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

The woman on the phone was soon to be the founder of Telluride's own quarterly "freak" publication: Mountainfreak.

"I talked to them and told them my idea," Hilary told me, "and they just went, 'Uh, I don't know.' I'm sure they were thinking, 'Who is this person, and is she stealing our idea?' I wasn't out to hurt anyone."

Hilary and I were sitting at an outside table of a tiny Mexican kitchen in Telluride. It was a warm, sunny day. We were both wearing sunglasses. If I were better looking, we'd have been lay-ins for a fizzy-water ad shoot. Hilary stabbed her burrito and waved her hand as if to shoo any lingering molecules of the Canadians' toxic failure of vision.

Hilary White, 32, is fine-boned, tall, slender, athletic, with admirably white teeth. She has an unsettlingly vertical forehead and billows of dark, dramatic hair: a crunchy combination of Katharine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart. The daughter of a successful stockbroker, she exudes the lanky, confident grace of privilege, with a Gypsy-like edge. She grew up in a well-manicured Seattle neighborhood and graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in media-sociology in 1989. After a brief turn as a mortgage officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, she turned her back on "panty hose and nine-to-five and all that" and, like tens of thousands before her, fetched up in the Rockies. She stayed with friends in Jackson, Wyoming, who told her of "this funky place, Telluride." Once there, she decided to settle. Last year, due to indifferent conditions, she skied only "60 or 70" times, down from her usual 100 or so.

At the time she contacted SkiFreak Radical, she was engaged in typical Telluride underclass work: jobs like housecleaning and house-sitting and devoting some hours to working for a local film festival and bartending at catered affairs.

"I was having sleepless nights," Hilary recalled. "Was I wasting my education? What was I doing with my life? I couldn't get their magazine out of my mind. Why not tap all the creative energy around here? Get all these talented people who are washing dishes, operating lifts, driving shuttle buses, to communicate. Get photos from guys who are good but can't break into Powder, get art from people whose stuff you see around town, writers, poets. So I called those guys up in Nelson."

But after this fleeting telephone call, Bjorn and the boys soon forgot about Hilary-from-Telluride. "We went back to work," Bjorn said, "putting out the magazine." Then one day, in January 1996, here's this magazine in the mail. Hilary's magazine.

"We went, 'What the fuck!' Big as life was her magazine title: Mountainfreak. Sound a little like SkiFreak Radical? I mean, what if you were busting butt putting out a magazine called Outside and some dude goes and starts a similar magazine—really similar—and calls it Outsider?"

I said I'd be bummed. I asked Bjorn if he would accept one man's apology for his country's inherently bossy and acquisitive nature, its centuries-long history of appropriation and exploitation of its kind and worthy northern neighbors.

"You're on," he said with a laugh."We eventually cooled off. 'It's a free world,' that sort of thing. We realized that maybe we were taking ourselves too seriously."

As it happened, Mountainfreak's birth, in January 1996, nearly coincided with the demise of its Canadian predecessor. By SkiFreak Radical's 12th and final issue, in the summer of 1997, the publication had a print run of 10,000 copies, avid readers on both sides of the border, and a staff of five, but "we were really burned out," Bjorn recalled. "As sort of a joke in number three, we had written an ad asking for someone who has skills in desktop publishing and is willing to work when it's dumping. Well, after a while it wasn't a joke. We weren't making any real money, and it was consuming our lives. Plus I had picked up a really bad habit: workaholism. We packed it in."

Did the founding of Mountainfreak contribute to the original's demise?

"No. Not at all," Bjorn said. "They've found their own flavor. And I don't know how long we'd have lasted—or if we had lasted, how we would have changed. Everything changes: Apple computer company, the Catholic Church—they started out as a bunch of freaky cultists, now they own the Vatican.SkiFreak Radical was then. We're on our new trip. We totally support her."