Thursday, November 14, 2013

Leadville: It's not just the money

Leadville-haters have spoken.  And the fanboys have spoken.  We're all better off because all of this is amusing.  It looks like the race series is looking to make some changes.  I'm optimistic about this and hoping for the best -- let's see what happens.

But is there any room in the middle?

There's a fundamental issue that I think is missed: several folks have made the point about how much money the race brings to town, or how much they personally spend on it, and how they're willing to spend even more on it(!) before seeing any actual changes.  People use these arguments to justify the implementation -- and flaws -- of the race.  A common variant of this:
"If you don't like it, spend your money elsewhere."  This is an insufficient argument when analyzing anything other than a choice of benign options (like debating beer brands or bad movies) -- especially when some of the criticism and negative effect is felt by people completely uninterested in the race.

A strict monetary analysis is neither necessary nor sufficient.  It's possible to have an event in town that is break-even but brings positive attention to the town, or increases sense of community (e.g. town fireworks displays or parades); it's possible to bring money to a town in a way that is toxic.  Perhaps it's a bridge too far in a philosophical divide -- maybe a gap as wide as the distance from Leadville to Silverton -- but merely bringing money to a town needs to be balanced against the negative externalities as well.  Some of the locals (the town of Twin Lakes, businesses like the Golden Burro; disinterested hikers and fisherman; howling packs of roving dogs, whatever) are unhappy, or at least inconvenienced, with the race, or at least the size of it.  Leadville run has no cap -- how big is too big?  I don't know, but it's insufficient not to consider the question.

Many modern business practices, and communities themselves, consider the triple-bottom-line: financial, social, and environmental impact.  Meeting all 3 of these generally leads to a desirable, sustainable situation.  In fact, I would strongly argue that the Chlouber's initial implementation was a shining example of this: mine's closed, but there was already some dependent service-industry and infrastructure dependent on it, and the race was so small so as to have had little environmental impact (certainly much less than the mine itself).

So what happens when you make a decision solely on money?  You get unsustainable implementations.  Various business interests and models need to be tailored the community, but the answer of "Well, it brings in money!" is insufficient.    Mining, fracking, drive-thru's, casinos, and strip malls have their place (well, just kidding about drive-thru's), and on a strict balance sheet, they bring in more money than wilderness, especially in the short term.  But try to think a little higher and deeper.  
Quality of life, and community, is not so easily monetized.  And some people spend more than others when coming to Leadville.  That's fine.  Bring an entourage.  But do campers (Clark?  Tony?  Lucho?) count less in this scheme?  Does the lifelong resident with the modest shack count less than our Front Range invasion?

And it's even worse to suggest that unsustainable practices like treating the National Forest as a parking lot and garbage can is worth it because of the money.  The Winfield situation doesn't bother me as much as an "ultrarunner," (whatever that means), or from having done the race (running it once and pacing 2 years) bothers me because I'm a Coloradan, and I've spent as much time camping or hiking out there with my wife than I have as part of the race.  It's a beautiful part of the world, but it looks like a suburban Walmart in August.  I much look forward to being an old man leading kids up Huron or Hope Pass rather than talking about a belt buckle.  I think it's perfectly valid to have a vocal opinion on the race, representing concerns about sustainability and image, and  the locals that aren't involved in the race, than merely taking my money elsewhere. 

Look, I get that some people like (or love) the race.  In all honesty, so do I.  Which is why I support the "tough love" and asking hard questions.  It's easy and natural to think and do something because of a personal opinion, but it's more admirably higher-minded to look at the big picture and see how it affects everyone, even if it means making a personal sacrifice, like not committing to running the race until proper changes are made.  The storied history of the race, and the many good things that come from it, do not make the race immune from any and all introspection and criticism.  The race can be fixed, and it looks like steps are being made, to meet the needs of the running community as well as the larger community.  But it can't be judged strictly on dollars.  Natural spaces, an examined lifestyle, sense of community, and ideals are far above the simple calculus of money.

Or a belt buckle. 


  1. Well said. Certainly Leadville's growth needs to capped at some point-- I'm not sure what the right number is, but '13 was probably at or even a bit beyond it (even considering logistical improvements that might be made). Running a business in Leadville is tough. A lot of our main street store fronts are empty. Businesses fail every year. Your only chance is to make enough money during the summer to somehow survive the winter. Honestly, what would benefit Leadville businesses the most would be some sort of winter attraction. And diversity is key. Historically, Leadville has always had the problem of hitching its entire economy on a single industry-- whether it be mining or endurance sports... Easier said than done, of course.

  2. Great comment, Andrew, thanks. I ran it with several hundred less people in 2011, and it was on the edge...but people at the time were saying that was too big. It's an ongoing discussion. I'm more familiar with bike events here in Ft. Collins, and we always have to be sensitive to the negative impression (in town) of shutting down roads, etc. The community has to be involved and "buy-in" as well.

    Spot-on about Winter, I wrote a bit about that a few years ago, and we've come up several times each of the last few winters. The XC skiing is great, and some of the winter bike events look fun, too. Cheers!

  3. "We're all better off because all of this is amusing."

    This is why I love the whole situation!

    I used to go to Leadville quite a bit, all seasons, race and non-race weekends. My friends and I would drop a significant amount of coin in bars and restaurants. But we were always treated like shit by the locals. So now we just go to BV or Salida instead.

  4. The XC skiing is indeed great-- the nordic center is excellent, and there are many free groomed trails around town (the Mineral Belt, on the east side, behind CMC, and around Turquoise Lake). There are also plenty of 10th Mountain Division Huts scattered about. And, speaking as a parent of two small kids, having Ski Cooper just ten minutes down the road is the bomb. Kids five and under are free and a season pass costs a mere $200. Our family is there every weekend during the winter.

    The shoulder seasons are the toughest. Almost all Leadville runners/bikers I know are down in BV/Salida in March, April, October, and November. It's almost always 20F warmer than Leadville down there.

    In the fall we have the hunters, but that's about it. The spring? I'm not sure who visits Leadville in the spring. Everyone I know (including myself) heads for Moab!

  5. I thought the horse drawn ski jumping floated the town in the winter.