Marolt: Do we live in a town or a giant arcade? |

Marolt: Do we live in a town or a giant arcade?

Roger Marolt

There is a difference between a tourist town and a town so nice to live in that tourists keep coming to check it out. Aspen might be the best example of the latter while Beaver Creek is the template for the former. We in Snowmass Village are still trying to figure out which way to go with this, although the approval of Base Village more than 10 years ago seems to point to the preference for sugar cookies in the uniform shape of a reindeer rather than the chocolate chip variety made from hand-rolled balls of dough.

Although I doubt that it is the thing that is going to define us, you might have a hard time convincing yourself that the newly approved installation of a “mountain coaster” on Snowmass Ski Area is not what we we are going to be all about. There has been a lot written and talked about it over the past year.

I have nothing against roller coasters, no matter what other names folks come up with for them. Mister Twister at Elitch Gardens in Denver is a classic thrill ride. There’s a pretty good one at Disney’s California Adventure Park. The one at Sea World in San Antonio with a 10-story vertical drop inflicts enough G-force on willing riders to make them question whether captive killer whales are the only animals being mistreated there.

The thing about roller coasters, though, is that they define amusement parks, not communities. Zip lines and the like play supporting roles in accentuating the importance of roller coasters as the main attraction. They allow park guests an opportunity to warm up the adrenal glands before being strapped into a seat on the main attraction that drew them to the park to begin with.

Most people who live near amusement parks and roller coasters, far from identifying themselves with the amenities, go out of their ways to distance themselves from the “tourist traps” in their midsts. It is as if they have to justify their lives so physically close to these carnival attractions by mentally distancing themselves from them.

Citizens of Las Vegas proudly proclaim that they never go down to the Strip unless it is work-related. Residents of Anaheim go to Disneyland with the visiting cousins but only with saintly patience. Not many season passes are sold to the wax museums in the world.

What am I trying to say? I guess the most succinct statement I can make is that we locals will not be seeing much of each other in the line to ride “our” new mountain coaster. It will be a one-and-done activity for us. It is a town amenity that we are building pretty much for the exclusive enjoyment of tourists. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is a fundamental shift in philosophy — an emphasis on constructing a town for tourists that we happen to live in. We began the process by commercializing the local flavor out of “our” Wednesday night rodeos and Thursday evening “free” concerts over the past several summers.

If you would like to see the living differences, treat yourself to a night at the Carbondale rodeo. It is obviously designed for locals. One ironic thing is that this fact arguably makes it more fun for the few tourists who seek it out. Both rodeos are basically comprised of the same contestants and events so it has to be a matter of how they are staged. There is a lot to be said for the authenticity of intent.

There is also a subtle message sent to visitors, actual and potential, when “attractions” are contrived just for them that have no real relationship to the surroundings or what people who live there do. It is as if to say, “The things that are unique to us and keep us busy are not abundant and not all that interesting for long periods of time for others. But don’t worry, when you get bored we have created some other diversions that will keep you occupied and we’ll keep out of your way while you busy yourselves with them.”

The bottom line is that tourist towns have to attract visitors somehow in order to survive. That’s a given. The question is, do we attract visitors by building and enhancing things that suit the local lifestyle we cherish and embrace, or do we do it by building artificial diversions that we personally don’t give a twit about? It is the difference between managing a carnival or improving our home.

Roger Marolt never dreamed of running away to join the circus. Email at

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