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Dream Towns: Lukewarm Welcome

Features
posted: 07/06/2000

Dear friend,

It's a clear, cold morning in Ketchum, Idaho. I'm sitting on the steps of the Coffee Grinder, the oldest surviving cappuccino joint in town. Now there's a new Starbucks and a new Tully's. Maybe that's why I've got these steps to myself.

It could be, though, that the chill and the inch of snow on the shady side of Bald Mountain have people staying home under their comforters. People here hunker down in these weeks before ski season, knowing that when the mountain opens, sleeping in will be impossible-and on a powder day, criminal. I've already seen some people wearing season passes around their necks, but they're not anybody I know.

As I sit here, I'm watching you maneuver your new Suburban into a little parking space next to my '84 Scirocco. It's a tight fit, but I'm not as worried as you should be. The Scirocco's got 189,000 miles on it and communicable car diseases that SUVs can catch.

We should talk. We probably won't for awhile, so I'm writing you this letter. Neither of us is unfriendly. But us old locals know that talking to new locals is work best suited for realtors.

You won't want to talk to me for a couple of reasons: One, you're afraid of running into a bad-tempered old fart who hates California or wherever it is that you're from. That's why you've got the new vanity plates on your Suburban, the ones with the elk on them. You want to show that you're not from anyplace-and you like elk. Two, you came here with a head full of dreams. You don't want anybody writing history on their clean white pages. But while I'd like you to be happy here, I've seen a lot of Suburbans full of dreams come and go.

I was born here, in the Sun Valley Lodge, when the area hospital was on its third floor. I've ridden single chairs to the top of Baldy. I've skied full-tilt down Christmas Bowl, touching down on every second mogul, on skis with no sidecuts, in bear-trap bindings.

I'm old enough to have watched Jimmy Heuga race and Christin Cooper win Kindercup races. I saw Jean-Claude Killy take most of Exhibition Run in a tuck. I watched Ernest Hemingway totter around town in a post-shock therapy daze.

None of this means much to you, I imagine. You're here for your future, and I'm here because of my past. When I'm kicking your ass down the bumps on Holiday, we'll both be skiing, but it's going to mean entirely different things to us.

Which brings me to some things you should know:
1. If you're buying a home here, it will cost more than you think.
2. It's expensive to get married here. It's expensive to stay married here. It's really expensive to get divorced here.
3. In spite of 1 and 2, the wealthiest people in town haven't been the happiest people. The biggest houses haven't been the happiest houses, either.
4. On your deathbed you won't regret a few extra days spent skiing.
5. Ketchum has more virtual reality than a mall video arcade. But underneath its computer-aided designs, the real town still sits, with its torn-down buildings, its beautiful faded women, long-dead parties, long-melted three-foot powder days. That real town is visible to us old guys. We can see ghosts. If you see us talking to them, please don't make fun. In another 25 years, you could be me.
6. Your reality is going to be other people's vacations. There are more, I know there are. Maybe I'll remember before we introduce ourselves on the lift. See you up there, new guy.

Your new friend,
John Rember

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