We need to temper the outdoor recreation economy with weirdos.

I saw Florence and the Machine last month at Red Rocks and Florence Welch made us partake in a radical act. She asked the entire amphitheater to put our cell phones away, to simply enjoy the moment, not to record it. It made me remember those days when you had to be engaged and there were still secrets and hidden corners and real punk rock in this world where our every act and thought is commodified and broadcast.

Earlier that day, I read  (I know, on social media) the thoughtful public resignation statement from Crested Butte town council member Jackson Petito, a local’s local who moved back to his hometown after college and works at independent radio station KBUT. He decided to raise his family in Crested Butte and tried to keep the town he loves a place where families can prosper. He didn’t step down because he wanted to, but because the ongoing gentrification of Colorado’s last real ski town forces him and his family to move outside city limits, rendering him no longer eligible to serve on the council. But before leaving, Petito made clear the dangers that commodification pose not just to Crested Butte but all mountain towns across the West, too.

“As big money does what it can, all we can do up here is drag our heels as much as possible, and keep thinking of new solutions. As fewer and fewer poor people can afford to live in town, this body will be less and less representative of the people that make this town what it is,” he wrote.

We praise outdoor recreation for its $887-billion impact on local economies for good reason. The sustainable, clean promise of making a living off recreation rather than destructive, dead-end extractive industries like mining represents a chance to save the wild places and diversity of life beyond humans that is all too swiftly disappearing from this Earth. But that’s not to say that any industry, including recreation, does not come with its own dangers and challenges. 

Mountain towns need to be fucking weird. We need soul seekers who ski powder and find sexuality in the murmur of creeks like the late Dolores LaChapelle, a founder of the deep ecology movement, who made Silverton her home for years. We need a Crested Butte and a Breckenridge where social rejects wash up and find a place where they can thrive as weirdos. If our mountain towns become nothing more than glorified playgrounds for tech entrepreneurs, we have lost.

Smart phones are incredible tools that can further social justice; they are also toxic addictions that keep us from real experiences. Mountain towns booming off recreation are taking a path towards a better future; they are also unwittingly pricing out diverse communities, families and weirdos. And that is no way to move forward.