Self, Skiing.
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I’m out a reliable computer for the time being (wires sticking out of the power cord never result in anything good), so no blog until Sunday, at which point a promise… VIDEOS! Ooooohh…. ahhh… Vail’s received about a bajillion feet of snow in the last week, and I was lucky enough to take a day off on Wednesday to enjoy mandatory face shots. Should get some more snow Saturday, too, but until then, just a little snowfall to get you ready:

Backcountry Jacket Sale? 18 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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I see Backcountry.com is rolling out their best sales of the season right about now.

At least they’re honest about the discount.

Five Ways to Become a Better Skier 13 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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When I first started thinking about this topic, I figured everyone on earth had already done it. But no. Google, sole arbiter of  popularity for all things, indicates that not many folks are writing about how you can become a better skier. For shame, rest of the internet, for shame. I’m not a ski instructor, but I do have a blog, and I ski a lot, so I’ll try to help. Read-on, middling skier, and discover how you can break from mediocrity–and have more fun on the mountain.

1. Ski with Better Skiers

You’ll never improve if you avoid pushing yourself. And without other, better folks around to prod you a little bit, I doubt you’ll find much motivation to get better. After all, when you’re beating all your friends down the hill on the blues, why tackle the blacks when no one will follow you? If you’re already a blue skier, find a few other friends—the guys you know who spend the weekend hitting the moguls or searching for face shots—and catch a ride up with them.

Chances are, they won’t mind your tagging along and taking a little more time to get down the hill, unless it’s a powder day, in which case, you’ll be told to meet them later on at the bar. But on an average weekend, heading out with folks who look just a little better on the slopes will show you what’s possible, and you’ll likely get a few pointers, too. If you’ve always been first down the mountain, now you’ll play catch up, and you’ll find that the new challenges helps re-focus your effort. When you go back to skiing with your other buddies after a few weeks, you’ll notice just how much simpler the old slopes have become.

One note, though: when choosing a new ski group, look for folks skiing a level above you. So if you’re comfortable on greens, find guys (and gals) who like blues, but not blacks. Or if you like the blues already, shoot for a group that does diamonds on occasion but doesn’t venture into double-diamond EX terrain or other foolishness. Know your limits. When the divide grows too large, both sides end up frustrated and neither gets much out of the relationship. So don’t be afraid to ask where your friends like to ski; they don’t want to be slowed down anymore than you want to get in over your head.

2. Take a lesson

Okay. Maybe that seems obvious to you. But I hope it doesn’t. I hope you the $100-plus price tag (plus tip, of course) has always made you think twice about listening to some other dude tell you how poorly you ski. I promise you it’s worth it, however. Ten times over I promise you, because whenever you ask your friends, they’ll lie. Your friends simply cannot objectively assess your skiing in the way an instructor can, so take the time to spend a day with a group of six or eight, and figure out what it is that’s keeping you from tackling more challenging terrain. Maybe it’s fear. The fundamentals are there, but you don’t realize it. Maybe you’re like that guy who points his entire body in the direction he intends to do. Whatever the cause, an instructor can help you identify it, and you’ll become a better skier for it. I know I did, and I was skiing nearly every day last year. And yes, you’ll certainly wait around a little, wasting time you could be skiing, but good instruction will compensate you for that downtime.

Another note: if your significant other can offer ski-school quality instruction, don’t take it. Don’t ever take it. Using a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse as instructor inevitably ends in a ruined day. “He’ll teach me,” you think, imagining  a white knight saving you from each fall and acting as your shield against the careening masses. In reality, he’ll be yelling, “Turn! No! I mean now! Like this! No! ” And you will hate him forever. No amount of beer bought at the end of the day will quench your thirst for retribution.

3. Try a few more difficult runs each time you ski

Falling doesn’t suck. In fact, it demonstrates that you’re challenging yourself, and it gives the folks on the lift a good laugh. But don’t think about that. Remember the first time you skied the bunny slope, the terror you felt at how steep it was? And then you realized that falling didn’t hurt nearly as much as you thought it would. The same holds true now that you’re skiing blues and easy blacks. The same principals apply no matter the terrain; you just need to move up incrementally, so make sure that you’re skiing slightly outside your ability on a few runs each day. Not out of control, mind you, just a little outside your perceived ability. Eventually, you’ll feel your comfort growing on that terrain, and don’t let your falls deter you. Everything seemed steep at one point, and as your comfort level grows, you’ll return to the same blues you used to ski and wonder, “How did I ever consider this scary?” It’s a good feeling.

