Some of us came for the winter, some of us came for the summer, but we all chose to make this pristine valley our home because we love it here. If youâ€™ve fallen in love with our valley, talk to one of our brokers about finding your mountain home. Stop by and tell us what you love about Crested Butte at our offices downtown.
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FEATURES 40 Ice is a love story by Cara Guerrieri
82 Elevating kindness by Karen Janssen
For these backcountry skaters, the unpredictable and mystical ice of mountain lakes has inspired both reverence and romance.
46 The Vail effect by Sandy Fails
88 Riding the Comet by Brian Levine
It might not be what you expected.
54 Rolling ambassadors by Beth Buehler
If you think our buses are unique and colorful, just wait till you meet our bus drivers.
64 The art of welcoming by George Sibley
Looking back over the decades, Crested Butte could learn from its uneasy history of greeting immigrants and newcomers.
70 The winter children of Irwin by Dawne Belloise
For families wintering in snowbound Irwin, life is sometimes “a Disney movie” and sometimes “insanely hard.”
CONTENTS w2019 - 2020 4
How Namkha Sherpa and the Crested Butte community have touched lives on the far side of the world.
The meteoric story of the Pioneer Ski Area, 1939-52: a product of ski mania, ingenuity and recycled mining parts.
96 Skiing to the altar by Janet Weil
These two couples wanted memorable weddings… so they clicked into their bindings before they tied the knot.
102 Winter Sundays by Leath Tonino
Accepting the invitation of place with a weekly ski-beer-poem habit.
THE VIEW FROM HERE
10 Singing each other home by Karen Janssen
109 A love letter to Crested Butte by Katie Onheiber
For those at life’s thresholds, the Gunnison Valley Threshold Singers share compassion through music.
Stumbling into a place that blindsides you with beauty and character.
14 The t-shirt bag revolution by Nancy Vogel
111 Learning (and learning, and learning) to ski
How Bailey Hosier and friends are turning cast-off t-shirts into free, reusable shopping bags.
18 A different kind of horsepower by Karen Janssen
Made partly of old car parts from the Rozman ranch, Sean Guerrero’s Pepsi Horse is ambling toward the Center for the Arts.
22 Dancing our stories and questions by Sandy Fails
The aesthetics and history of the Gronk inspired Sasha Chudacoff’s ‘apocalyptic’ dancefilm.
by Cosmo Langsfeld Downhill, Nordic, backcountry… when you grow up on skis, there’s always another way to slide down a mountain.
115 A matter of time by Molly Murfee
A newcomer edges toward the warmth of community. 78 Photo gallery | 120 Calendar 125 Dining/Lodging guide | 128 Photo finish
26 Vivid prose and true grit by Arvin Ramgoolam
Two very different new books, Go Find and How Crested Butte Became a Tourist Town, both till into rich local dirt.
30 A setting for new gems by Kathy Norgard
Through her new jewelry school, Meaghan Young helps students hone their hobbies or launch their careers.
34 “Colorado girls” on the Camino by Sandy Fails
As pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, Jenny Stillo and Stephanie Prater covered a lot of territory, with their feet and their hearts.
Vol. XXXXI, No. 2 Published semi-annually by Crested Butte Publishing & Creative PUBLISHERS Steve Mabry & Chris Hanna EDITOR Sandy Fails ADVERTISING DIRECTOR MJ Vosburg LAYOUT AND DESIGN Chris Hanna ADVERTISING DESIGN Keitha Kostyk WRITERS Dawne Belloise Kathy Norgard Beth Buehler Katie Onheiber Sandy Fails Arvin Ramgoolam Cara Guerrieri George Sibley Karen Janssen Leath Tonino Cosmo Langsfeld Nancy Vogel Brian Levine Janet Weil Molly Murfee
PHOTOGRAPHERS & ARTISTS
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Dawne Belloise Nathan Bilow Trevor Bona Sandra Cortner Dusty Demerson Petar Dopchev Mark Ewing Xavier FanÃ©
John Holder Dave Kozlowski Constance Mahoney Rebecca Ofstedahl Katie Onheiber Mary Schmidt Lydia Stern
Winter 2019-2020 Complimentary
COVER PHOTO Nathan Bilow ONLINE crestedbuttemagazine.com E-MAIL firstname.lastname@example.org ADVERTISING email@example.com Copyright 2019, Crested Butte Publishing. No reproduction of contents without authorization by Crested Butte Publishing & Creative. 6
The antidote issue As we searched for cover photo candidates for this issue, we ran across this picture of a woman pedaling her bike down the snow-lined street, guitar on her back, music stand in her hand. Over the years I’ve seen dozens of photographs of bicyclists against Crested Butte’s colorful buildings, but this one makes me feel particularly buoyant in less-than-buoyant times. This cyclist isn’t a model posing for the camera. It’s Karen Janssen, a writer for this magazine, on her way to play with Crested Butte’s children through her Munchkin’s Music, or perhaps to serenade a bed-bound neighbor through the Threshold Singers (see page 10). I’m remembering that image right now, writing this note at 35,000 feet elevation aboard an airplane hurtling toward a family
gathering in Texas. My husband and I drove to the Denver airport this morning through jerky rush-hour traffic while news radio headlined the conflict, greed and environmental doom du jour. After weaving through an overfilled security maze at the Denver International Airport, our line was delayed by officials pondering the threat of an employee who had laminated his ID. With the crowds and tension, rules and rush of the morning, I found myself at the airline gate, unduly irritated by the man sitting next to me bellowing long and loud into his cell phone. I’m not used to all this. I’m used to waking to the play of light on peaks and walking the dog into the silence outside to find fox prints in new snow. I’m used to saying hello to strangers on downtown sidewalks or trading hugs with 7
T H E
C E N T E R
P R E S E N T S
the arts in crested butte all under one new roof full winter lineup available at crestedbuttearts.org 8
Editor’s note friends encountered on distant Nordic trails. Life here is not perfect; winter bullies us, and humans are as imperfectly human here as they are anywhere. Still, in this pocket of humanity dwarfed by natural magnificence, wellbeing and kindness abound. Sitting on this plane, I realize that Crested Butte is my antidote to modern urban life at its worst (i.e. tense, crammed and isolating). No wonder I delight in returning home. No wonder people in harried circumstances rely so heavily on their Crested Butte vacations. So many people need this antidote – especially right now. A friend recently mentioned “outrage fatigue.” He’s so weary of negativity and the daily evidence of our shortcomings as a species. Yet he feels compelled to immerse himself in each day’s worst news; he obeys the myth that the depth of his despair is proportional to the depth of his caring. How could he NOT despair in such troubling times? I admitted to him: I don’t do well with despair. It exhausts and disempowers me. Of course sometimes I slip into that heaviness, particularly when the world, near or far, so disappoints me, and I don’t want to reproach myself for despairing. But neither do I want to feel guilty for NOT despairing. In a speech last year for Living Journeys cancer-support donors, young mom Laci Wright credited her cancer diagnosis for jolting her awake to life’s preciousness. Likewise, let me use disquieting times as a catalyst: to root deeper into my inner and spiritual resources; to connect more openly with others; to be more effective in moving toward the world I want. Let me trade guilt and despair for gratitude and grit. The writers of the Crested Butte Magazine didn’t set out to create a “kindness and hope” issue for this winter; the theme emerged anyway. Well, good timing. What a great moment to read about Namkha Sherpa and the Crested Butte community transforming lives in Nepal; young people turning landfill-bound t-shirts into free reusable bags; the Community Foundation extending the hand of welcome to the valley’s diverse neighbors; and the Gunnison Valley Threshold Singers sharing harmonies with people at life’s edge. May this issue be our antidote to despair. May it remind us of beauty and goodness and hearten our resolve to be part of that. —Sandy Fails, editor
