Heather Hansman will always be passionate about skiing.
There was a time when the Seattle author wanted nothing more than to live his life chasing fresh powder, moving from couch to couch and running to run according to incline karma and good weather conditions.
âI moved to the mountains when I was 21,â said Hansman. “It was kind of like my dream to grow up, to have an adventure and to live the ‘Go West, young man’ kind of life.”
Like many ski enthusiasts, Hansman eventually moved away from the slopes, gave up the nomadic life and settled in Seattle. But she never really took off the skis. She continues to work for ski magazines, keeps in touch with her network of friends and spends as many days as possible in the mountains.
Over time, Hansman noticed something: The world of bum skiing – and the sport itself – was going through a series of changes that mirrored American society. His second book, “Powder days: ski enthusiasts, ski towns and the future of snow hunting, was born from this revelation.
The idea gave Hansman permission to put the car away and return to his old haunts in the Rockies and other steep spots. For a while she revisited her skiing habits, and what she discovered was very different from the life she had lived around the turn of the century.
This conversation between Hansman and the Seattle Times has been edited for clarity.
âChange Happens Quicklyâ is one of the themes of your new book. The ski industry seems to be facing an extraordinary amount of change right now.
I worked in ski magazines – it was kind of my fresh out of college job – and I saw firsthand how these things were changing. How climate change is impacting an industry based on the idea of ââhaving snow, how economic inequalities are really sweeping these places. And I felt like all these kinds of social, cultural, political and environmental issues that a lot of people are thinking about right now were kind of embedded in that skiing framework. And maybe part of it was because I’m too far down the wormhole, but it was like a way to put boundaries around this story which I think is happening in a lot of places.
What has changed since you left life?
I think it’s more difficult. And I think there might be a time when it’s not worth it. For example, employee housing is really hard to find and you are making $ 12 an hour and inflation is going up. I think there are sort of general reasons why it becomes more difficult and less sustainable. I moved to the mountains in 2005. My brother, who entered university in 2009, thought to himself, âI’m not going to stay here and not work for a few years. I have to find a job. I think the recession, the national economy has changed. I think it puts a lot of pressure on ideas like âI’m going to chase my dreams and try to have an adventureâ. I think it made it a lot harder, and I’m not saying it’s never been easier for a lot of people. I feel like everything is more under pressure, I guess.
The life of an avid ski enthusiast has never been easy, as you illustrate, but one of the themes of the book is how the corporatization of these once locally owned resorts begins to crowd out people. There are few cheap passes or affordable housing. Our resorts in the region were also recently purchased by large companies. What change does a sale like this cause?
You potentially have a lot of new skiers and big budget people coming in, and it’s kind of like, who gets kicked out? The XXX people or the employees or the leftists? What happens to these people in this squeeze? And can people actually live near their work? Can you maintain yourself by working on the mountain? All of these questions are amplified.
You also spend a lot of time on the striking ways in which climate change will affect sport. Our ski infrastructure here in western Washington seems particularly vulnerable to climate change. What have you learned about how climate change could affect our slopes 20 or 25 years from now?
Or even five years. You look somewhere like Snoqualmie Pass where the snow line is pretty high, you don’t always get snow all the way to the base. And then you have all these people moving to Seattle who want to ski. And you have these vast conglomerates sending more people to these mountains. There is a change that is going to have to happen very soon.
Climate change is really the big story here, the shadow hanging over it all?
I think that’s the big, big factor. There was this idea of ââclimate change as something that was just a vague, vague concept in the back of your mind. Now it’s so obvious and you can really see the impact. You watch [Mount Ashland Ski Area] in Oregon, they struggled to stay open. I’m originally from New England, and there have been a ton of areas there that have moved away because the snow is not constant. You need big pockets and a little bit of capital to make snow and I think there aren’t really many places a ski mountain could go in a viable way. They have been used or have been tried. One of the meteorologists I spoke to said that some places were going to lose and others would be the winners. With climate change, places that are higher and colder and that have the finances and infrastructure to make snow may do better because there will be more skiers going there. Some places will definitely lose out.