From my back porch I can see our local ski hill. It’s coated in snow, top to bottom. This is one of the most exciting times of year to be a skier. We’ve got the drama of the Colorado resorts fighting for first opening, the FOMO of skiers in other locales getting after it, the hype of film premiers, and the obsession that keeps us tied to resort webcams, waiting for enough of a base to go slide around again. Collectively, skiing dominates our minds.
But, here in the US of A at least, that first snow dusting the high peaks was preceded by another sign of changing seasons: political yard signs. Last year we had a bumper crop, folks loudly declared their allegiance to candidates for everything from our president on down to local officials. This year, in comparison, is a bit leaner. Most of our yard signs are for local school board members, city council members, and our mayor. There’s no real national debate to tune into, no high-stakes drama pitting talking heads against each other on the TV. And the same goes for most other countries too, local elections just don't get as much hype.
That means that this year it’s easier to tune out the election season, and instead focus on skiing. We’d all rather wax skis and trim skins that dig into the nuances of who wants to be on the local school board, and why. Off-year elections are easy to ignore. And, for skiers, who already have plenty of excuses to ignore local politics, they’re a no-brainer. As in, they often don't even cross our minds. And that’s not good.
Presidential, and even congressional races are easy to pay attention to. They saturate our news feeds as candidates throw around ridiculous sums of money to reach everyone in the country. Local elections do not. They’re lucky if they can figure out how to stream a candidate forum on Facebook. Local elections are too easy for skiers to tune out as we prepare for the season. That sucks, because they have some of the most immediate and lasting effects on the day-to-day lives of skiers.
Skiers so often inhabit mountain towns without really investing in them. We get what we can from the hills that bring us here, find a bar we like, housing we can afford, and then focus on recreation above all else. But that recreation is intrinsically tied to local governance. I can’t speak specifically for your town, but I bet it has a lot in common with mine. Here are a few things determined by local elections that directly influence the quality of my life here. I bet most of these apply to your town too:
We’ll elect a mayor who will lead our city council in planning for future development. This includes issues like affordable housing where my ski bum friends might live, short term rentals that make it harder to be a skier in this town, liquor licenses that affect where skiers gather after a day on the hill, and the contract with our sheriff’s department that dictates how folks driving to and from the ski hill will be policed.
We’ll elect city council members who will have a say on all of those same issues. These folks will also be voting on things like, a new grocery store that might actually be open on Sundays (living in LDS country is a can of worms), private developments that cater to the ultra wealthy, and even small things, like if we’ll be allowed to build more dirt jumps, and maybe host a rail jam someday at the park near my house. They’ll also be part of the decision to expand bus service to and from our local resort.
We elect a sheriff who has a shocking amount of say in how and when laws are enforced here. This one candidate gets to shape the personality for policing in our entire county. They can decide to crack down on drunk drivers on Ski Hill Road, or they can focus on busting folks with a small amount of marjiuana. Or they can harass undocumented workers that keep this small town’s economy running. This person also oversees Search and Rescue efforts to help skiers. Sheriff elections matter.
We elect a county prosecutor who has a huge role in determining the actual consequences tied to those laws. This is the person that decides if we let a man who roofies women at an apres bar get off easy because his family is from around here, or not. This is the person who decides how devastating getting pulled over with a small amount of a substance that’s legal in multiple bordering states will be.
We elect a City Clerk who is one of the first defenses against corruption in local government.
We elect school board members who will decide everything from whether or not kids mask in schools, to how to deal with a legacy of racist mascots, to what sort of taxes we should be paying for schools.
We elect county commissioners who will decide if, and how our local ski resort will expand. They’ll be on the forefront of the affordable housing debate. They’ll decide whether or not you can spend a winter in an RV in your friend’s yard. They’ll also have a say in less obvious, but still deathly important things, like how much funding and support our emergency responders get, and where and how our Search and Rescue Team can operate. That’s right, county commissioner elections can affect how quickly you get help when things go wrong in the backcountry.
On top of all of those positions, local elections often include ballot initiatives that affect issues like whether local businesses can unionize, school bonds and levies, emergency services taxation, and more.
If you live in a place that has skiing, and also people, local elections affect most aspects of your life. The outcomes of these elections will impact where you live, where you work, how you get to the ski hill, where that ski hill builds lifts, how educated the kids at that ski hill are, how the roads to and from that hill are maintained and policed, and what you can do after a day of skiing.
It doesn’t take much effort to learn a little about each election happening in your area, and then vote accordingly. Start by subscribing to your local paper. They’ll have election coverage, candidate forums, letters to and from the editor, and more. This is the easiest way to get plugged in to local happenings. And as a bonus, ski town papers are full of information about free events that often also have free food and booze.
Your conspiracy theorist aunt might not be posting anything wackadoodle on social media about your local elections, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Get educated, go vote, go skiing.
Just like last year, I’ve got a free postcard for anyone who can take a moment out of their day to look up the sample ballot for your county, and then make a plan for how, and when they’re voting. If you’ve done that, throw your name in this form, and I’ll get some art in the mail to you!