bringing dreams home 211 Elk Avenue PO Box 1788 Crested Butte Colorado 81224 bbre1.com 970.349.6691
By Karen Janssen
Threshold Singers Joanne Reynolds, Becky Morgan, Ilene Spector, Nancy Wicks, Emily Rothman and founder Karen Janssen.
For those at life’s thresholds, the Gunnison Valley Threshold Singers share compassion through music. I’ve always loved to sing. My mom tells me I did a lot of it when I was small, entertaining my stuffed animals with heartfelt renditions of my favorite tunes. Though I was painfully shy, Glee Clubs kept me singing through high school, but after that singing was relegated to accompanying my copious vinyl collection. It wasn’t until after grad school, while living and teaching in Costa Rica, that I really ‘found my voice.’ Though my kindergarten class couldn’t get enough of “Shake Your Sillies Out,” they were equally entranced by the beautiful Spanish ballads I’d been learning with my Costa Rican musician friends. I was far from fluent then, but the words hardly mattered. It was my first true glimpse of the power of the human voice, and I was hooked. I first heard about Threshold Choir around 18 years ago, close to the organization’s inception. I immediately went to its fledgling website and was deeply inspired by the mission of singing for those at the thresholds of life. 10
The first Threshold Choir began in California in 2000. Ten years prior, founder Kate Munger had sat with a dear friend dying of HIV/ AIDS. “I was terrified when the time came to sit by his bedside. I did what I always did when I was afraid; I sang the song that gave me courage. I sang it for 2 ½ hours. It comforted me, which comforted him.” From that moment came the vision: honoring those at life’s thresholds with compassion shared through song. There are now more than 200 chapters worldwide. Of course 18 years ago there wasn’t a chapter near Crested Butte, so the idea retreated to simmer in the back of my mind for a long while. After I returned from Costa Rica, music became an increasingly important part of my life, with opportunities to teach children of all ages, sing and play in several bands, and more. Early in 2016, the Song Sisters came together to share my love of song with like-minded women. “Singing in harmony brings a group together in joyous cooperation,” said Becky Morgan, a Song Sister from the start. You know that euphoria of hitting a perfect, transcendent rhythm as you ski through untouched powder? Voices floating and locked together can provide a similar high. The Threshold Choir idea resurfaced when a Song Sister’s
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cancer returned, with a terminal diagnosis. I proposed the concept to the group, and everyone was immediately drawn to the prospect. Threshold has a large and ever-expanding repertoire of songs (many written by members), and though groups aren’t limited to singing those, we began to focus on learning core pieces we could share. All a cappella (without instruments), we sing rounds, melodies and multi-part harmonies, keeping in mind the goal of providing soothing comfort. “Music can be a unifying and transformative experience,” said Ilene Spector, one of our members. “It’s one of the purest forms of resonance, and the peacefulness and love we experience while singing then resonates with those with whom we share it.” We were fortunate to sing for our former member before she passed. “It has been a gift and an honor to sing at bedsides and share the soothing powers of song,” said member Emily Rothman. Joanne Reynolds agreed: “It’s an enormous privilege to engage in this sacred work.” Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve heard comments like: “It really brightened her day” and “I was soothed and transported.” Tears are common, and cathartic. We officially launched as the Gunnison Valley Threshold Singers in February of 2019. Our first ‘official’ debut was also our international debut, as we sang at the Union Congregational Church on the Sunday that the service was shared with a sister church in Germany! In addition to several bedside sings, we’ve also visited the Senior Care facility as well as the hard-working board and staff of Hospice and Palliative Care. Perhaps what has struck me the most about my involvement
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with Threshold has been the community that surrounds it. Our small group is certainly remarkable. Currently six of us gather regularly, though others have passed through as their lives allowed. I’ve also been fortunate to attend two large regional gatherings of the organization. Singing such powerful songs with 270 women (and two men!) from all walks of life was profoundly moving. I marveled that, for whatever reason, every person in the room was motivated to share the gift of song. Not that the Threshold community sings only gentle lullabies. One Saturday night had everyone laughing at a rap (complete with beat boxing) about Colorado’s marijuana laws and dancing to old-time fiddle tunes I played with a newfound friend. Music truly feeds the soul. The bottom line is that dying is a part of living. It’s a journey, a sacred time not to be hidden, but to be acknowledged. “Walking Each Other Home’’ is one of the songs we sing, and that is truly what we aspire to do. Becky summed it up well: “Though music is made physically, using our bodies or instruments, sound is not a physical thing that you can grasp. I like to think that music serves as a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, and as such can be a great comfort to those transitioning between the two.” Our services are a gift to the community, free of charge and religious overtones, and available for anyone who might enjoy and/or benefit from the healing power of music. Bedside we sing in a small group (usually two to four people) for a short period of time, so as not to overwhelm. We’re open to sharing wherever the music might serve its peaceful and inspiring purpose. We practice generally every other week and welcome new members (who need not be trained musicians). Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The t-shirt bag revolution
By Nancy Vogel
Bailey Hosier displays a t-shirt repurposed into a bag.
