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
I'd been in Telluride for almost four days, and my notes read: Bryan is getting grumpy. If reading old issues of SkiFreak Radical and the first few of Mountainfreak is like drunk dirty dancing with the prettiest wildgirl at the rockabilly ball, reading Mountainfreak today is like running into the craziest S.O.B. in the dorm and discovering he has been ordained a Presbyterian minister.

One might be forgiven if one raised an eyebrow at the coincidence of Mark Biedron's generosity—described in the pages of the resurrected magazine as "the warm wind from the East"—and Mountainfreak's shift toward tamer, softer content. But according to all concerned, the coincidence was just that.

"I have never, ever, interfered or tried to push my weight around or said 'do this' or 'don't do that,'" Mark Biedron told me. "I believe in their vision. This is the kids' voice, not mine."

Hilary and Mark agree, adamantly, with Biedron's declaration of noninvolvement. "We changed after issue three. Absolutely," Hilary acknowledged one evening in a Telluride bistro. "For those first couple of issues, I didn't care whom we offended. We were local, with local ads. I took responsibility for our outrageousness. Now I am we. We are a tribe. We did a lot of soul-searching about number four. I had become offended by 'I fired up the bong, skied 9,000 feet of 50 percent vertical, came back, fired up the bong, and hit the Cuervo.' If people want to take drugs for spiritual enlightenment, then go ahead. We aren't going to encourage drug use. Like every issue says, 'Take responsibility for your own actions.'"

I suggested that for something put out by self-styled freaks—whom I had always thought of as people standing proudly, even deÞantly, outside of society—the magazine was starting to look downright mainstream.

Hilary actually sneered at me.

"Putting out a controversial magazine is so...so exactly what we aren't about—falling into a negative publicity trip. We are not out to be offensive. We are not Ski-Freak Radical."

The conversation had not been going swimmingly, and I'll take part of the blame for the chilly turn. I had been trying to find cracks in Hilary's guilelessness. OK, I'd been baiting her. Though I admired the youthful efforts and idealism of the Mountainfreak folks, I was growing weary of what I saw as a vague "celebration" of the earth to no purpose. When I got to Telluride, I had hoped to find people as angry and ill-informed and passionate as I had been when I was a soi-disant freak, back during a time of bloody, frightening confrontation. Instead I felt I was finding a vaguely disheartening temperance, a kind of anger lite, a bumper-sticker spirituality. So I began pointing out some contradictions I'd noticed.

Me: You wrote about mobile homes harming the planet.

Hilary: They do.

Me: Maybe there are reasons—like money—why people don't buy expensive land in the San Juans, as you did, and take years creating a home that's one with nature.

Hilary: It wasn't that expensive.

Me: Was.

Hilary: Wasn't.

We marched on. I asked for her definition of a freak. "A fresh-thinking, open-minded individual who uses inspiration from the natural world to guide his life," she replied.

I said, unable to stop myself, that her definition seemed a bit all-inclusive and a little shy of rigorous.

"That's the point!" she said with exasperation. "It could be a ski bum here, or a Wall Street broker with deep-powder photos on his office wall.

"With Mark Biedron, we were given, miraculously, a second chance," she continued. "And I realized that, if we did things right, we could become more than a local magazine. We could become a national voice for freaks. Everyone has a little freak in them."