Skiing Alta, Utah

 

I am working this winter at a ski lodge in Alta, Utah.  Alta is known as the birthplace of powder skiing (?) and receives 550 inches per year.  Here are a few shots of the mountain, taken by an ancient cell phone camera.

The view from my room:

On top of the Collins lift, looking at Mt. Superior:

 

Devil’s Castle area:

 

The Deep Powderhouse ski shop

A dinner production:

 

The 75 year old Alta Lodge:

 

Dump day:

Sugarloaf area:

 

Looking down Little Cottonwood Canyon towards Salt Lake City.

 

 

Superior:

 

 

 

 

Conspicuous Authenticity

 

[This is a piece I wrote for my employer, Fast Horse. ]

When I saw two articles in a week that covered the booming Williamsburg craft moonshine industry, I knew that  smug had gone mainstream.  You’ll see no shortage of people riding overpriced vintage bicycles with ironic sunglasses this spring, and soon you’ll spot people shouldering their NPR tote bags on the way home from the farmer’s market.  I’m guilty of all these things (excluding the tote), but I get a little disgusted feeling if I hear someone mention about their compost setup and taste in indie film.

Andrew Potter’s recently published book, The Authenticity Hoax, explains the phenomenon of conspicuous authenticity – the process of buying specific goods and experiences to express our status and wealth. As public displays of conspicuous consumption have become less acceptable and people have accumulated houses full of clothes, cars, and gadgets, people have developed new ways of distinguishing themselves. If you like the idea of purchasing White Dog and telling your friends about the bearded Brooklynites who work the stills, you may be guilty of conspicuous authenticity.

So what’s wrong with buying local food and handcrafted furniture?  Potter says that these conspicuously authentic products are positional goods; they are only valuable in that not everyone has access to them.  If everyone owned a pair of custom Argentine leather shoes, then it wouldn’t mean much.  Potter argues that underneath our good intentions we are trying to show wealth, status, and sophistication.  We buy seemingly authentic goods for the very reason that we can and others can’t.

Here’s the thing: I absolutely love many of these psuedo-authentic products and experiences  I have fun buying local meat, brewing beer, and I’m considering buying a locally-made wool sleeve for my laptop. I completely buy into the ideas and philosophies behind hand crafted and custom goods.  I like to have the chance to tell a story behind a thing; it’s more fun to explain how your screen printing buddy made your shirt than to say “I got it at Target.”  Maybe I am a conspicuous authenticity consumer to the nth degree, but I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to be able to tell a story about what you buy. We’d be a healthier and happier bunch if we knew the stories behind our food, clothes and toys.  We’ve all collected loads of junk that we keep in the basement and then toss when we move.  I don’t think that we should focus on accumulating stuff as much as we do, but given how much we consume, it could be worthwhile to believe in what you buy.  Or maybe I’ll just move to Williamsburg to get my judging on.

image courtesy of dontcallmeikke on flickr

But we don’t want to go outside.

image courtesey of debaird via flickr

[I wrote this for my employer’s blog – Fast Horse.]

I don’t know if Barack Obama eats granola, but if he does, I hope he keeps it a secret. Obama recently launched his “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative to encourage conservation and outdoor recreation.  It may be a first step toward bigger environmental legislation, but right now it’s a loose set of policy guidelines and listening sessions. Our introduction to “America’s Great Outdoors” is heavy on family vacations to Yellowstone and light on the Birkenstocks.  It’s about seeing Old Faithful, not about atmospheric CO2 or wetland destruction. Obama hopes to tap into a nostalgic American outdoor culture of outdoor recreation, but I wonder if he’d be better starting from scratch. Americans spend considerably less time outside than we did in past decades, and children especially are spending more time indoors. The United States does not have a cohesive national outdoor culture. We have granola-crunchers, hunters, boaters, and extreme sports enthusiasts, but I don’t think these groups cross paths very often. Our mainstream culture takes place on screens, in cars and at home. Perhaps America is too big and too diverse to support a national outdoor culture, but I’d love to see one.

To see what a national outdoor culture could be, let’s look at Norway. There’s a Norwegian saying that captures the essence of their outdoor culture. On any given day with nasty weather, you’ll hear someone say “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” The phrase says a lot, but mostly it implies that it’s better to be outside than inside, and tells you to suck it up, it’s fine outside. The Norwegians drill in this somewhat mandatory outdoor appreciation early. On rainy days, you’ll see kindergarten classes walking single-file in their rain slickers. In the United States, being outdoors is about doing something: biking, fishing, running, etc. In Norway, it’s just about being outside; you don’t need to be an athlete to have fun. But this outdoor appreciation makes for a lot of accidental athletes. I know many fit 20-something Americans who have been cross-country skiing at what they think is an impressive clip, until they are passed by a 75-year-old man on his father’s birch skis.

It’s not that Americans don’t like to be outside. Many of us are emerging from the winter and getting outside whenever we can. The hottest ticket in Minnesota right now is to an outdoor Twins game at Target Field. But if Obama wants to tap into our outdoorsy side, he’s going to have to pry us away from our glowing screens and tell us to get off our butts.  Where’s a Norwegian kindergarten teacher when you need one?

Planning for the Cycling Bunch

(I wrote this for my employer’s blog – Fast Horse.  Check ‘em out)

It’s a great time of the year to ride your bike: we’ve just had our first taste of 60-degree days in Minneapolis, one of the nation’s top cycling cities. Bicycling enters the public conversation every spring, around the same time that Midwestern flooding prompts a bizarre national Fargo-Watch and March Madness replaces work.