How Bailey Hosier and friends are turning cast-off t-shirts into free, reusable shopping bags. While some people see only problems, Bailey Hosier focuses on solutions. The reality that tons of excess clothing are tossed daily into landfills haunted this young environmentalist. The EPA reports that 10.5 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills in 2014 alone. Even on a local level, thrift stores are forced to throw away clothing. With the popularity of purging belongings, inspired by Marie Kondoâ€™s book, thrift stores are bursting at the seams. With that in mind, Bailey pondered how she could funnel her energy into a fun, easy, sustainable solution. Voila, the t-shirt bag revolution was born. While online, Bailey discovered how to create a simple bag out of a t-shirt. After she shared this find with her mom, Erika Hosier was so enthused that she converted her spare bedroom into a sewing room. In this space, stacked high with cast-off t-shirts, the ladies sewed 2,058 bags from March of 2018 to August 2019. Since the town of Crested Butte recently restricted single-use plastic bags, their cloth shopping bags were immediately in high demand. Initially, Bailey placed the free bags where she saw the greatest 14
Brie Polster delivers her free shopping bags to Mountain Earth.
need. Clarkâ€™s Market and Mountain Earth Organic Grocers became the lucky recipients. Her vision was that by giving from the heart, she would impact other people and ignite the revolution. Indeed, this has happened. Through her Facebook page, Bailey has given tips and encouragement to others, such as a woman in
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Falkirk, Scotland. Additionally, the workers from Clark’s proudly brought their bags home to Peru and China, hoping to further the revolution. Working at the health food store and watching the bags fly out of there, I wanted to assist in this worthwhile endeavor. Bailey, one of my former fourth grade students, was delighted to have me join the revolution and add children to the mix. My goal is to teach local children the art of making t-shirt bags in hopes that they will teach their peers. My first volunteer, Brie Polster, was producing bags in no time. During our first session, we constructed 27 bags, which were gone from Mountain Earth in only three days! Brie most enjoyed perusing the plethora of t-shirts that people donated. Every event, race, sports team and business seems to print a shirt. We were both astonished and amused by the randomness of the slogans. The bag-making process includes cutting off the t-shirt sleeves. In line with Bailey’s environmental philosophy, I offered the sleeves to local painter Sarah Schmidt, who used them in a painting class, introducing more individuals to the revolution. Zero waste is easily achieved by using the sleeves as cleaning rags, patches, etc. As the demand for alternative bags grows, Bailey’s philosophy of “putting love out there” keeps her going. When I asked her about the lessons learned, she responded, “Take initiative. Don’t wait for permission, and think outside the box.” Soon Bailey will take her revolution on the road. As for so many people born and raised here, the prospect of another long winter is no longer appealing. In her newly acquired half-bus, Bailey will seek warmer temperatures and new adventures. However, a sewing machine will accompany her, so this revolution will live on. And in Crested Butte, volunteers young and old will continue to turn castoff clothing into reusable bags. If you are also inspired by Bailey’s vision, you can contribute via the donation jar at the Paragon Art Gallery or via the Go Fund Me link on the T-Shirt Bag Revolution Facebook page. Or even better, dust off that sewing machine and join the revolution! Nancy Vogel, a retired teacher of 32 years, works at Mountain Earth, tutors, and guides for the Wildflower Festival.
