An inside look at Instagram's I-70 Things
Alejandro Brown runs an account exposing the offbeat life along the I-70 mountain corridor in Colorado. Plus, we follow up with Park City ski patrol's Patrick Murphy
If there’s one thing skiers know too well, it’s traffic, and Colorado’s stretch of Interstate-70 is infamous for it. We caught up with Alejandro Brown over the phone this week. He’s the creator behind the widely popular Colorado-based Instagram account: @i70things.
I-70 and the beginning of the ‘things’
For the unfamiliar or newly transplanted, the Colorado stretch of Interstate-70 runs directly through the Rockies via mountain passes, tunnels, canyons, and the Colorado River. It’s also an access point for 12 different ski resorts, funneling millions of mountain enthusiasts onto it in the winter.
But there’s more to it than just pavement — Those who drive on I-70 enrich it with character, whether that’s catching fish during road closures, getting a quick pump in, or taking an alpaca for a nice stroll.
Alejandro Brown recalled when he created the account back in December 2019, which currently sits at roughly 200,000 followers. “We just encountered what now is known as a bunch of I-70 Things … jack-knifed semi-trucks, certain lane closures, cars spinning out,” he says. He posted some photos and shared them with friends, but it wasn’t long before people started to notice the budding profile of I-70 Things.
“It hit this kind of point where people are like, ‘Hey, I saw something cool, can you post it?’”
Brown decided to put his background in marketing to the test and pursued the growth of the account from there. Followers gradually trickled in until the summer of 2020 when a slew of wildfires scorched Colorado. “I was covering certain things on the highway that weren’t even like public knowledge yet,” Brown says, adding how he started to realize the impact it had when people began thanking him for sharing the information.
“I was like oh, wow, we really have something of value here.”
‘Now, it’s fair game for everyone'
The 449.5 miles of interstate running through the Colorado Rockies are not only rich in character, but full of flaws, with accidents, delays, traffic, and road closures being the norm. I-70 Things has a humorous kick, but it also provides genuine value to the people and communities that need it most. “It’s the most transparent way of showing and stating what’s happening, where and when, with proof,” Brown says. And we at The Chairlift have to agree.
“Now, it’s fair game for everyone,” he says, adding, “You make a decision. Do you want to risk it or do you want to stay home? The information’s out there to help you make an educated decision.”
I-70 Things allows people to make an educated decision with information that might not be available elsewhere, and while map-oriented apps can offer an idea of traffic, it’s not the same as having motorists on the scene, providing live updates for one another.
“How I see I-70 Things is I might be at the helm, but together as a community, this is why it’s a really tight knit community, we all want to help each other out,” Brown says. “Imagine an army of almost 200,000 reporters helping each other out. That’s a community.”
Not everyone who posts information likely considers themself a reporter. But the community certainly is rife with observers who offer first-hand accounts, often through photos or short videos, in real-time.
Brown says he’s dedicated to providing quality information on this legendary stretch of road, which is evident in the 1,400-plus posts and numerous stories posted throughout the day, every day. Go ahead, see for yourself. He’s passionate about building an entertaining platform that delivers transparent and accurate information, keeping the roads safe and fun for all.
Finding substantial value
As the popularity of I-70 Things grew, Brown began to spend more and more time managing the account. Dedicated to providing and sharing the best content, he capitalized on the opportunity, creating I-70 Things merchandise and partnering with various brands, like this Outlaw Beer billboard just off I-70.
“I need to spend hours every day and I’m not paid for my time,” Brown says, adding he can “benefit from it a little while still keeping the community first and helping them out.”
While the account continues to grow, Brown’s current focus is on Colorado’s traction law and avalanche awareness, two factors that can create major issues on the road. The volume of cars and traffic keeps growing, so promoting the traction laws, for example, can have major effects in keeping people off the road and out of accidents.
“I really want I-70 Things to be seen as like a main news source for the I-70 mountain corridor.”
CDOT, the Colorado Department of Transportation, has also worked directly with Brown in the past when they tore down a viaduct in Denver as part of the Central 70 Project.
“When that shift happened, they actually reached out to me to help give updates to people on when the shift was happening, how it was happening, and what to expect.”
Brown hopes the community he’s fostered can continue to provide for each other, and down the road, he sees the potential initiative in developing “legislative action for creating safer driving conditions in the mountains.”
Brown believes I-70 Things can help “start the dialogue to enact change in Colorado, to help us Coloradans, you know, make a difference for all the people who drive I-70 daily, and the millions who drive it yearly.”
While the future of I-70 Things is unknown, Brown is committed to providing the best information and content to what he calls “road warriors and outdoor enthusiasts who see I-70 as their gateway to the mountains.”
A special thanks to Alejandro Brown for taking the time to chat and give us some insight into what goes on behind the legendary I-70 Things Instagram. Consider checking out the account here or i70things.com for more.
Catching-up with ski patroller Patrick Murphy
Last week’s edition of The Chairlift covered the Park City ski patrol negotiation process with Vail Resorts. This week, we were able to follow up over the phone with Park City ski patroller and business manager Patrick Murphy. The following are excerpts from our conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.
After such a long and strenuous process, how is everyone in the union feeling about having Vail as an employer?
“There’s definitely a high amount of relief just amongst our patrol that we’re done negotiating. But as with any employer, and especially in the ski industry these days, there are definitely some frustrating aspects. But, I don’t want to speak too much about that I can’t speak for everyone.”
Can you offer any insight into what went on in the union? Was there any strife?
“Normally with a group this big, you would definitely get some disparate opinions and it would be hard to get on the same page. The longer the process went on, the more solidarity grew amongst ourselves and the more we were able to stick together, which is where our strength really lies.”
Why do you think Vail was so resistant to offering a livable wage?
“We were kind of just representative of a greater battle amongst the industry and amongst the company for getting these higher wages. And I think that both of us saw that we represented more than just ourselves. That's just speculation on my part, but that's how it felt.”
It’s so surprising, it seems like Vail doesn’t recognize the value you guys bring — you’re the lifeline to the mountains and if it wasn’t for ski patrol, what would they do?
“Right, and that’s one of the main things we’ve been fighting for, for the entirety of our existence as a union, is just getting that respect and recognition for the job that we do and for how important it is. Based on that is getting pay that is commensurate with the level of skill and the necessity that we provide.”
“I’m not sure we changed any minds through the course of our negotiation. I’d like to think that the company knows the job we do and the value we provide, but whether they’re willing to recognize it is a whole different story.”
The next negotiations are set to take place in a couple of years, have you thought about that at all? What’s the main focus right now?
“Oh, that’s so far away. We’ll see how things change in the economy and ski industry and our patrol. We’re able to just focus on things like the fun parts of our job and getting things done at work. We also have our annual fundraiser coming up, which is on the 25th.”
The Chairlift would like to give a special thanks to Murphy for taking the time to talk with us, and thanks to all ski patrollers out there for keeping the ski community safe.
📲 A sad reality for many skiers as physical trails maps are slowly becoming digitalized: The New York Times
🗓 Some Colorado mountains are beginning to extend their ski seasons this year: Aspen Daily News, Denver Post
🐎 Check out skijoring: the unusual sport of skiing behind horses: CPR News
👀 New terrain is coming to this smaller ski mountain, known for an average of 400 plus inches of snow a year: Missoulian
This week’s edition of The Chairlift is brought to you by Chris Hampson from Colorado College. If you have any questions feel free to email me: c_hampson [at] coloradocollege [dot] edu. Thanks for reading and see you next week.