The local ski hill doesn’t have snow yet, but yards in town are sprinkled with local political signs. It’s election season again here in the United States. At least here in Teton Valley, the election cycle always lines up with the ski season. We held our primary elections back in May, as the diehards skied their last few spring lines. In November we’ll cast our votes 10 days before the hill opens back up for the season.
Those ballots don’t have any options to vote for better skiing, more powder days, lower lift ticket prices, and free fries in the lodge. But, as a skier, voting is one of the single most important things I do for my skiing every year. If you’re an American skier of voting age who cares enough about skiing to be skimming this website in the off-season, you should care enough to vote. It’s easy, and it’s important.
In mountain towns there’s often a disconnect between our day-to-day lives and far-off political machinations. We live here for the skiing, so we often just ignore the rest, assuming the adults will take care of it. But, at some point, if you make it in a ski town long enough, you’ll realize that every election has a tangible impact on your life, and your skiing. And if you don’t live in a ski town, these decisions impact your ability to visit other ski towns, and the quality of life you enjoy at home that allows you the luxury of skiing.
At the local level, elections impact my skiing directly. My home hill is expanding this year, and has an even more ambitious expansion in the works. The folks we elect will help decide how this expansion will proceed, how the new workers my hill will need will be housed, and how the expansion will impact the economies of the communities that surround the hilll. Every local election affects how I can get to that ski hill, where my friends who work there will live, how many lifts that hill has, and where I can and can’t backcountry ski. If you live in or visit a ski town, you’re dealing with a housing crisis. Local elections determine how we’ll address that crisis.
And on top of that, local elections also determine our sheriff and coroner. As a member of Search and Rescue I’ve seen firsthand how what sheriff we elect affects our ability to help skiers having a bad day in the backcountry. In almost every county in the US, your local Search and Rescue team is a branch of the Sheriff’s Department. That means the person you elect will directly affect their ability to operate. Even if you don’t care about all the other important things that a sheriff can affect, you should care, selfishly, about the office that controls how and when rescuers reach you. We also elect a county coroner. That person has a lot of power in any incident that involves an avalanche fatality. These are important jobs. Voting ensures that we choose competent folks to do them.
At the state level, elected officials have power over how you can recreate on state lands, an important role for backcountry skiers. State ballots also have an impact on day-to-day life beyond their more obvious roles. For example, back in 2018 I was working a high-paying job with great health insurance. But on our Idaho state ballot we had the option to expand Medicaid coverage. I voted for it based on principle, because I believe our medical system is broken and predatory. Now, four years later, I’m on Medicaid. It allows me to have decent health insurance while working gigs like this one, writing for a ski website. It also allowed me to have a vasectomy. You know what really cuts into your skiing time? An unplanned pregnancy. That vote for Medicaid expansion didn’t feel that important then, but it sure does now.
On that front, if you live in a state like Idaho with great skiing and less great politics, this election is doubly important. In 2018 my partner experienced an ectopic pregnancy during ski season. The doctors who initially helped her at our local LDS baby factory hospital didn’t really know how to deal with her life-threatening condition. Luckily that crisis was resolved eventually, and she recovered fully. And on top of that, it all happened during a shitty snow cycle, so she didn’t miss any good skiing.
But, this election, we are dealing with gubernatorial candidates who would like to ban the procedure that saved her life. On top of that, if we had discovered that ectopic pregnancy during a ski trip to a neighboring state that cares about women more, and had it taken care of there, some candidates would like to pass laws that would prosecute her for taking that action to save her life. Dying of a treatable ectopic pregnancy is not good for one’s skiing. Being prosecuted for dealing with it isn’t either.
Of course, at the national level, we’re voting for people who will determine how we address climate change, which impacts if skiing will even be a thing we can do in a few decades. They’ll also determine immigration policy that affects resort employees, the regulation of a plant that many skiers ingest daily, and the systemic inequality that keeps many folks from ever skiing.
And that’s just the selfish stuff, the easy stuff to get behind, regardless of your background if you’re a skier. If you care about Indigenous rights, our broken criminal justice system, our broken drug laws, our response to people experiencing homelessness, school shootings, or any of the other myriad of important issues we face as a nation every day, you need to vote.
Voting isn’t enough. Voting won’t fix everything. Voting won’t give you strong ACLs and endless powder. But it’s a start. Pay attention, read your local paper, get involved, get invested. Get registered, do your research. Make a plan to vote, get it done, then wax your skis, and let’s make some turns.
Just like last year, if you've made your plan to vote, and would like a free postcard of that "Vote" art up top, throw your address in this form and I'll mail one to you!