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of a different sort
By Karen Janssen
Made partly with old car and machinery parts from the Rozman ranch, Sean Guerrero’s Pepsi Horse is ambling toward the Center for the Arts. “I was always fascinated by the look of cars that were built in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s,” said Sean Guerrero. “I never would have imagined I’d one day make a living off them.” Indeed, who could have imagined those chrome bumpers and hubcaps would some day be transformed into larger-than-life sculptures that fill their observers with awe, laughter and inspiration? Sean lived in Crested Butte from 1991 to 2001, and his artwork lives on here. The Knight and the Dragon, locked in everlasting battle, greet all who arrive via Highway 135. Locals and visitors have logged countless hours of Elk Avenue bench time on Sean’s eclectic sculpted seats. He also maintains a rotating sculpture garden at the corner of Fourth and Elk. It was here, parked street-side on a trailer during Arts Fair 2015, that the Pepsi Horse first made an appearance in town. Jenny Birnie, former director of the Crested Butte Center for the Arts, 18
recalls the day that second homeowners Sean and Jennifer Reilly called excitedly to say she had to come see this amazing piece of art. Would the Center want it for the new building? Jenny hopped on her bike and went to meet the larger-than-life chrome stallion. It was an offer too good to refuse, and eventually four couples pitched in to purchase the Pepsi Horse. However, there was a catch. The Center’s new building was only a twinkle in many people’s eyes at that point, and it’s not easy to stable a 1,500-pound stallion. Where to put it? Eventually they found a site across the street from the Center on land leased to the Town by Bill and Anita Vallett. Then the next
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issue had to be addressed. In that visible location, every kid in town would want a ride on the noble steed, so John Murphy was enlisted to build a platform to elevate the horse out of reach. John reminisced, “I’d literally just finished the job and was up in Jenny’s office handing her an invoice. We looked out her window to admire it, and as we watched, we saw a group of kids come up and start climbing on each others’ shoulders to get up there!” He was hired on the spot to build a chain fence to dissuade the persistent. With the aid of a crane, the horse had found its temporary home. As for its permanent home once the Center is finished… Jenny laughed. “Well, it’s been a running joke so far. On top of the building? On the electric box? On the sidewalk by Whiterock Avenue? It’s still to be determined, though we know it will end up somewhere worthwhile on Center property.” Wherever it ends up, with its mane and tail flowing and chrome muscles bulging, it’s bound to be an attraction. The Pepsi Horse is truly a local creation. The majority of its pieces come from the Rozman ranch. Homesteaded over 100 years ago, the ranch is still in operation. “I strive to give the old cars and other found pieces back their dignity through a reinterpreted form of physical artistic expression,” said Sean. Stories of hard-working ranchers and their horses abound in the Gunnison Valley, and “the old cars were horse-powered beasts of a different sort.” The equine transformation of the ranching family’s autos seemed natural. Horses represent freedom, power and beauty. Under Sean’s hands, automobile parts come together and bring those elements to life. Years ago the Ford Motor Company approached Sean about leasing several of his horse sculptures to take on tour. But when the $144
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billion company complained that Sean’s asking price of $25,000 was too much, it left him cynical about corporate America and branding. “Marketing is an illusion,” stated Sean. That cynicism influenced some of the elements he incorporated into the Pepsi Horse. Since the age of 14 he’d held onto a Pepsi sign he’d salvaged from an old ice machine, and suddenly its destiny became clear. In 2015 he began the Pepsi equine sculpture. He embedded the logo in the flank of this grand beast, thus cross-pollinating the idea of marketing with creativity; of corporate branding versus the branding employed by ranchers; of mainstream America versus that which is untamed and wild. Sean now calls Paonia, Colorado, his home, after living in locations around the world. “I needed a cave in which to create,” he said, so when an old fire hall became available a couple years ago, he jumped at the opportunity to settle there. It’s an impressive space filled with materials of all sorts, waiting to be transformed into new life. Sean’s sculpted deer graze in Maryland; his horses gallop throughout the Midwest and the Carolinas. Mares with colts graze in numerous states. Sean gifted Neil Young a chrome buffalo head, which has accompanied the famous musician on stage. An eagle with a 13-foot wingspan protects a Sedona, Arizona, jewelry store. More than 100 of Sean’s unique benches offer repose throughout the country. The da Vinci Fish, a giant flying fish sculpture made from an airplane fuselage, rotates above the Salton Sea in the community of Bombay Beach, California. And, of course, many pieces have landed in Crested Butte – including the thought-provoking Pepsi Horse, a masterpiece of shiny chrome bumpers and hubcaps, wood, old tools and colored metal.
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stories and questions
By Sandy Fails
The aesthetics and history of the Gronk inspired Sasha Chudacoff’s ‘apocalyptic’ dancefilm “Mine.” Since moving to Crested Butte eight years ago, dancer Sasha Chudacoff has been fascinated by the Gronk, the nicknamed concrete structure that a century ago was part of a tipple from the Pershing Mine near Peanut Lake. Her fascination eventually led to her eightminute dancefilm called “Mine,” which this year has been viewed at film festivals around the country. “From the beginning I was inspired by the structure – the aesthetics, the architecture of the space,” Sasha said of the Gronk. She learned about its history through cultural story-keeper Marcie Telander, the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum and gatherings of oldtimers. “The unique mythology of the valley was offered to me through Marcie,” Sasha said. “I sat with her for hours, listening to stories.” The Pershing’s mine shafts, Sasha heard, were so cramped that only the small, young men could crawl deep into the hillside. There they chipped at the earth so the ore fell onto cloth laid on the ground, then as a group they pulled the laden cloth back out of the shaft. “I love to interpret things through my body,” Sasha said. So, with permission from the agreeable owners of the Gronk property, she began spending time there “to envision the spirit of the place… the suffering, the joking around that went on there. That energy is really juicy to me.” 22
The Gronk, formerly part of the Pershing mine complex.
As a low-residency graduate student in interdisciplinary arts and education through Goddard University, Sasha also learned about the emerging genre of dancefilm. “Dance is ephemeral because it happens live,” she said. “Dancefilm is a merging of film and dance where the camera is part of the choreography.” While teaching ballet, jazz, hiphop and aerial dance through the Crested Butte School of Dance and working on other independent projects, Sasha envisioned moving images she could weave together
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in a dancefilm based at the Gronk. “I spent many hours there by myself taking in the story and energy in a somatic way.” For the filming, she contacted Western Colorado University film professor Ian Curry. “He was open and very giving of his time,” Sasha said. “We hit it off artistically.” They did two filming sessions at the Gronk in the summer of 2018, combining her vision with his skills and ideas. They shot aerial dance on ropes suspended from the concrete framework plus movements on the mounded coal tailings nearby. Though she’d felt strong emotions in
her musings and solo dancing at the site, Sasha said, “The actual filming felt efficient rather than emotional. It was a really fun collaboration.” Sasha’s sister Sophia, a dancer and singer/songwriter, added a second body to the choreography, then followed Sasha’s directives to create the film’s “soundscape” in collaboration with their father, a musician and producer. The black and white film has an “apocalyptic, film noir look,” Sasha said. Though the aerial and on-ground movements are graceful, they speak of toil and struggle.
