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Why are ski towns seeing more suicides?

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#1
I almost hesitate to put a link to this article here on the forum because it's so dark and troubling. But since many among us dream of living in ski communities -- or live there already -- I thought I'd go with it. Suicide is a real health issue, so it's certainly something we can't ignore. I apologize if this troubles anyone.

From the article: The number of suicides in Aspen, Colorado, is three times the country’s mean rate. Utah’s Salt Lake County, home to Alta and Snowbird, has almost twice as many suicides as the national average. And six suicides over two and a half years in Truckee, California, prompted the community to launch a suicide task force in 2014.

I had no idea.

If you decide to read it, don't miss checking out the comments at the end. Many are from people who live in ski communities, and their insights are fascinating.
 

altagirl

Moderator
Staff member
#2
I don't find that too surprising. I have had friends move up to the resorts and even with Salt Lake City so close, they turned into this us vs. them thing almost immediately. They felt heavy pressure of not being real locals and took it out on everyone else. Not to mention, the pressure of keeping up with everyone's accomplishments and trying to step it up and make athletic progress all the time. If you're not very laid back by nature, it looks like a ton of stress. And that's before you even factor in the rampant drug and alcohol abuse, money problems, etc.

The people I know who do well living in ski towns are very non competitive and chilled out. One didn't even care about skiing anymore, so happily took everyone's powder day shifts. Of course, that's NOT who generally moves there!
 

bounceswoosh

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#4
I can recognize a lot of what I see in this article. My husband and I, and our friends, are largely the rich tourists, although not to the extent of those who own mansions that are only lit two weeks a year. The point of lack of mental health care facilities makes sense - these are very small communities when it comes to permanent residents - and isn't something I would have ever considered.

I'm acutely aware of the disparity. I consider the ski instructors and other locals I've met to be friends. These are people who have lived in or near Breckenridge for decades. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder how much of that apparent friendship is client relationship building on the part of these instructors. And it's weird paying to ski with friends - although I've skied with them in their free time, too. In any case, it's a weird dynamic. Anyway, I've been able to see some of the difficulties, although of course I haven't walked in their shoes, so maybe I shouldn't even be posting.

My main insight is through ski instructors. I have a friend who's aging and had both an injury and a major relationship rupture in quick succession, and it's hard on him. He sees some of our instructors who are rich dilettantes who do this for fun in the winter, and is frustrated when they get groups. They don't even need the money. For them, it's a journey of personal development and fun; for him, it's his only means of support.

Most of the male instructors I know work *hard* jobs in the summer, all doing some sort of construction. These are men in their 50s, sometimes 60s. Medical insurance is a big issue.

And these are all the success stories - the people who've built tenure, work most days they want to in the winter, get paid a fairly high hourly rate, and sometimes even get to ski the best terrain the mountain has to offer - although just as often, they are on the bunny hill, so you have to like that, or you're going to have a hard time.

The hard-partying deal is no joke. These instructors are at a bar every night, and I think at least part of it is that client relationship building. Most make a point of telling their clients they'll be at the Quandry or whatever after they leave the locker room. One of my instructor friends quit drinking this winter, and it's obvious that he struggles between participating in the main social outlet, and not wanting to be in that environment. That being said, they're all out of the bar by 8pm - no one I know parties all that late. We have to be up to ski in the morning.

One of my friends is just philosophical about it. She says she gets to live in the place other people only see on vacations. We all make choices. When I told her about a mutual friend who's frustrated because she had to move back to the east coast for her job, well, as my instructor friend said, it's a choice. I have no doubt that if she weren't ski instructing, she'd be equally successful in whatever field she chose.
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#5
I wonder if the suicide problem is the same in eastern ski towns as it is in the west. I live in a ski town in Vermont, though I've only been here about 9 years; in Vermont time, that's like five minutes. (To be a true local, your family has to have been here since the 1700's.) That said, I know that there's a real disparity between many of the people who live here and those who build huge vacation houses in the area. Many locals depend on tourists and skiers for income, whether they work on the mountain or in hospitality or retail jobs, and the crappy winter was an economic disaster. So I'm sure a lot of people are feeling that pressure. I also know that it's a scramble for seasonal employees to find off season work. Vermont doesn't have the most robust economy, and it's very rural, so there aren't a lot of jobs to start with. As for partying, really, I have no idea. I'm out of that world entirely, so I don't know how that fits into the picture.
 
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VickiK

Angel Diva
#6
I wonder, too, about New England, because of the mountains, the tradition of individualism, and the well-known attitudes about who's *really* a local. (1700's! lol).
 

