Back in the 1970s, I had a friend named Marguerite. Marguerite told me about her girlhood in occupied France during World War II. The family's closet contained carefully rolled flags of various nations. Every household in her village had a similar closet. The closet was key, because when the occupying army rolled through town, the correct flag had to be conspicuously displayed. The children were coached to smile and wave at tanks and guns.
With the marauding armies consuming all the cattle, pigs and chickens in the district, the villages made it through on the occasional meal of horsemeat. Even after 30 years, Marguerite still gagged as she talked about horsemeat.
"It's as if we did not even know who we were during the war," she told me. "It was all about survival."
Of course Marguerite and her family knew they were French, and when the final foreign flag, the Stars and Stripes of the liberating army, was finally rolled up and put away, the French flag came back out along with more diverse local cuisine.
Well, gentle readers, it's time to say goodbye. I have finally given up any hope of Snowmass Village figuring out who or what it is. It is damned hard to write about anyone or anything that does not know what it is. Even the local writers in this paper seem to be reduced to writing about past glories and anxiety about a future that is controlled by marauding armies of speculators and litigators.
As a contrived destination resort, Snowmass has flown a succession of flags based on the whim of commerce, a force more powerful than war. Snowmass has flown the Lone Star of Texas, the Star of David, and flags of Australia, Brazil and Mexico, and, more recently, the flags of Russia and China.
Snowmass Village started as a fast-bucks real estate tax shelter and has denigrated to a lost-bucks tax shelter.
The core community of local people shines as beautifully as the mountains, but let's face it: All the worker bees in the county cannot mitigate the ruins of thoughtless speculation. Even after 30 years, villagers are still ruminating over the proper name (Snowmass Village? Snowmass at Aspen? West Village?) to attract whatever might come next.
Snowmass Village stomps its feet like a petulant teenager placing all the blame for its bad decisions and lack of thoughtful planning on some nebulous parent figure. The developer should do thus and so. The town ought to do something about all this stuff. Base Village will save us. An alpine slide will save us. The economy will come around.
I ran into a long-established real estate broker last week. When I inquired about the real estate biz, the answer was refreshingly direct: "Barbara, the party's over, and it's not coming back."
When the music's over, turn out the lights. Let's face it, in the absence of the continual resale and refabrication of constantly appreciating real estate, the whole house of cards is destined to collapse. Continual expansion is the business plan only for cancerous tumors.
The fortunate few who can afford to live in Snowmass Village without having to draw sustenance from the area are likely to find themselves in a diminishing landscape of local business and local neighbors. Granite countertops in vacant 8,000-square-foot homes are so yesterday, but everyone is waiting for someone else to tell Snowmass Village what its "today" should look like.
I found it ironic that a recent edition of the Sun featured a local architect whose most visible project is nothing but a façade to hide the damage left by a retreating army of incompetent developers, the same bunch that was roundly welcomed by the architect during his tenure as mayor. Nothing personal, but is this something to be celebrated?
If there is any forward thinking or genuine sustainability planning for Snowmass Village, it deserves a lot of press. It's time for me to free some space. Unless Snowmass can define itself, there is no way it can stand up for itself. There's no such thing as "Total Mass Appeal."
I considered just bolting without explanation like Johnny Boyd, but I feel I owe it to my readers to say, "Thanks for your hospitality. It's been swell."
Thanks to former longtime editor Madeleine Osberger for her support and counsel over my years with the Sun. The paper has been through at least four editors since Madeleine decided to leave the paper a year ago, and it has yet to replace the voice she provided.
My family has been part of Snowmass since 1970. I'm grateful for the beauty of the landscape and many lasting friendships. I hope Snowmass Village (or whatever the ZIP code chooses to call itself) finds a more mature voice. I'll be happy to listen.
Email Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org.