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KANW is a member of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serves the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Our mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues across the Mountain West.From land and water management to growth in the expanding West to our unique culture and heritage, we'll explore the issues that define us and the challenges we face.

Outrage over a local comic highlights ski town tensions

A person in ski gear poses with their skis at the top of a mountain.
Dante Filpula Ankney
Ryan Stolp poses along his cartoon-covered skis at the top of Rendezvous Mountain at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Ryan Stolp’s newspaper comic was due in 30 minutes, but he didn't know what he was going to draw. He consulted his half-baked list of ideas and then grabbed his iPad.

“I would love to tell you that I think these out more than I do,” Stolp stammered.

But he didn't have the time. Stick figure here, sketch there, speech bubble, color and… done. He sent it off to the paper — just in time.

“And that’s how Jackson, at least, gets Lift Lines,” Stolp said.

"Lift Lines" is Stolp’s satirical comic that riffs on ski culture and the lifestyle in mountain towns like Jackson. It runs three times a week in the town's daily paper as well as on Instagram to his 15,000 followers.

But this spring one of his illustrations drew community outrage — unlike any he’s done before.

“So, I knew there was this little secret,” Stolp said. “So I'm like, okay, I can fly kind of close to the sun, and I can make this joke.”

That secret wasa loophole that allowed locals to avoid a $35 daily parking fee in a lot at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Parking there offers a way to avoid an about hour-long bus ride to the resort from town, or about half an hour from the park and ride lot at Stilson. Dozens — if not hundreds — of locals had been using the hack, by quickly scanning their ticket.

“I kind of felt like I stepped on a landmine that I didn't know was there." - Ryan Stolp, Lift Lines Comics

Soon after the comic ran, the group that runs the parking lot, the Teton Village Association, cracked down. No more hack, no more free parking.

Locals were not amused, to say the least. Suddenly, Stolp was targeted by spam callers and Jehovah’s Witnesses — a setup he suspects was sparked by angry locals. And among the hundreds of angry Instagram comments, he was described as public enemy number one and warned that he would get punched in the face.

“It's different when everyone that's mad is like your neighbor and your community member and your friend or your friend of a friend,” Stolp said.

Thirty-five bucks might not seem like much. But the incident highlights a friction in ski towns across the Mountain West. Skiing and snowboarding continues to grow, bringing more people to resort towns. And that drives up prices on housing, meals, lift tickets — almost everything — and many residents are feeling the squeeze.

About a dozen people wearing jeans ski away from the camera
Connor Burkesmith
Skiers come from around the country to ski in jeans at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort last December — in part, to celebrate the good, old days, and get cheap lift tickets.

Margaret Bowes is the executive director of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

“Resort and tourism-based communities have very unique challenges such as high cost of living, affordable housing issues and transportation,” Bowes said.

She said parking fees and parking tickets aim to steer people to car pools and shuttles.

“I think skiing has just really changed,” Bowes said. “It's exploded in recent years, and so gone are the days when you can drive up to your favorite resort at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and not encounter crowds.”

Still, the changes can rankle residents who long for the good old days.

“I think those of us that live in ski towns sometimes feel [that] we get fatigue,” Bowes said. “We get tourism fatigue and sometimes feel like our communities aren't our own anymore. And so there gets to be a little bit of friction.”

Julien Lacourse, who has worked as a bartender in town, has felt that friction.

He said he used the parking hack hundreds of times and saw nothing wrong with using something that was widely available — at least to those who knew.

“I don't think it's possible to steal something when it's allowed,” Lacourse said.

He said he recognizes somebody needs to manage parking but said that the Teton Village Association [TVA], well …

“They're a necessary evil, which we can all stomp our feet about because ... they're nerds,” Lacourse said. “They’re just a thorn in our side because they have to be, man. You know, the village [the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort] is the rose. They’re the thorns. That's just the way it is.”

Nerds because — well, he has gotten some tickets, pasted onto his driver's side door so well that it lasts for days.

Lacourse paid for stickers to be made that say “Defund the TVA” in bold black letters.

He said it was mostly a joke, a reaction to getting a ticket. He added that outside of a few instances, he has never had too much trouble with getting to work, even without the loophole.

He considers Stolp a friend, but said he wishes the cartoonist had apologized. He said he thinks a lot of the blowback was deserved but also that many went too far.

“Any calls to violence are outlandish. Come on guys. That’s ridiculous,” Lacourse said.

Stolp attributes the blowback to folks who are frustrated about changes in town and are looking for a scapegoat. And in this instance, he was exactly that for people’s frustration.

“I think the thing that you have an obligation to do, no matter where you are in that community, is to be a role model and steward how that community should evolve, because all things change,” Stolp said.

Recently, he was back on the mountain during Gaper Day, feeling mostly good, but maybe a little wary, he said.

“Beautiful sunrise on Tetons this morning,” Stolp said.

After riding the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, he clicked into his skis in front of Corbet’s Cabin. He took a minute to think about how things played out and the support he received from many.

“I think the community showed its true colors in the end and the true colors were good. That's why I live here, that’s why I love living here,” he said. “There's great people around every corner.”

And with that he shimmied over a ridge, and down into the bowl he went.

Dante Filpula Ankney comes to KHOL as a lifelong resident of the Mountain West. He made his home on the plains of Eastern Montana before moving to the Western Montana peaks to study journalism and wilderness studies. Dante has found success producing award-winning print, audio and video stories for a variety of publications, including a stint as a host at Montana Public Radio. Most recently, he spent a year teaching English in Bulgaria through a Fulbright Fellowship. When he isn’t reporting, you can find Dante outside scaling rocks, sliding across snow or winning a game of cribbage.