4. Get fit

This one ought to seem obvious, too, but skiing takes a lot of effort. If you’re carrying around too little muscle and too much fat, you’re going to find skiing a difficult endeavor. Sure, plenty of husky guys shred day in and day out, but are you one of them? If not, you’ll need to assess your overall fitness level. Jumping on a bike now and then or taking on a weightlifting regimen will pay off on the mountain. When you wear out, you get sloppy, and if you love skiing and can only make it up on the weekends, getting sloppy after five runs can’t be a good use of your time. Yes, better technique will give you greater efficiency—less effort on any given run—but when you’re not longer exerting yourself because of poor form, you can use energy to go faster, tackle moguls more ambitiously, or to try more ambitious powder runs. You can use all the energy you have, so figure out the right cardiovascular activity that helps build your stamina for the slopes—whether that’s more skiing, biking, jogging or Zoomba-ing doesn’t matter. When you get up on the hill, you want to be ready, not afraid that you’ll head for the lodge at noon.

5. Invest in good equipment

No matter what you might think, it’s not all about you. Yes, in any given situation on the mountain, it’s probably about you, but if you’re still hanging out in the rear-entry boots (see the photo at the top of this post) you found at a garage sale, then you need to consider investing in something a little better. Boots that fit poorly and skis your grandmother gave you won’t allow to take proper advantage of the mountain. Maybe that’s stretching it a bit, though. Anyone who touts any skis other than the Volkl Mantra as “all-mountain” is probably lying, and you’d do well to explore the other options available. With skis too narrow, you’ll find it more difficult than necessary to float through powder. With skis too short, you’ll chatter at high speeds. And with skis too stiff, you’ll see that moguls will exact a mighty penance.

Think about that, and then consider that boots, too, will play an outsized role in your performance on the mountain. Performance always comes as a trade against comfort, and if your feet and calves are sloshing around in your boots, chance are, your skis don’t feel very responsive either. If you ski more than 10 or 15 days in a year, then you owe it to yourself to visit a proper ski shop to get a set-up that fits your needs and wants.


Twenty-Something Journals: Life-Changing Events. Or are they? 6 January 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Random, Self.
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If you come here often enough, you’ll know that I don’t always talk about skiing and cycling. And that sentence might be enough to turn you away on its own. But on those weeks when I’ve been out of town, the snow is gone or something catches my eye, I wander elsewhere. That’s the purpose of this blog: to wander.

So I wandered home over the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and by the time I returned, three of the people I know well were engaged. Engaged, as in “planning to marry.” Yikes.  As our society moves away from marriage (here and the excellent James Q. Wilson here), the compact has—maybe?—acquired a greater sense of significance. Marriage is no longer the necessary step a relationship, but to do it anyway, well, maybe that says something. Maybe it means more. Considering all that, though, and then considering my friends, I don’t feel much at all—no real sense of surprise, or anything really, that they’ve told three other people that they’ll spend their lives together.

Yes, I’m happy for them, happy that they’ve found that special someone, but they’re still the same people. Two of them are, to my mind, still high schoolers waking up in the morning to go to a student council meeting or heading out to a Friday night party. That they now have a ring on it (rings on them?) hasn’t registered because I can’t tell a difference. Until last year, the bubbles of “engaged people” and “people that are my friends” didn’t intersect. It was one thing to understand engagement in the abstract (something two people much older than we did when they loved each other lots, typically in movies) and another to see it. Other people got engaged. My friends didn’t. Now they were the same.

It’s a significant thing this “to-be-married” stuff, but it only seems strange when given any thought. Kind of like having a dog for the first time or a girlfriend or anything other supposedly defining thing or state. It’s as if we’re all expecting something entirely different to come over us since a life has changed, that a wholly new person should emerge because the context is different. “In a relationship.” Now, “engaged.”

In short, we anticipate that the single E— couldn’t, nor can’t, be anything like the engaged E—. But when we figure out that she’s actually the same, though probably a little happier, the disparity between the reality and our expectations makes us think a moment. E—‘s still essentially the person we knew a month ago, and the context, no matter how much more extraordinary, doesn’t change that. It’s a funny feeling.

Come back five years later, though, and we’ll see a difference. On the scale of a life, it takes no more than a moment to lose a parent, to go off to college, to buy a house, to become a husband or a wife, but the change in ourselves takes so much longer. We react to each as the person we were on the day before. After that, our identities develop over time: we cope, we learn, we nest, we rely on one another, evolving an imperceptibly slow pace. Imperceptible, that is, until we reflect on how we were at another stage. When we’ve incorporated any number of things into our identity, we begin to realize just how different we were with or without them.

Which brings us back to today, the engagements. This is the beginning of a process, both for the engaged and for those of us for whom marriage still seems a long way off. Ten years from now, I suspect it will seem as though E—, K—, and C— have always been married. We’ll ask, with honest curiosity, “what was it like to be single?” When the first child is born, we’ll again wonder, “How is it that this kid who surfed down a flight of stairs on his knees going to take care of human offspring?” He won’t know. We won’t know. But we’ll all learn. And that’s the beauty of it.