Last week,  Lance Armstong and Tony Kornheiser of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption engaged in a social media brawl after Kornheiser went on an anti-cyclist rant on his Washington, D.C., radio show.  Cyclists responded in a huge way, enough to make Clear Channel ban on-air cycling talk. We could keep bickering away online, but as marketers and culture-watchers, I think we should take this opportunity to take a closer look at the mindsets and motives of cyclists.

It’s easy to pass off bikers off as spandex-wrapped Tour de France wannabes or granola-crunching packages of flannel, but I think that we should look at individuals’ transportation choices in a bigger way. There’s a mindset, lifestyle, and ideology of the bicycle-riding population that marketers and planners should be aware of.  It’s impossible for me to lay down any final judgment on cyclists, as they are a vastly diverse and quirky bunch (including the author) but I’ll try to give some insight into these populations.

Cyclists ride for many different reasons: fitness, convenience, raw fun, personal finances, the environment, etc., but they all ride for a reason.  No one hops onto a bike at 7:00 a.m. in the middle of winter for no good reason.  Many cyclists need to know the reasons behind their actions as well as the products and services they choose to buy.  Not all cyclists are environmentalists or 3% body-fat specimens, but they make direct connections between what they do and the results of those actions. This is not to say that motorists are oblivious to their actions, but cyclists may pay particular attention to the effects of their purchases and lifestyles.

Geography and transportation infrastructure matter in a big way for cyclists.  I’ll gladly pay a bit more at the hardware store that’s within biking distance than deal with a cheaper place located off the interstate.  Many riders are confident enough to ride on the nastiest streets at all hours, but for recreational cyclists, bike lanes and streetlights are necessary.  Bicycle parking can be the best of times and the worst of times, all at once.  You can usually park your bike very close to your destination, but you have to think about the chance of someone ripping off your saddle or wheels.  Stores that provide adequate bike racks get more of my business.

Many cyclists have a community-centered mindset  and they may shop accordingly.  You’ll see tens of bicycles outside of the local Co-op, but very few lined up outside Arby’s.  They have strong feelings about public space, public funds and public decisions.  The experience of cycling practically demands a community-based worldview: on the bike, there is nothing between you and the terrain, the traffic and the elements.  Smaller communities are also important to many cyclists. After a week of cheating death on icy urban streets, there’s something reassuring about  spending time with other people who commute by bike and can tell you that you’re not the only crazy one.  Local bike shops often depend on a core of riders who swing by on evenings and weekends to talk shop and occasionally buy something.

Performance-enhancing chemicals are no small matter to cyclists.  Doping has been a part of bicycle racing since the earliest days, and the connections between bikes, coffee and beer are many. Peace Coffee is delivered by bikes, New Belgium Brewing Company was inspired by a bicycle trip, Minneapolis boasts at least three cycle-based coffee shops, and Pabst Blue Ribbon shares a weirdly intimate relationship with urban cyclists. I can’t say much more about this bicycle-chemical connection beyond my observation that cyclists depend heavily on caffeine and alcohol, will do anything for them and love every minute of it.

Also, they’re sort of weird.

The Pint-a-Thon is Underway!

How’s your marathon training going?  Time to switch gears and dig into the Pint-a-Thon?  Here’s your chance.  You can pledge to drink Finnegans during the month of March and be entered to win a sweet pub party.  Finnegans is a Minneapolis-based beer that gives 100% of its profits to charity.  I’ve been volunteering with them since early this year.    Be a hero and check this out.  The riverdancing squirrels and roller-skating “lerpicorn” will make it worth your while.

Surviving Off The Grid in Nerdmerica

(via catandcow.davidguay.com)

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(I wrote this for my employer’s blog  – Fast Horse.  Check ‘em out.

In my short time in the professional world, it’s become clear that the nerds will soon rule the world.  Employers are looking for candidates who know an industry and have the technical toolkit to help adapt to new economic models. It’s a rough scene  for the nerd-impaired: venn diagrams pass for humor, and you couldn’t avoid watching the entire United States geek out about the iPad a few weeks ago.  But the reports of Nerdmerica may be overblown. A recent study by the Department of Commerce showed that 30% of the United States never uses the internet: no email, no facebook, no Farmville.  I’d love to report that people are taking a break from the digital world to focus on the simpler things, like spending time with their families and beard-growing.  The bulk of non-internet users, however, report more troubling reasons: they don’t own a computer or have the skills to go online.

Think for a second about where you’d be without the internet. I’ve found my last job and apartment online, and I don’t see myself severing my digital ties anytime soon.  I’m concerned for the millions of people on the wrong side of the digital divide. Our ability to improve ourselves professionally and seek out important information increasingly requires high-speed internet.  How many well-paying jobs welcome applicants who don’t have email addresses?

The online tools that empower individuals — education, social networking, and health information — are inaccessible to many of the people who could benefit most from them.  Many cities offer free computer and internet access at public libraries, but there is never enough computer time for everyone.  When we seriously underfund our libraries, we’re not just cutting magazine subscriptions, we’re trimming a service that our neediest citizens rely on.  But I’ll get back to something nerdy.

My favorite web designers are the ones who obsess over accessibility and usability. While their peers are enthralled with html5 and gesture-based interfaces, they know that an absurd number of web users still use IE6.  These designers aim to serve the needs of everyone, not just the early adopters.  My favorite graphic designers are ones who think of the least-capable and confused people and find a way to get them to understand.

Good design and planning processes are few and far between, but they can account for the vast diversity of technology ability and accessibility within a population.  How does your company meet the needs of those who are off the grid?  Do you have systems in place to identify technology accessibility obstacles and then address them? (hint: twitter keyword monitoring is not the best place to start).  I’d love to hear how organizations have had success including the non-nerds among us.