Heather Hansman - The Fascinating Story of Skiing's Past, Present, & Future

Heather Hansman is a Seattle-based writer and editor, as well as the author of the excellent new book "Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns, and the Future of Chasing Snow." Longtime listeners will remember Heather's first appearance on the podcast, when we discussed her book "Downriver," one of my favorite books about the complicated subject of water in the West. Heather has an uncanny ability to distill complex, sometimes-messy topics into fun-to-read narratives that are equally educational and entertaining. And she's done it once again with "Powder Days"-- it's a thoughtful and thorough examination of ski culture, the ski industry, and the myriad of challenges that can accompany life in ski communities.

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Heather was born and raised on the east coast, but headed West immediately after college, where she spent many winters living and working in ski towns throughout the Rocky Mountains. She eventually left the ski bum lifestyle behind to pursue a career in journalism but has remained closely connected to skiing and the ski culture for all of her adult life. Given her professional success as a journalist and her personal love of skiing, Heather is uniquely qualified to offer this nuanced, in-depth look at skiing and its impact on the culture, economy, and environment of mountain towns throughout the United States.

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Heather and I connected a few days before "Powder Days'" publication date to talk about the book and the many important topics that it addresses. We start out discussing why she chose to write a book about the ski industry, and how the many issues and challenges facing ski communities are representative of broader issues facing the American West. We discuss the history of skiing in the United States and how the industry has grown and transformed over the past 70+ years. We discuss income inequality in ski towns, as well as the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse problems that often plague these communities. We discuss the psychological profiles of sensation-seeking skiers, the big business of skiing and ski resorts, equity in outdoor recreation, climate change's effect on skiing, and much more.

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Whether you're a skier or not, I highly recommend you check out "Powder Days." It's a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the economic and social forces shaping the modern-day American West. And for more information on Heather, you can check out our first episode-- there's a link in the episode notes.

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Big thanks to Heather for writing yet another wonderful book, and thanks to all of you for listening.  Enjoy!

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TOPICS DISCUSSED:

  • 4:30 - Why Heather chose to write a book about skiing
  • 8:00 - "Ski bum" defined
  • 12:00 - Heather's time as a ski bum and when she decided to leave that world
  • 15:00 - The psychological profile of obsessed skiers
  • 18:00 - The appeal of seeking adventure in the mountains
  • 19:40 - History of the ski industry in the US
  • 23:00 - Changes in the business of skiing
  • 27:00 - Extreme economic inequality in ski towns
  • 30:30 - What is the future of economic sustainability in ski towns
  • 33:30 -Gini coefficient and more on inequality
  • 38:20 - Climate change and the ski industry
  • 41:30 - Predicting the future of skiing related to climate
  • 43:00 - Feeling that came with revisiting the ski world
  • 45:00 - The need for ski bums to engage in the community
  • 48:30 - Booze and mental health in mountain communities
  • 51:20 - Goals and reasons for writing this book
  • 55:00 - Heather's current projects
  • 56:00 - Good books

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