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The Gronk and coal tailings have a stark, barren look. During the filming, regional wildfires made the sky hazy, intensifying the moodiness. Sasha referred to “disaster aesthetics,” an artistic trend as visual and performing artists explore the paradox of beauty and destruction. “It’s a way of trying to be with what has happened to the land; ‘I don’t have a solution, but I’ll make art.’ This is my way of processing – through my body,” she said. In sharp contrast to the wordless, bleak, abstract dance, Sasha ended the film with Sophia’s toe-tapping, folksy song, “Tailings,” and historic images of the Pershing mine and its workers. “The film is intense. I want to invite critical thought and creative inquiry,” Sasha said. When she needed direction in shaping the film, she used the question: “After land violence, how is the spirit of the place honored?” “Mine” so far has been screened at about a dozen environmental, dance and general film festivals as far away as Toronto, Seattle and Boise. Sasha attended two of those and got to watch spectators’ reactions. People respond to the sense of place and, in the absence of voice-over in the film, “often make up their own narrative,” she said. “People can be quite moved.” Sasha has been dancing since she was a toddler. Both parents are artists (her father in the music business, her mother in interior design/architecture), “so we grew up with a lot of dance and music.” Raised in California and Tennessee, with a degree in women’s studies and community studies from UC Santa Cruz, Sasha moved from the Bay Area to Crested Butte in 2012 to join her partner. She was delighted to find such a lively dance community in such a small town. Eventually Sasha imagines reshooting a dancefilm at the Gronk – or perhaps staging “some kind of inclusive, participatory dance.” In the mean time, she hopes to show “Mine” to local audiences this winter. And she’ll continue to experiment with dance and its relationship to “eco-psychology” – particularly inviting people into empathy with the earth. She’s playing with juxtaposing dance with trash (e.g. discarded plastics), which, she hopes, might help people look at realities they don’t want to see. “I don’t mean it to be divisive or judgmental,” she said of her dance exploration. “To me, it’s an inviting tool.”
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and true grit
By Arvin Ramgoolam
Roger Kahn shares tales from his new book.
Two very different new books, Go Find and How Crested Butte Became a Tourist Town, both till into rich local dirt. People who visit Crested Butte often do one thing in common upon their arrival: they begin to collect stories. Who settled here? Why did people come here? Where did my barista move from? People naturally gather stories, and as a bookseller, it’s often my duty to help them: by answering their questions, finding particular books, or helping them ask better questions. Through Roger Kahn’s new book, you can get answers to questions you never even thought to ask. The book is titled How Crested Butte Became a Tourist Town: Drugs, Sex, Sports, Arts and Social Conflict: A Fun-Filled Social History. Kahn covers basic Crested 26
Butte history, beginning with his arrival to the area in 1967, and contrasts local changes with those happening in the counterculture of the ‘60s and ‘70s, alongside the mining and ranching history of the Gunnison Valley. With that history, Kahn sets the scene for the upheavals that continue into current-day Crested Butte. Walking around town today, it’s difficult to imagine dirt streets and homes that could be bought for $1,000. Among the book’s many stories, Kahn revisits the time local Vonda Rozman held a gun to him when, partly out of curiosity, he entered a vacant home owned by her family in his neighborhood. She then called the marshal on him for trespassing. But before taking Kahn to the station, the marshal allowed him to take a call at his home. The charge was dismissed because the district attorney knew Kahn well enough to realize that he was hardly a threat to his own neighbor. It was a true small town that contrasted the outside world that these newcomers (or “tourist town pioneers”) came from.
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Kahn then descends into the grittier parts of Crested Butte’s history. One interviewee captured the times: “Personal anonymity was widespread and personal histories were unknown. People accepted outlaws because it was the first time that most of us were truly free in our lives, and outlaws represented freedom.” A big turning point in Crested Butte was the 1972 usurping of the town council by the tourist town pioneers looking toward “smart growth” in opposition to the oldtimers, who would have preferred things continue the way they were. Aside from town politics were the mores and behavior of the dropouts and hippies in Crested Butte. Drugs were a prevalent part of the new citizenry; as one person put it, “Why wouldn’t you expect recreational drug use in a recreation community?” One element of those days was the legendary Bath House and the culture of free love surrounding it. Kahn illuminates the personal narratives of many who participated
in those drug-fueled escapades: “Recreational drug use among new townspeople clearly accompanied a lot of sexual activity, but it was hardly confined to that. It was a large part of the youthful immigrants’ lifestyle, and the town’s emerging culture.” Other parts of the book treat readers to the stories of the strong women of the era, the explosion of the ski industry, and the ongoing battles over development faced by successive town councils. How Crested Butte Became a Tourist Town is a great compendium for both the newly arrived and Crested Butte history buffs well versed in the works of Duane Vandenbusche and Sandy Cortner.
GO FIND BY SUSAN PURVIS The other thing people do here, especially in Crested Butte, is begin telling their own stories. On entering the valley, you can feel the fresh reset of life – being different from anything and anyone you’ve been before. Like the hippies of Kahn’s book, Susan Purvis was looking for a different life
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in Crested Butte, except she was looking to shape a way of life for herself and her labrador, Tasha, as a certified high-altitude rescue team, part of the Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado. With vivid and raw prose, Purvis’ book, Go Find, takes us to mountain slopes and wilderness landscapes across the West, as she and Tasha train and then face the ultimate test of finding people who are lost in the woods or trapped under snow and ice. Purvis also fought the battle of a woman among skeptical male ski patrollers in the mid nineties. This is not the painless tale of a woman and her trusty dog who obeys every command. Tasha is a rambunctious black lab who eats more than she should and prompts frustration just when proving their abilities is critical. With that unpredictability on top of her own crippling self-doubt, Purvis continuously questions her goals and her place among the gruff ski patrollers. But she persists and eventually finds respect and admiration among peers in the search and rescue community — and even from a Colorado congressman on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives — for her SAR work. Go Find is a look into the surprisingly competitive and ego-driven world of heroes and wannabe heroes in the search and rescue field, bravely exposed by Purvis’ honest writing. Her personal narrative, one that I consider universal, is summed up in her introduction: “It took me years to learn that my lostness doesn’t only apply to losing the trail and going off the map in the wilderness. I didn’t know then that people can get lost in emotion, in a relationship, in a marriage, in a business, or in a life. I was convinced that just happened to other people.” Purvis tells an amazing story of self-discovery and commitment. Both books speak to the tough individualism encouraged by this town at the end of the road, a spirit celebrated by people retelling stories at the bar, on the slopes, over coffee and in great books.
