Toeing the line between ‘thrifty’ and ‘modern’ |

Toeing the line between ‘thrifty’ and ‘modern’

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To look at my parents, you’d never know they are financially comfortable. Dad usually has a hole somewhere on his clothes, which is OK with my mother, who couldn’t care less about fashion. I remember in eighth grade, begging for contact lenses, but according to my parents, function took precedence over vanity, and Dad thought my cat-eye eyeglasses worked just fine.

My father was a CFO of a big corporation, but you would never have known ” he was proud to park his Chevy Nova next to his partners’ Jaguars and Saabs.

Even though my folks are living the good life of retirees, while growing up our lifestyles and values were definitely middle class. From age 13 on, I held some kind of job. I remember that first winter in Summit County, wondering if I could do it all ” be a waitress, ski every day and still support myself. I found out that it wasn’t easy, but definitely achievable. In fact, every April I had a chunk of cash left over to take a trip to Moab and hit the sale racks.

Lately I’ve noticed the lines have been blurred between what I need and what I want. This spring in particular I’ve gotten a little out of control. Suddenly I now have an entire new ski wardrobe ” the softshell, the hardshell, skis, boots, bindings, new shades, new hats, you name it.

It is gross.

Last week I hooked up with my girlfriend Tracy, who lives in another ski town, for a bluebird day of backcountry skiing off Monarch Pass. There was a foot of new snow, and the tree skiing on that east side was unreal. (Mount Aetna and Clover Mountain will have to see some tracks this spring once we hit the melt-freeze cycle.)

Tracy pulled up in her beater pickup truck. She doesn’t have much. She’s worked hard in her resort town, but it’s a little more blue-collar than ours. After paying her mortgage and health insurance, she has very little left over.

The cables off her ancient telemark bindings are frayed and bent. Her ski pants have a few patches on the knees, and she always has on that same old green wool sweater. She just switched from leather boots to plastic, about 10 years behind the times.

I see Tracy and am ashamed of myself. I’m just so flashy, so new, so not me. What’s happened? Did I really buy this jacket just because it was a few ounces lighter and packed down to the size of a tennis ball? Did I really just get this new pack because I wanted the latest hydration system?

Tracy skis as often as I do and loves it just as much. Despite her well-worn gear, she is a great skier, making smooth, graceful turns through the trees on her skinny skis and wimpy boots. She still loves her life, rarely complains about what she lacks, and her grin after a sick run lights up the backcountry. It seems I am attracted to people who can live simply yet still feel content. Those are the values that I was raised with, but sometimes forget.

We’re lucky here in Summit County. My husband Jeffrey and I have done well making ends meet. Most of our friends also seem to be just fine. I see fewer Tracy types and most of us can afford a new ski jacket rather than resorting to duct tape.

I know I have gained from the growth I resent in Summit County. Most other ski town dwellers aren’t so fortunate as we are (or maybe they are the lucky ones). I know I could easily live with a lot less, but I don’t.

Got the lecture from the hubby the other night, to get off the Internet and stop shopping. He was right. Bordering on obsessive-compulsive. Before I had logged off, I was lusting for a down coat, better than my old one because it had a hood and was lighter.

Walking away from my computer, I had an image of Tracy stuffing her ugly brown down coat, a few sizes too big, into her already gigantic pack. I remembered that Mountain Outfitters had one in her size on sale, in that light blue. I couldn’t resist. I bought her the jacket, maybe more for my guilt than anything else, and felt better about my gross consumption.

Though I’m not ready to put all my clothes and gear on eBay, and send the proceeds to UNICEF, I’ll say here and now I’m going to try and think before I buy and accentuate the line between need and want.

Do they make duct tape in light blue?

Longtime Breckenridge resident Ellen Hollinshead writes a biweekly Monday column on the outdoors. She can be reached at

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