Pequenita

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#7
Not to mention, the pressure of keeping up with everyone's accomplishments and trying to step it up and make athletic progress all the time.
Spending so much time in Truckee this season made me neurotic on this front, frankly, and it is very intertwined with the social aspects. Lots I could add here. I have friends who are locals and others who have been "visiting" for decades, so I got a glimpse into some of these things.
 

VickiK

Angel Diva
#8
Sounds like what Queen of Hearts says, “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
 
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SallyCat

Moderator
Staff member
#9
The analyses of the social dynamics of outdoor towns, both in the article itself and the comments, was fascinating. Exacerbated no doubt by the age cohort; young people are driven to socialize after all, and those clique-y, competitive dynamics sound brutal.

Here near Philly, there's been much written lately about students at U Penn and what they call "Penn Face," the pressure to present in public an easy, confident exterior that masks intense anxiety and frantic hard work. There's evidently a mental health crisis on campus as many students feel that they don't measure up to what they perceive is the "effortless success" of their classmates. The "more outdoorsy-than-thou" tenor of ski town life brought that to mind.

One thread that could be explored at more length on this issue is that the "rugged individualism" so admired in the rural west is usually linked to powerful anti-government sentiments. This cultural and political outlook generally means that public health resources, housing issues, and worker protections are thin on the ground and difficult to access. In that respect, (speaking very generally, of course) I think Vermont might be a tiny bit better off; it's rural, but small, and the culture of individualism (very present in VT, too) is mitigated by a more communitarian culture that's pretty deeply rooted as well. That said, Vermont is being hammered by economic downturn, struggling towns, and a massive heroin epidemic, so I don't mean to be overly sanguine there.
 

Skier31

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#10
I am a part time resident of a ski town. I love many aspects of the ski town but there is a certain "artificialness" that exists. Ski towns, while home for many, are mostly about vacation, sort of like living in Disney World. Many of my friends moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to take advantage of everything it has to offer in terms of climate and activities, not because it was a great career move. They embrace it fully but have made a conscious choice to do so. It does come with the downsides of commuting, affordable housing, high cost of utilities, gasoline etc.

Full time working people interact with retirees, trustfunders, wealthy tourists and a variety of other people on a daily basis. During the ski season, there is a lot going on and the days are full. The locker room/work environment is positive and the after work social hour is fun. It all comes to a screeching halt at the end of the ski season and the full days are not there and the reality of earning a summer income sets in. Many people who come for the winters only are suddenly gone and it is kind of sad to see the bustling ski area sitting empty. The transient nature of the population makes building long term support networks more difficult.

What starts out for some to be a couple of years of teaching skiing ends up being a lifetime career. Unfortunately, it is easy to end up at 50+ without a lot of savings, retirement plan or decent insurance.

Alcohol and drugs are part of the vacation/ski town culture and choosing not to participate in those activities can limit social interaction.

The ski town life probably does attract more independent, non traditional people but being away from families and the uncertainty of income can be huge stressors.

At this point in my life, I would love the slower pace of being a full time ski town resident but I am happy that I have made choices in my career that will allow me to do that at sometime.
 
#11
This article fascinated me, as did the comments. Not so much on this board, but on others, all I see is go for it/you only live once/you'll never regret it/etc etc. This paints a very dark picture and brings up things I've never heard about. The most surprising to me was how many find that there is no real community in these towns due to the transient nature of residents/income disparities/etc and so they end up desperately lonely. I found some of the comments heartbreaking. The couple that really stuck with me are: "the community becomes less inclusive by the year, leaving an ugly survival-of-the wealthiest environment" and "Although the scenery was beautiful and the recreation abundant, I have never been so lonely in my life." I knew about some things that would be tough about living in a ski town, but I didn't think that meeting people/making friends/becoming part of a community would be one of them.
 

pinto

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
.... I knew about some things that would be tough about living in a ski town, but I didn't think that meeting people/making friends/becoming part of a community would be one of them.
Meeting people and making friends, that's super easy. Being able to count on them in all circumstances is where it gets dicey. And that's not a criticism, necessarily. It's just the reality of a transient lifestyle, or a situation where you have no paid leave, or have to work winters in one state and summers in another, or on and on and on.
 
#13
Yeah, the comments continue to amplify everything this article discusses. Heartbreaking.
 

mustski

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#14
It reminded me a lot of what I experienced when I first moved back to San Diego - post university years. It seemed that every time I became close enough to someone to consider them an BFF, they moved away. I experienced a great deal of loss over a few year and it became quite depressing. San Diego is very expensive for housing and basic amenities compared to most of the nation, so a lot of young people move on to more affordable locations. It became better as I *matured* since the more mature age group were growing up families and planting roots. Friendships have always been a problem in SoCal.
 

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