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Just a few notes on a neglected aspect of architecture: Namely, that cold tends to preserve it.


I was originally going to go off on how ski resorts are stuck in time. Many of them seem to have been built and decorated to the tastes of their times, then never changed more than necessary.

But my observation seems to apply mainly to the places I go as a lone skier: Places like Alta, Monarch, and Arizona’s Snowbowl (yes, there are four places in Arizona to go skiing. One of them is the Snowbowl near Flagstaff, which opened in 1938 and probably still has some original fixtures from that era.) The places I prefer offer discounts or cheap tickets through Groupon. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to pay $120 for a single-day’s lift ticket. After all, it’s just me and I don’t need any fancy stuff. Just keep the mountain cold and screw the glittery formica over which they pass me a beer and a $7 chili dog at the end of the day.

I am not a cheapskate, but I am a cheapski.

I’ve noticed the tendency to preservation even extends to the more expensive places. But the only world-class resort I’ve skied — the sort written up in travel magazines as a glamor destination — is Snowbird in Utah. It was designed and built in the ’70s, and it shows. It’s all concrete brutalism at its gray best. The chairs in one of the lounges are the overstuffed vinyl mini-couches on swivel casters I remember from various nightclubs my parents played in Dallas in about 1977. Do you like Pina Coladas? If so, you’ll dig the apres ski at Snowbird.

A decent season at a ski resort runs about four months, with most of the money being made in a narrow window around March when spring breaks happen for most students in the US. The facilities don’t wear out quickly, and customers don’t really get bored of them even if they visit over multiple years. The heaviest users (local ski bums) are more interested in skiing than sitting around in the lodge, so keeping up with the latest design trends for their sake would be a pure example of waste.

However, the skiing industry is only minimally about the slopes, really. Roll through Breckinridge, Colorado and see that it’s been kept very cutting-edge: basically a luxury mall with some ski slopes out back. Same is true in Vail and Aspen. Even Winter Park — the closest full-service resort to Denver — has gotten the Disney Main Street treatment. This brings in money, but also drives up ticket prices. The stores complicate parking, but pay for better access and support. It’s all a mixed blessing for the serious skier–with the caveat that if it weren’t for these frivolities, the mountain might not be financially viable at all.

This led me to another observation: When you’re selling things, you need to think of the secondary customer. Not the person who’s the end user or the product or service. Those stores, restaurants, and modern marvels in commercial architecture in Breckinridge are not for the skiers on the slopes: They’re for the boyfriend/girlfriends/husbands/wives who come along and might do a single run for a photo-op. The fancy facilities are like daycare for the non-skier. But such things sway opinions on where to go for vacation, even if the main “purpose” is just to ski.

And that’s why I tell my friend and in-some-ways-client Walkin’ Cane Mark that he’s not playing just for the blues fans who constitute his following: He’s playing for their dates. Keep the dates happy by mixing up the JJ Cale medleys with some Jack Johnson or Alvin Bishop, and watch the audience grow. Keeping things frozen in time prevents decay, but it also prevents growth.

So, yes: Cold preserves. Cold also kills. The key is to provide some artificial warmth to keep things growing. At least a little bit.