What is up with the roundabout epidemic in ski towns? Surely you’ve struggled through these traffic circles, which are gobbling up perfectly good stop signs at intersections everywhere in skidom. (It is, now that I think about it, akin to the nonnative “chondola,” which has systematically snuffed out romantic double chairs that kept our pow fresh for longer than 12 seconds.) I mean, as if the ersatz Bavarian villages and cobblestone walkways aren’t enough, now we have to suffer through non-intersections that some French dude invented long before cars were a thing? “Hey, go with the flow,” they seem to say, “right into oncoming traffic.”
I understand the original idea behind them is to keep traffic moving, which would be a good thing if we actually knew how to use them. But in our stop-and-go culture, this idea just translates into doing stupid things faster. Besides, at least in ski towns off of Colorado’s soul-suckingly congested I-70, the concept of easing the last five minutes of our four-hour rage-filled commute is laughable. (Why can’t they use those roundabout resources to build a moveable highway median as they have in South America? Now that’s a foreign traffic concept I can get behind.)
I suspect they build these abominations because they’re more aesthetically pleasing. Because stop signs and (gasp) street lights would muck up the romance of the faux Swiss chalets and an ice rink so tiny I could throw, say, a dozen farm-raised-local-organic eggs across it.
Apparently, statistics say the roundabouts help prevent crashes. I think that’s mostly because people are so scared to use them that they would rather walk. I mean, who yields to whom? (The answer is more confusing than the grammar.) But the real circus happens when some smartass engineer puts two lanes in the thing. (“Let’s see what they do with this!” he says before fogging his wire-frame glasses with evil, maniacal laughter.)
Here’s how my thought process goes: Is the guy in the F150 barreling toward me with his blinker on going to get off where I’m getting on? Do I wait or do I go? If I’m in the right lane, do I have to get off at the next spoke that comes around, even if that’s not the street I need? (It is never the street I need.) So I migrate to the inside, a car honking rudely from my blind spot, to find myself stuck there for at least two laps, spotting the exit to get back on I-70 like Suzie Chafee doing pirouettes during her ski ballet routine.
Each time this occurs, I quote the line from that fine cinematic feature, “European Vacation:” “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament,” which my 13-year-old daughter finds almost as cringy as when I insist on ordering a “small” latte from Starbucks. (Talk about inanity—“tall” does not mean small. Not even in Europe.)
This reminds me—when I was 16, I studied abroad in provincial France. I rode a cruiser bike to school each day with my friends Candace and Caleb, who both came from my American school. Every morning we would navigate our way through backlit hay meadows and lavender fields, the fragrance of which was usually overwhelmed by the cigarette stuck precariously to Caleb’s lower lip. We had to pedal through not one but four of these evil circles masked prettily under the French name ronds points. They were confounding, these things, and after riding them for an entire semester, both Candace and Caleb got hit in separate incidents. I never felt safe.
If I could not learn these things as an adolescent, how the hell am I going to learn them as an adult? My daughter knew what “stop” and “go” meant before she learned how to crawl, and I used these commands frequently when I taught her how to ski. (“Stop throwing your ski poles at me,” “Stop screaming that you’re going to die,” and “Honey, it’s getting dark—point ’em downhill and go already!” or “Stop putting your toast in the cat’s ear.”) But merging into oncoming traffic that’s coming in and going out is hardly a primal instinct.
Could it be that my resistance says more about me than the roundabout itself? Am I incapable of spontaneous cooperation? Unwilling to yield? Resistant to change? Afraid that this circular hamster wheel might be an allegory for how, when I’m old and living with multiple cats who are allowed on the kitchen counter, I see my life?
Whatever. Take away my stop sign, but at least leave me with my denial—and a small Starbucks latte, please.
Kim Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late Skiing Magazine (RIP). She now uses freelance writing as a beard to ski off every last double chairlift at resorts all over the world. She lives in Denver with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.