Where plastic grass grows

Paul Andersen

The Aspen City Council is sending a fact-finding mission to explore the look and feel of plastic grass. They have only to travel a couple of hours to a wide spot in the I-70 corridor where it adorns playing fields in Vail and Edwards.

It is fitting that those communities should roll out artificial turf in place of real, live grass. Artificial turf is efficient and synthetic, and that speaks volumes about the ambiance surrounding one of Aspen’s premier ski resorts.

After two days of skiing Vail and Beaver Creek last week, and staying at a hotel in Edwards, the urbanized swath of the Eagle River Valley emerged as a bleak and soulless theme park. Plastic grass is a perfect fit.

In Edwards, our hotel occupied a block in a downtown setting so contrived and fabricated that it felt like a movie set. As we walked down the quiet “Victorian” streets, I expected a camera boom to rise over a façade and a director’s voice to shout “Action!”

This townscape must have been designed by a computer program and plunked into a back lot amid an array of generic hotels and condos, all sweetly serenaded by the soothing lullaby of the four-lane roar. The ensemble creates an antiseptic, inorganic, and blandly utilitarian commercial venue that is billed as charming.

In order to arrive at the base of the mountain at Beaver Creek, I rode three escalators through a miasma of retail shops and real estate offices, all kitschy in faux Tyrolean. This stellar resort, an inspiring model for Snowmass, features a monotonous blend of mega hotels, cookie-cutter condos, and opulent second homes.

Beaver Creek hearkens to Aspen Highlands a la Hines, a front of enormous buildings rising up to challenge the mountains for grandeur. The planners and designers are already at work hatching a similar scheme to give Snowmass a new cutting edge.

For lunch, we skied down Bachelor Gulch, which funnels into an alcove hemmed in by an eight-story monolithic log fortress forming a veritable tourist stockade. The Ritz at Beaver Creek features all the amenities – heated pool, bowing and scraping servants, and gas fireplaces burning eternal flames for the “Unknown Local.”

The next day at Vail, we skied deep slush in the back bowls through a global-warming nightmare that turned the slopes into giant Slurpies. A pond forming at the bottom of the Vista Bahn morphed into an artistic design element in the form of a reflecting pool in which shimmered the now historic fabrication that is Vail.

Getting off the gondola on “Adventure Ridge,” we were greeted by a fleet of 50 snowmobiles idling their two-stroke engines in a cloud of dense blue smoke. The dramatic vista of the Holy Cross Wilderness was obscured by this gagging pall of pollution.

To avoid the stench, we skied off the front side and came face to face with the future. Before us was a kiddy park for youthful snowmobilers throttling cute, child-sized yellow sleds around a track. One day these children will graduate to full-size sleds and take adult pleasure in defiling our atmosphere.

If you can separate the skiing from the overall impact of the resorts, you can have a great time at Vail and Beaver Creek. The runs are long, challenging, wide open and relatively uncrowded. Separation is critical, however, in order to avoid esthetic shock from the sprawling cancer of land development in the highway concourse that runs through it.

Separation is a learned discipline for the world view of many Americans. It is achieved by cutting one’s peripheral vision with selective blinders, by tuning out noise, light and air pollution, by dulling the senses to construction cranes, nail guns, shrinking elk habitat and the next great real estate offering.

In the gondola, a young snowboarder boasted how he could ride right up to his apartment, which was within a stone’s throw of I-70. “It doesn’t get much better than that,” he said with a self-satisfied Alfred E. Newman grin. In our hotel room, the local Vail TV channel sang the same apocryphal chant and made us wonder how much better could it get.

Vail and Edwards are perfect locales to study the effects of plastic grass on the local inhabitants. However, I have serious doubts that many of them know what they’re trampling on.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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