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A setting for new gems
By Kathy Norgard
Through her jewelry school, Meaghan Young helps students hone their hobbies or launch their careers. Meaghan Young’s new jewelry school welcomes learners of all levels – but she particularly invites today’s students to become tomorrow’s artists. The Crested Butte Jewelry School opened in 2018 at Third and Elk, in the heart of Crested Butte’s creative district. In 2019, Meaghan added online instruction (cbjewelryschool.com). Prior to opening the school, Meaghan taught jewelry-making classes for several years through the Center for the Arts. The school‘s curriculum includes silversmithing, ring fabrication/stone-setting, metalworking and jewelry design. In true Crested Butte spirit, the three- or five-day summer classes are held in the morning and early evening to allow students to have fun outdoors in the afternoons. Meaghan provides instruction plus the materials and tools students need to make jewelry. For all students, and particularly those learning distantly online, Meaghan started a silversmithing club, which gives students 30
Jeweler/instructor Meaghan Young shaping a ring.
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access to instruction as they create in their own space. “When I was studying silversmithing, there were no online courses available. I had to travel to learn. Now a person can actually become a silversmith by studying online and being a part of a group learning process, like the online silversmithing club.” Meaghan keeps her classes small for individualized instruction. “I want to help students ignite their creativity and make something they’ll treasure that is beautiful, new (out of recycled precious metals), useful and valuable.” A person’s jewelry has worth not only for its artistic expression, she said; the silver and gold also have value as commodities. “Jewelry is not only art but also an investment. Gold and silver have been documented holding value 5,000 years ago.” The first recorded gold coin was used in Lydia (now Turkey) in 700 B.C. Meaghan and her ten-year-old son, Jack, study the metal market. She said that as commodities, gold and silver “don’t just back currency; they are currency themselves.” To celebrate the opening of her Jewelry Design boutique, Meaghan held an online drawing for a $3,500 custom engagement ring. Seven hundred entrants vied for this prize. The lucky winner co-designed her ring with Meaghan. “Every woman should have an amazing engagement ring,” Meaghan said. “A ring is not only a symbol of a couple’s relationship and love for one another, but also a reflection of a woman’s values, uniqueness and lifestyle. I did this to make one person feel very special.” The boutique displays Meaghan’s work and also her students’. “I want my students who are interested in selling their creations to learn about marketing and sales,” she noted. “My goal is to promote my students’ work and help those who want to turn a hobby into a business move forward with their goal.” She also encourages students to consider the sources of their materials. “My work and my school are dedicated to protecting human rights and preserving the earth where all the products originate. I only use diamonds which are ethically mined and reclaimed metals in my designs and materials in my school,” said Meaghan. “I want my work and my teaching to contribute to peace, sustainability and respect for the earth.” 32
“Those Colorado girls” on the mystical path
By Sandy Fails
Jenny Stillo, Stephanie Prater and the statue at O’Cebreiro, Spain.
On the Camino de Santiago, Jenny Stillo and Stephanie Prater covered a lot of territory, with their feet and their hearts. On day ten of her Camino de Santiago trek, Stephanie Prater wrote in her journal: “Some days you feel like there is no possible way you can go on.” But on day 11, she and friend Jenny Stillo dragged out of bed, pulled sneakers onto their aching feet (still stinking slightly of the cheese curd they’d massaged onto them the night before) and once again hit the path of the peregrinos (pilgrims). Now, months after completing their 480-mile Spanish pilgrimage and receiving their Compostela certificate last May, they dream about their next camino. Jenny began considering the Camino de Santiago journey after the sudden, devastating death of her husband, Tom Stillo, in 2018. “I wanted to do something for my healing; I was desperate,” Jenny said. Stephanie was also facing a tough transition, with her daughter Raven leaving the nest, the death of a close friend and the end of a 14-year relationship. “I was out of sorts with myself,” she said. “I’d been Florence Nightingale for everyone else, and I was drained from head to toe.” Both women, in their late fifties, are strong and fit. Jenny, a 34
Crested Butte translator/interpreter and language teacher, moved from Honduras to the Gunnison Valley in 1980 to attend Western State College. She competed as a Nordic skier in the 1992 Olympics, becoming Honduras’ first winter Olympian. Stephanie owns Princess Productions, an event production/interior design business, and Menu Magazine. A yogi, skier and all-around athlete, she grew up in Crested Butte off and on in her family home and has lived here consistently since leaving New York in 1989. Of the many pilgrimage choices, the two women chose the Frances route: 480 miles, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, through the French Pyrenees, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. They hired a company to deliver their bags from one hotel to the next (with financial assistance from a dear friend), and the company representative protested the grueling pace they’d planned: 13-17 miles per day for 31 days straight, with no rest days. The women insisted. The Camino de Santiago is the most popular Christian pilgrim destination in the world. More than 1,000 peregrinos arrive each day (by foot, bike, horse or sailboat) at the cathedral constructed ten centuries ago over the purported remains of the apostle St. James. Jenny’s go-to guidebook, “a practical and mystical manual for the modern-day pilgrim,” notes that in a pilgrimage, “a remarkable alchemical reaction takes place that burns away the dross we have collected in our lives.”
