February 6, 2002
The most amazing thing about the recent reporting on the great mag chloride debate is that it does not appear that any of the participants are trying to be funny.
But first a digression. My mother was an anti-traditionalist. As far as she was concerned, there was absolutely nothing better about the “good” old days. I never completely succumbed to her endlessly optimistic futurism, but I did acquire an eye for that peculiar human ability to selectively remember the past.
The various descriptions from local residents of the utopia that existed before the introduction of magnesium chloride are simply hilarious. As an alumnus of 20 or so Aspen winters sans the mag, and as someone separated from romantic notions of the past at a very early age, allow me to tell you what it was really like.
Those perfect days of perfect snow which stayed perfectly white and crunchy? They did occur, and sometimes lasted for as much as 48 hours. Then, unless there was an immediate thaw, that perfectly crunchy snow would pack into pure ice, and typically remain until spring.
There was no certain way to cross many streets with anything less than golf cleats. The people who don’t remember the glaciers probably also don’t remember wading up to their ankles through the street-corner reservoirs which formed in the spring, prior to the construction of the storm drain system.
Spreading gravel on ice is somewhat like spreading ball bearings on linoleum, so sand was mixed with the gravel. This meant that the pristine, perfectly white snow was a crusty brown iceball most of the winter. When the inevitable dry cold periods came, too cold for the water trucks to clean up the mess, we were treated to full-blown dust storms.
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Driving was a cinch. I lasted one-third of one winter before investing in four studded snow tires for my two-wheel-drive car. Without the two on the back wheels, it was impossible to proceed, and without the two in front, it was impossible to stop. At any speed.
I won’t predict disaster anytime soon, because the decision to stop using deicers in early February will probably result in warm temperatures and no more than two inches of snow for the rest of the winter. At which point the anti-mags will confidently point out that they were right all along.
Given the parallels between mag chloride and table salt, it won’t be too surprising if that becomes the next target. Salt in small quantities is essential to health (Please go to herbaladvisor.com to order your Alta brand magnesium chloride, which “offers a readily absorbable form of magnesium which is important in the production of energy, and health of muscles, nervous system, kidneys, bones, heart and arteries”), but if you pour massive quantities of it on anything, it is possible to kill your target.
For those who are convinced that the condition of the lower branches of spruce trees along Highway 82 are proof of the deadly effects of mag chloride, I can offer the following advice: Do not, under any circumstances, stand directly alongside the highway 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire winter.
I do not offer this advice out of the fear that the experience will kill you, but because the disappointment when you suffer no harm might cause serious emotional trauma.
Toxins! Poisons! Heavy metals! Aaarghh, run for the hills! Oops there’s probably more of those in the hills than on the street.
As a notorious government skeptic, even I accept that state and federal environmental agencies love nothing more than the slam dunk income derived from fining materials suppliers who exceed their contractually allowable trace elements.
Take the material which contains the trace elements, dilute it heavily, spread it out at the rate of about a gallon per lane mile, mix with abundant quantities of snow, and the resulting runoff may not have as much arsenic as many municipal water systems.
Before you assume I’m taking the potential cumulative effects too lightly, be advised that it has previously been reported that the town of Snowmass Village tested the dirt along the side of their roads, and Aspen combed through their air monitoring filters, and neither found any evidence of measurable accumulation.
Perhaps the silliest moment in this installment of the ongoing soap opera came on the day one of the dailies carried three letters from people livid over the effects of mag chloride – in the same edition which reported that it hasn’t been used since 1998. Either the letter writers were hallucinating, or they were actually complaining about the stuff which has been used to replace the dreaded mag.
For that matter, unless the complainants have lived in Aspen for more than 10 years, the good old days they remember are the years Jack Reid had the mag cloride application program tuned to near perfection. The snow was never cleaner or crunchier, and the streets were lined with a health supplement.
Ah, the memories.
Thanks for the entertainment, Aspen.
Up the Crystal