The 2018 midterms: Colorado Voting Blue, Thinking Green
News From Boulder: Climate-conscious Jared Polis won the contest for governor, Democrats took control of the state Senate and then swept the highest state offices, but what does the “blue wave” mean for the environment?
As of late Wednesday afternoon, Democrats secured a majority in the state Senate and increased their hold over the state House. Republicans were ousted from positions of attorney general, state treasurer, and secretary of state. Polis’s election warrants optimism for the environmentally-conscious; the governor-elect is unyielding in his commitment to bring Colorado to 100% renewable energy by 2040. Polis’s website notes that “leadership at the state and local levels to address climate change has never been more important, particularly in the absence of leadership at the national level”, a nod to the significance of the state’s $28 billion outdoor recreation economy with its workforce of 229,000 and the valuable open space and public lands they utilize.
Democrat Joe Neguse handily defeated Republican Peter Yu to fill Polis’s former seat as Congressman for the 2nd Congressional District. He also promulgates progressive environmental policy, calling for investment in renewable energies, the elimination of government subsidies for fossil-fuel companies, and local sovereignty over oil and gas development.
Conjointly, voters rejected Amendment 74, which would have mandated “just compensation” to property owners should government action reduce private property values. With strong backing by the oil and gas industry, Amendment 74 was fracking exponents’ solution to the possibility of Proposition 112’s approval; the setback mandate would have arguably reduced the value of private drilling land, entitling fracking companies to governmental reimbursement.
In Boulder, voters approved a slew of local initiatives that bode well for the environment. Issue 2C, an oil and gas tax, stormed through with a 77% majority. Though Boulder has gone decades without an application for a new well, drillers would face an extraction tax of up to $6.90 per barrel of oil or 88 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. Ballot measure 2D passed, authorizing the city of Boulder to keep all money raised by the sugar-sweetened beverage tax implemented in 2016. Funds from the tax flow to community health equity programs such as Double Up Food Bucks, an initiative of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides low-income shoppers double the amount of healthy fruits and vegetables from a grocery store purchase. And in another win for the environment, Democrat Matt Jones claimed the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners District 3 race. Jones intends to fight fracking in Boulder County and substantiates Polis’s vision of 100% renewable energy.
As Polis remarked, the erosion of support for progressive environmental policy at the national level necessitates a strong cadre of environmental advocates at the local and sate levels. Buoyed by a formidable outdoor recreation industry and a state of avid outdoor recreators, Polis and the Democratic elects have the political efficacy to address environmental issues such as renewable energy, local energy justice, and land access.
Cover Photo: Governor-elect Jared Polis has pledged to transform Colorado’s energy sector to 100% renewables by 2040. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.
Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.
In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.
It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbies—new territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits. In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.
After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.
My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.
If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.
Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon— must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.
Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest
To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.
Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.
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