Bum's Rush

In the gentrifying mountain village of Telluride, a band of local adventure addicts is preaching the gospel of neo-hippie purity in an upstart 'zine called Mountainfreak. Can these goddess-worshipping ski bums stay true to their vert' and manage to run a business at the same time?

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
Matthew Lewis's name disappeared from Mountainfreak's masthead after the fourth issue, his departure the result of a falling-out with Hilary. He is still in the Telluride area, working construction. He feels, he says, that Hilary's national aspirations for the magazine are wrongheaded.

"Originally we were talking to us," he told me. "The Rocky Mountain West underclass. Bums. Scrapers-by. Freaks. Tapping the energy, crude and raw as it may have been.

"Look, I'm not part of the magazine. It's theirs. Hilary's. I still sell them the occasional story, but what bothers me is I don't think it's written for scramblers anymore, for those who came to the mountains to avoid 401(k)s and the daily New York Times. It was about 'you can break out,' not 'you can build your own straw-bale-and-windfall house.'"

He acknowledges that he feels betrayed: "Take me with a grain of salt. I'm bitter." The Hilary-Matthew feud is complicated. He feels that Hilary and Biedron were involved in a palace coup that left him powerless; Hilary feels Matthew was unreliable and unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices for the magazine.

If we leave aside this wrangling as little more than a garden-variety spat between friends, as we should, and if we dismiss undue pressure from financial backers as a reason that Mountainfreak changed, then what are we left with—little more than a portrait of philosophical evolution?

People age. People change. Happens all the time. Mutability is not a four-letter word. And most magazines—at least the ones worth reading—start out with a crazy dream. And many people—at least the ones worth knowing—think of themselves as unique, as freaky. And lots of people who once thought of themselves as unique and having crazy dreams get older and grumpier and find it easy to mock those who come after them.

In order to change the world, Mountainfreak had to come down to earth and take care of some decidedly unfreaky business. Nothing wrong with that.

On the day I left Telluride, I had a conversation with Mark Steele, the art director who came aboard for the third issue. He is a very intense 1991 graduate of Wesleyan University, a former rugby team captain and high school student body president. His Telluride job history ranges from all-night furniture moving and designing a tracking system for a human resources consulting firm to working on the Daily Planet.

We sat at an espresso bar in the back of a bookstore. When I asked him his definition of a freak, he nodded. "I know what you're thinking. That we don't seem freaky. But we are, in the sense that we aren't a magazine for tourists. What they call a destination, our readers call home."

We talked about a lot of things, including the difficulty of being ecologically correct—should the magazine go to subscribers in a polyethylene bags or brown-paper covers? We discussed his upcoming marriage to a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner, and the superiority of rugby over football.

"What is a freak?" he said, returning to my question. "A freak chooses a lifestyle that is not the easiest. A freak accepts challenges to do what he wants to do—a dedicated medical student, a struggling writer. Freaks must be willing to overcome obstacles. Everyone in Telluride is a freak. To live here, ski all the time, or whatever, we have to accept all kinds of challenges: insane rent, $8 breakfasts!"

As I stood to leave, I asked Mark about Mountainfreak's weird newsstand price: $4.20.

He broke into a rare smile. "It began as a wink to other freaks," he says. "'420' is cop talk for a marijuana violation, or it may be 20 after four in the afternoon, time for puffing happy hour. I don't know."

I thought that was the coolest thing I had heard about Mountainfreak, and told him so.

"Yeah. But we have to raise the price this issue or next. It's history."   

Frequent contributor Bryan Di Salvatore's most recent book is A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward.