The Ski Town Dilemma | Local



Aspen Words Writer-in-Residence Heather Hansman’s next book takes

a critical look at life in a ski town.

Author Heather Hansman rides a bike in Washington State.

After a year of hiatus, the Aspen Words Writer-in-Residence program returns, welcoming six esteemed writers throughout the summer and fall (including Casey Gerald, whose book There Will Be No Miracles Here was named Best Book of 2018 by The New York Times and award-winning writer, educator, and performance artist Caroline Randall Williams) on Isa Catto and Daniel Shaw’s Idyllic Woody Creek Ranch (see sidebar). Seattle-based journalist Heather Hansman is entering the program’s ninth year with a three-week working stint during which she will work on her new book, Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and The Future of Chasing Snow which dives into the reality of the ski town dream, which will be released later this year. “It’s about the idea that ski enthusiasts live their dream and why it’s not really a dream – the goal of living a life better than people’s vacations and where that idea came from,” explains Hansman. “Ski films describe [mountain-town] life in a way. The ‘best day ever, party, start all over’ mentality. The idea of ​​”no friends on a powder day”. The idea that chasing after skiing is the most important thing. In reality, it’s not sustainable if you want community, longevity, and balance in your life.


The writer’s new book on the good and bad of ski town life.

Hansman, originally from New England, spent time as an avid ski enthusiast in his early twenties. “I was 21 and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. “I moved to Vail with two girlfriends from college, without seeing. This movement has shaped my whole life. I was and still am drawn to unique characters, culture and interesting stories [of ski towns]. Skiing is the background noise behind everything I do.

When she couldn’t guide a raft one summer due to injury, she attended Boulder College and began a career as a writer. Hansman has contributed to The Guardian, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine and others; worked as editor at the late Powder magazine; and is currently an online environmental columnist for Outside magazine.

His first book, Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West, focused on the Green River, climate change, and Western water policy. It was named one of the best environmental books of 2019 by the Chicago Review of Books.

For his current book, Hansman has done some early reporting in Aspen and will be conducting local interviews during his stay this summer. “It’s an interesting place in terms of climate and environmental progress, housing issues and wealth disparity,” she says. “Aspen sums up so many complex issues exacerbated in ski towns.” Hansman also spent time in Jackson, Wyoming; Bozeman, Montana; Ski Santa Fe, New Mexico; the East Coast and other ski towns of Colorado, bringing together research on topics ranging from the history of skiing and a passion for skiing to mental health, addiction and risk-taking, the latter aspect which she found fascinating. “What is behind the brain of the person who wants to become a ski fan? What is the brain science of someone who doesn’t want to live up to societal standards? Also, how do we deal with trauma – how do you live in the mountains and deal with the death of your friends?

Naturally, Hansman also addresses the current mass exodus of city dwellers caused by the pandemic to the mountains in his book. “The dynamics of the city have changed,” she says. “I look at which places are under pressure, like the Roaring Fork Valley and the Bozeman area, and which ones are left behind, like Mt. Ashland, Oregon, where the community ski resort is struggling due to climate and funding. In addition, she says, more and more people are working remotely and are not necessarily contributing to the local economy. “It changes the baseline,” says Hansman. The writer, who currently lives in a basement studio in Seattle, looks forward to spending time at a quiet, upscale ranch with stunning views and an edible garden. “I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a serene workplace,” she says. “I have never had so much time to concentrate and write. Maybe I’ll even do yoga.


photo of the residence

The garden of the Woody Creek property of Isa Catto and Daniel Shaw.

A writer’s retreat

A family ranch doubles as an artistic oasis.

Each year from May to October, the Catto Shaw Foundation, which funds initiatives that empower women, defend the environment and support social justice, partners with Aspen Words, the beloved literary arm of the Aspen Institute. , to organize writing residencies on the artist Isa. Catto and Journalist Daniel Shaw’s Woody Creek Ranch from May to October. The Foundation sponsors Aspen Words programs that promote new voices and expand access to the literary arts, but the Aspen Words Writer-in-Residence program brings it all home. Literally. Catto and Shaw welcome writers from all over the world to their family ranch because they know the value of a lonely place and focused working time, something so many artists and writers can’t find or afford. by themselves. The residencies offer authors, such as alumni Terry McMillan, Hampton Sides, Chigozie Obioma and Kevin Fedarko, the opportunity to nurture their creative spirit and tackle looming deadlines by providing uninterrupted time in an inspiring space.

The writers stay in the “Luna Apartment”, which is connected to the studio and shop of artist Catto, where she makes and sells watercolors, scarves, notebooks and other works of art and textiles. . The biggest distraction for resident writers, aside from the spectacular views of Capitol Peak and the Elks, is the famous Mojo Garden, a one-acre oasis planted and maintained by Catto, filled with vegetables (from Romanesco to pumpkins in passing through watermelon radishes) and flowers (think delphinium, yarrow, lamb’s ear, and echinacea) for visiting writers to graze, pluck, and stock their refrigerators. That, and the Chat-Chat dogs who demand daily cookies. —TW


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