The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

The secret tragedy of mountain towns

Posted by on Jun 15, 2016 in Australia, United States | 1 comment

Rotting snow

When the snow goes things can be tough for mountain workers

They’re meant to be places of much envy with a lifestyle that so many aspire to.

For a season, or a complete lifestyle change, mountain towns in theory offer it all minus the beach and city.

Skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Biking, hiking and fishing in the summer. Partying – if you want to, sure.

But in a disturbing and must read article National Geographic lifts the lid on the reality behind many mountain towns.

Entitled: ‘Why Are Ski Mountain Towns Seeing More Suicides’  author Kelly McMillan paints an alternate canvas to the powder days and party nights picture that those on the outside are usually shown.

In some of the United States’ best-known mountain towns such as Telluride, Aspen, Salt Lake City County and Truckee, McMillan paints a far bleaker picture.

Suicide rates at three times the national average in places like Aspen, broken down ski bums and those seemingly surrounded by great wealth they feel like the archetypal man lost at sea with water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

In the US McMillan put it down to: “a culture of rugged individualism, access to firearms, lack of mental health care, and the isolation that results from communities and homes spread across wide swaths of land.”

There is also the whole notion of seasonal jobs, the lack of real social attachment and simply that: “the mere notion of living in paradise can amplify one’s feelings of depression and isolation”.

So what’s it like for the Australian equivalents?

To be honest it’s a bit harder to get a handle on. While the definition of ‘mountain towns’ are on a far smaller scale here, the statistics actually take in far broader areas. Clearly the accessibility to firearms is also less of an issue in Australia.

One statistic that concerned me was the hospitalisation rates for self-harm in the Cooma-Monaro region –which are nearly double the state average for male and females.

As disturbing as that may be it is such a large geographical area it would be very hard to tie-in anything specifically to the ‘mountain town’ factor.

Having worked and lived in mountain towns in Australia and overseas (without parking myself there on a more permanent basis to form part of the community) I will say this:

They are wonderful, exhilarating, frustrating and life-changing experiences all at once.

Your happiness can turn on a powder day or a few extra hours at work that buff up your pay packet.

Craig Tansley

Living in a mountain town isn’t just about one powder day after another

Oddly enough a brilliant sunny day can make you a little sad. Sharing a four-bedroom unit with seven other people can be by turns both fun and destructive.

It’s no great surprise that drugs can be an issue. In many ways mountain towns are like the substances themselves where the highs and lows tend to get magnified.

The trick whether stopping by for a few months in these place of great beauty or looking for something longer term  is like most things in life – finding some middle ground.

The most successful people I know on the hill have taken a balanced approach, embraced their surrounds but also recognised the limitations – and then set about making the mountain life work for them.

For support and advice with mental health issues in Australia contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.


1 Comment

  1. it’s not much different than most rural farming communities. people that live in a ski town are “snow farmers.” their fortunes are tied to whether mother nature delivers the goods. one or 2 bad years in a row can put people into significant financial strife. shops have to stock the latest and greatest, and that changes every year. I know this first hand as I grew up in a ski resort town and my family still has a ski shop there. there are many parallels between farming communities and ski towns.

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