Notes from the Snowpocalypse: Riots, storm hype, and Brooklynites hit Boulder
Written by Doug Schnitzpahn
Boulder got pummeled last weekend. Three feet of wet, white joy covered Colorado’s Front Range—though it fell short of the snowmageddon that the local news (as usual) had predicted. That’s the way with most storms here. They don’t deliver as promised—except the legendary 2003 monster that left people stranded up at Eldora Mountain Resort eating supplies out of the lodge fridges. This storm was a fairly standard spring dump up from the Gulf of Mexico. The 24 inches at Eldora skied a bit like the usual fare in the Pacific Northwest and the roads, though an adventure were for the most part empty thanks to the dire warmings of the local meteorologists. This is typical here where the Rockies jut up in a last gaps before meeting a thousand miles of prairie. And our friends in Jackson and Bozeman taunt us for being skiers in a place that’s too crowded and doesn’t get the snow.
The storm was not the only non-event to slam into Boulder. A week prior, the New York Times made a riot of over 800 CU students front-and-center news on its digital edition. The faux uprising fit perfectly in the usual conversation about Boulder’s hypocrisy: The town where you get publicly scolded for wearing a Buff rather than a KN95 mask on a mountain bike ride was the place where a gaggle of white kids protested the Draconianism of not being able to party like the days when Kordell Stewart was more of a household name than Tom Brady. My 17-year-old daughter’s response to the riot summed it up best for most of us who live here: “Great, another reason for people to shit on Boulder.” Agreed.
And, hey, I shit on Boulder more than most. It’s part of the deal if you live in the town the rest of the state refers to as “10 Square Miles Surrounded” by Reality. It is one of the most stunning places to live on the planet, set at the base of waves of Permian sandstone breaking to the surface and packed with more rock climbing PhDs and post-punk entrepreneurs looking to change the world than you would find in a Google ad (wait, they are here too). When I moved here 20 years ago I learned one thing: You have to laugh at this place if you live here; otherwise, you become that thing the rest of Colorado loves to hate. The riot was a betrayal to those of us who have to hear all the trash talk about the place we live and, yes—I will say this begrudgingly, the way you say it about enjoying the music of George Michael or Hall and Oates—love.
Apparently, however, the riot and the foibles of our weather forecasters were not the worst things to hit Boulder in the past two weeks and expose those of us who live here as the stuck-up phonies we are. A mediocre Washington Post story about a couple moving to Boulder during the pandemic from Brooklyn really brought out the bile on all sides. The piece was harmless, if misguided, failing to make any nod towards the pure privilege of being able to leave New York as the pandemic killed poor people stuck there or even mentioning Boulder’s homeless or the fact that a city that prides itself on its progressive principles (hey, we will arrest war criminal George W. Bush if he steps foot in this town…maybe) is still glaringly white and getting more so.
The real problem came when Internet commenters roasted the author for being tone deaf when it came to these issues. That gave the Boulder haters the chance to make their own comments about how hypocritical and stuck up Boulder can be. Even (new Boulder resident) Outside magazine jumped on, featuring a Q and A with the author to respond to the Boulder meanies who said: “lmfao did WaPo really just publish a whole ass article about some yuppies moving from one place to another” and “I’m almost in awe of how clueless this woman is.” Just another chance to, you know shit on Boulder.
But here’s the thing, dumping on Boulder is good for the place. The continuing gentrification of mountain towns across the West is only accelerating at warp speed since the pandemic hit—Tahoe, Breckenridge, Bozeman, Bend, Jackson, even Big Sky are swelling with new ranks of work-at-home pandemic refugees, driving up housing prices and making it even harder for places already losing a soul rooted in hunters and tow truck drivers and ski bums. And none of this is helping the big problem of trying to make the outdoors more inclusive. Maybe the Boulder bubble can serve as the examle where we can try to solve these problems.
Here’s something else. Shit on Boulder all you want; it's still got some soul. In the middle of the snowpocalypse, I found big stashes at Eldora in the trees and a lot of non-judgemental Boulderites just revelling in that pure joy of a big day on the local hill. During the pandemic, I have hiked with my son to the tops of the Flatirons from our front door, though both packed snow and withering heat, never touching a car wheel, marveling at nesting peregrine falcons in this place where we live. There are secrets here that have nothing to do with the new Whole Foods or Google campus or CU frat houses.
In Martin Acres where I live, a neighbor leaves free firewood out on the curb; another loads up a semi in normal years and drives art projects and camping gear out to Burning Man. We meet (distanced) with our next-door neighbors every Tuesday night during the pandemic and discuss the woes of the world and what we can try to do to improve things. On the eastern edges of town there are ponds where redhead ducks are now landing and grass carp root in the mud. Before the storm a friend and I rambled off to a quiet section of South Boulder Creek and I caught a shining 14-inch rainbow trout on a size 22 emerger. There are secrets here still and soul. Meanwhile, I will be waiting for the next snowpocalypse and I won’t get upset at all about what you say about me or this town in the comments section.
Doug Schnitzpahn is a senior contributor to Mountain Gazette. Subscribe today to get our next issue, 195, arriving in May. If you'd like to comment, please join the conversation on Facebook.com/MountainGazette. Or, you know, don't.