Last year Crested Butte hit 100 inches and counting before New Years making that December one of the snowiest in recent history. Normally, a snowy December is a good sign for Crested Butte Mountain Resort (see 2010-11 and 2007-08). The going gets rough for locals when only light snow falls as early season backcountry is a CB local favorite, a few people get a little worried but most people try to find understanding in the old adage, “patience is a virtue,” even if that can be a little hard as you are fly-fishing in a t-shirt or still getting local single-track from your door the week before the resort opens in mid-November. In Crested Butte, there is balance in the extremes where one profits from what Mother Nature offers by maximizing their time outside. The same is applied to the ebb and flow of a tourism-based economy for a small town high in the Colorado Rockies, whether you’re a local or you’re just here to visit.
The hustle is real in Crested Butte as small businesses and the resort alike go into overdrive managing the flow of tourists, second homeowners, and our own Colorado locals during the busy winter weekends and all summer. The women and men behind the scenes are busting their butt waiting tables, cleaning houses, swinging a hammer, or whatever job they do to maintain their mountain lifestyle while working to just figure out the next time they are going to get to ride 401 or the next time they will get first tracks off the High Lift. It’s within these extremes of hard work and hard play that the Crested Butte locals are defining their lives and making a difference in the world around them.
While the summer can feel more hectic at times, the winter seems to have become more habitual. Each local business and family household has their variation of the 6” rule, which basically means all engagements and business are put off until enough pow has been shredded to carry oneself through the day. Whether it’s one lap, one hour, or all day, these moments are dependent on the fact that it has snowed at least 6 inches, or some variant thereof. You might see a 12-year old sporting the local green Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team jacket in the Silver Queen lift corral at 8:30, then that same kid cruising down Headwall getting faceshots, and you just remembered it’s a school day. That young shredder is doing the same thing you’re doing and they even have parental permission to do it; you still have to catch the bus down to town for your 11:30 meeting. Then again, there is nothing like arcing turns down the steep faces of CBMR’s Extremes with 6+ inches of powder, you and that kid both know it.
If you’re coming to Crested Butte, you probably know what it means to work hard to find the time to visit such an incredible place. You probably know that Crested Butte is hard to get to but once you’re here, you can really unplug from your own hectic life and immerse yourself in the small town bustle that defines Crested Butte. You might know that while it looks like some form of a line at the Silver Queen lift corral on a pow day full of foaming-at-the-mouth locals, as soon as the lift starts spinning everybody spreads out on CBMR often making it feel like it’s your own mountain. Maybe you’ve heard that the Secret Stash pizza could be the best pizza ever, so you visit them for $2 PBR’s and some slices after you burned your legs out skiing the North Face at CBMR. Maybe you need to visit Rumors and Townie Books for a coffee and a novel because the high is actually 4 degrees Fahrenheit today.
Maybe a high-pressure system has been sitting over Colorado all of January, it’s 30 degrees, and hasn’t snowed in a week so you actually rent a Fat Bike from Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven and ride the expansive trail system offered by the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and Crested Butte Nordic. You might be in town to take an avalanche course from Irwin Guides and you just came back from a big tour on Red Lady; you need a Teocalli Tamale burrito in your belly, stat.
Maybe you’re just here with your friends taking it all in so you get rum drinks at Montanya’s before you find out what it means to catch that up-and-coming rock band from Boulder before they got big at the Eldo. The weather doesn’t always give you what you want, but by accepting and using what Mother Nature gives you, Crested Butte balances out the extremes you’ve created in your world. That’s probably why you came to visit, too, but you might not have known that.
In the whirlwind of locals and tourists, the mountains and the elements are a constant in Crested Butte. Crested Butte is home to some and a dream world vacationland for others with people filling in the entire spectrum. Speaking of hard work and making a difference, in the last election, the town of Crested Butte passed the ballot issue 2A, which was a huge deal in getting closer to ending the 39-year long fight for a mine-free Mt. Emmons, affectionately called “Red Lady” by locals. According to the High Country Conservation Advocates, the local non-profit leading the charge to save Red Lady, 2A plays out like this: “The passing of Ballot Issue 2A helps pave the way for a community and company supported Congressional withdrawal of lands on Mt. Emmons and in nearby watersheds where mining and mill site claims are located. A congressional withdrawal is necessary to remove these lands from the General Mining Law of 1872. Once a congressional withdrawal is in effect, any existing claims can be disposed of without any threat or fear of re-staking and re-claiming under this archaic law. The funds will only be transferred to [the mining company], MEMC/Freeport, after a withdrawal is passed by Congress, signed by the President, and MEMC/Freeport has abandoned its claims. ”Well, that sounds great and all, but it seems to have gotten a little more complicated with the involvement of Congress and a signature by the President. Protecting public lands has become less of a political issue and more of a community rallying point in places like Crested Butte and around Colorado; and now saving Red Lady is entering a contestable political climate in Washington, DC where some people believe that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Finding patience between these extremes will be necessary for Coloradoans to maintain vigilance in the effort to protect our public lands and save Red Lady. The Crested Butte locals know that getting outside, whether on the skin track, the fat bike, or crushing Silver Queen laps can help keep their sanity in check regarding issues like these during the long winter months.
How are you going to be a part of it and affect positive change? The locals like to say, “be nice or leave,” and while that’s a good place to start, finding your balance in the extremes is key to enjoying Crested Butte. It is the perfect place to find yours.
by William Dujardin, westelkproject.com
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