Jenny was raised Catholic and drew comfort from the Christian symbols and churches along the way. Stephanie isn’t religious but was open to and accepting of the spiritual experiences. From day one, Jenny and Stephanie found the Camino to be a world apart. Peregrinos bonded, helped each other and shared heartfelt stories; villagers along the way consistently cared for the sojourners and wished them, “Buen camino.” The path, marked by the ever-present yellow seashell, wound through old, crumbling villages (each one different and surprising), past ancient churches, alongside welltended farmlands, up steep hillsides with epic views. Stephanie’s journal mentions the amazing cemeteries, windmills, castles, and a wine fountain where people sipped or filled their water bottles with free vino. “Wine is one of the major food groups there,” Stephanie said. Almost every day they spread a bit of Tom’s ashes at meaningful sites. As they got to know other pilgrims, the shared stories – of death, loss, illness, heartbreak and revelation – put their own troubles in perspective. “Every day brought tears, joys, memories and people we’ll never forget,” Stephanie said. Jenny added, “It was very, very spiritual.” It was also very, very physical, as heat, steeps, blisters, migraines and aching muscles reminded them. After one relentless day of downhill pavement, Jenny’s ankle became so inflamed and painful, she could no longer walk – or sleep. She finally told Stephanie she’d have to stop trekking. Stephanie’s response: “Oh no you’re not! We’re in this together, and we’ll finish together.” After a day with a trauma doctor at the hospital in Logroño, Jenny had a diagnosis – tendonitis – and an admonition to stay off her feet for ten days. But they forged on, with a brace, antiinflammatories, cheese curd massages (recommended by a nephew) and, most importantly to Jenny, lots of prayer. Three days later, she awoke to feel miraculously improved. As they traveled alongside other peregrinos, Jenny and Stephanie earned a reputation as “those Colorado girls.” “I’m competitive; I don’t like to be passed,” Jenny said, “and I was trained to go fast on the uphills.” Stephanie laughed at the memory of petite Jenny churning up steep slopes, leaving their compatriots behind. After their first fast-paced days, however, tendonitis and wisdom slowed them down. They took a relaxed start to each day, and hydrated and rested along the way. Their new slogan became, “Start slow and taper off.” “We laughed every time we said it,” Stephanie said. “Most days at some point we laughed until we cried.” Jenny and Stephanie had worked and played together over the years but never traveled together. Amazingly, their friendship only deepened through 480 miles of pain, exhaustion, sadness, triumph, spiritual moments and daily practicalities. “We learned to respect what was important to each of us,” Stephanie said. For her, it was getting their Camino “passports” stamped at each eatery, hotel, church and attraction along the way, connecting via wi-fi (pronounced wee-fee) with her sister and her nervous brides-to-be (she had 14 summer weddings pending), and 36
A toast with sangria: Jenny Stillo and Stephanie Prater celebrate their arrival at the cathedral.
doing yoga poses like legs up the wall. Jenny’s priorities were foot care, showers, reverent time, sending church photos to her mom, and spreading Tom’s ashes. Stephanie teased Jenny about her oversized suitcase (“Big Bertha”) and travel laundry machine, a daily source of joy and pride. Jenny attempted to teach Stephanie Spanish and teased her for constantly “looking like a million bucks.” At one point weary Jenny asked of Stephanie, “Please look miserable.” On the final day, the women pushed through 17.5 miles in 86-degree heat to arrive in Santiago. First they spent some quiet time in the cathedral, awash in the incense that historically helped cover the stench of devout but dingy pilgrims. They got their official Compostela certificates in 45 minutes (having been warned it could take up to four hours), then headed to an Italian restaurant for wine and pasta. “We enjoyed the busy streets of the city and watched the weekend energy in full swing,” Stephanie wrote that evening. “Processions of celebrators and song were prevalent as we lounged heavily at our small bistro table, shoes off, red wine in my hand, white in Jenny’s. Feeling very accomplished indeed.” Later, on the flight home, Stephanie wrote, “A bit tearyeyed, thinking of the long days, castles, cathedrals, churches, tiny crumbling villages, beautiful gardens, Spanish countryside, té con leche, spreading Tommy’s ashes, the weddings ahead, new friendships, at times the pain in my body…day after day of loading my backpack, carrying my backpack, changing my shoes, enjoying the varying scenery, and all the memories of the Camino. What an incredible journey.” After their return, Stephanie and Jenny both succumbed to the classic “post-Camino blues.” But both feel mostly gratitude for the experience and the exposure to a world beyond their everyday lives. “The Camino changed me,” Jenny said. “It gave me peace. And it made me a better person.” A number of Crested Butte people have done some version of the Camino de Santiago, and more are in the planning stages. Jenny and Stephanie aren’t sure when, but both intend to walk another camino – with a few rest days built into their itineraries next time.
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Grand Lodge Condos, Mt. Crested Butte Base Area, Unit 280, Studio, 1 Bth, 487 SF, $199,000, Unit 519, Studio, 1 Bth, 395 SF, $179,000, Unit 307, Studio, 1 Bth, 395 SF, $173,000, Unit 107, Studio, 1 Bth, 395 SF, $165,000, Unit 363, Studio, 1 Bth, 436 SF, $161,000, Unit 375, Studio, 1 Bth, 443 SF, $160,000
997 Saddle Ridge Road, 65.24 acres, Water system in place, Offered for $695,000 TBD Hidden Mine Road, 35.10 acres, National Forest access, Offered for $595,000 601 S. Avion Drive, 1.45 acres, Runway access, ready for home & private hanger, Offered for $299,000 5 Peakview Drive, 1.07 acres, Valley wide views, quiet neighborhood, Offered for $275,000 64 Coyote Circle, .44 acres, Spectacular views and a stoneâ€™s throw from Hole 8 on the golf course, Offered for $275,000 30 Castle Road, .33 acres, Mt. CB bus route, short walk to ski resort, Offered for $239,500 465 Teocalli Road, .33 acres, Level parcel, commanding views, Offered for $159,000
For these backcountry skaters, the unpredictable and mystical ice of mountain lakes has inspired both reverence and romance. By Cara Guerrieri
years ago, on one of Gunnison County’s frigid winter nights, Bruce Bartleson took Deirdre Fotescu on their second date. The date was at midnight, and he told her to dress warmly and bring her skates, so she packed the only ones she had — her mother’s 1950s pair from Macy’s in Manhattan. Bruce drove them not to the local rink but toward Blue Mesa Lake. That year, for the first time since the dam was completed in 1966, the entire lake surface was snow-free, deeply frozen and smooth. “Once I got onto the ice, I didn’t care how old and terrible my mother’s skates were, how ill-fitting, or how wobbly I skated,” Deirdre recalled. “That night, the only thing I could think about was the moon and stars reflected in the ice, and the feeling of gliding across that pristine lake.” During that notorious ‘year of no snow,’ not only did Bruce and Deirdre’s love blossom, but so did their attachment to backcountry skating. They weren’t alone. That year brought together a loose-knit group of local folks, who continued from then on to monitor Blue Mesa and beyond to find skate-able ice. Some say they skate wild ice; others call it adventure ice or natural ice. Others simply call it magical. They begin at Halloween, said Bruce, “with a handful of serious scouts keeping watch on local ice conditions.” They start with the highest mountain lakes rimming the valley, like Rainbow Lake, Lake Irwin and
sometimes Emerald Lake, hoping for early skating days. As winter sets in, their search expands to bodies of water throughout the valley. “Sometimes we’ve been out ice-hunting before dawn,” said Chris Haas, a veteran ice scout. “When you work a nine-to-five, you have to skate whenever you can. The ice might only be good for those few hours. Or if we’re lucky, a couple of days.” Snowfall might come at any time, and the intense Colorado winter sun can soften the surface. If you haven’t skated on natural ice and felt the freedom of gliding across a pond on a crisp winter day, feeling almost as if you might leave gravity behind, you might wonder how it could be worth all that effort. Barbara Haas, the most passionate backcountry ice skater I’ve ever met, and the moderator of the group’s Facebook page “Ice Is a Love Story,” said her love of ice is beyond words. “When you’re skating on adventure ice, it’s an otherworldly, reverent, ‘be here now’ experience.” Chris added, “There’s also an element of discovery. It’s like a ski day, a camping trip and a fishing trip combined. The excitement, the wonder and the group preparation are all there. I’ve been on teams all my life, in all kinds of sports. The skating posse is unlike any other. There’s a different kind of camaraderie. Truly, the absolute worst day of adventure skating will always be better than the best day of any other sport I know.” The scouts aren’t the only ones whose anticipation is palpable. Deirdre said that for her, getting ready for a skate day is similar to the childlike joy before a birthday party. “I literally vibrate with excitement and can’t wait for that time when it’s just me, my skates, the ice and the blue sky. That’s when the world goes away.” While she waits for those days (some years have delivered only four days of wild ice skating), Deirdre, an accomplished figure skater, goes to the local rinks. “But I get so desperate to skate outside,” she said. “The dreary, noisy circles of an indoor rink can’t hold a candle to outdoor skating. So I’ve learned to savor every moment I skate outside. Each time I wonder if it’s the last time for that year.” She’s been known to skate until the sun sets, the snowfall covers the ice, or her legs get so tired she’s at risk of falling. Barbara echoed Deirdre’s sentiment. “Since we never know how many days of skating we’ll get in the season, there’s a great deal of gratitude for each skate day. We fall in love with each piece of ice so much – the designs in the ice, the reflections on the ice, 42
‘The dreary, noisy circles of an indoor rink can’t hold a candle to outdoor skating.’
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Deirdre Fotescu and Bruce Bartleson: a match made on ice.
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the colors, the noises. There’s a mystical quality to the sights and sounds. Ice has presented Chris and me with the most amazing scenes and experiences of our lives.” The group skates on any safe body of water in the county, and sometimes beyond. The lakes they watch, now more than a dozen, include Boulder, Mill, Peanut, Lost and Mirror. Sometimes other reservoirs in the valley, like Spring Creek, Lake San Cristobal, Dome and McDonough lakes and the super-rare Taylor, are suitable for a skate. The granddaddy of all for local skating is, of course, Blue Mesa Reservoir, with more than 90 miles of shoreline. Although it’s a rare winter when Blue Mesa gets no snow, the lake freezes east to west, so even though snow might ruin last week’s ice, there might be more skate-able ice farther down the lake the next week. At any point in the winter, drivers on Highway 50 west of Gunnison might look out and see graceful skaters skimming across Blue Mesa, and it might look like a fun scene to join. However, like any extreme sport, adventure skating is not for the unprepared. Its enthusiasts warn that natural lakes aren’t groomed rinks. The conditions are unpredictable and ever changing, and it’s downright foolish for unprepared folks to skate the lakes. My friend Kathy Carr, who was with me in 1977 when we first skated on Blue Mesa, said, “I’ve continued skating the area lakes my whole life. I don’t think we were aware of the many dangers of wild ice when we were young. Now we take safety equipment out there every time: kneepads, 44
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Better Than Before
picks-of-life ice self-rescue tools, personal flotation devices and rescue ropes. Also a complete change of clothes. We never skate alone, and we test the ice repeatedly.” Because you can’t plan this type of skating in advance and you have to have time, safety equipment and know-how, adventure skating tends to be a self-limiting activity. The close group of regular skaters remains, therefore, rather small. Their passion, however, is a worldwide phenomenon, with groups adapting their equipment and knowledge to meet the conditions of their area. In Alaska, ice skaters make use of skate or ski poles; in Sweden, they skate hut to hut, traditionally using broomsticks as a safety tool; and during a good year in Maine, where I usually skate these days, backyard pond and wild ice skating can be almost as plentiful as lobster boats. In Gunnison County, the unique and well-honed local technique for checking ice safety involves tossing fist-sized rocks onto the ice and is, according to Bruce, tried and true. Just as tried and true is an annual ritual at Bruce and Deirdre’s house — packing up their skating gear and leaving it next to their front door. At a moment’s notice, they’re ready to go when the ice is good. Ready for another skate, another day of wonder, another grand adventure. “We don’t go as often as we used to, and I go for the camaraderie as much as anything,” said Bruce, smiling at Deirdre. His smile makes it clear that the dual romances they began so long ago – with skating and with each other – are deep and ongoing.
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By Sandy Fails
It seemed like a great irony, perhaps a great tragedy: that Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), the ski area whose ads once proclaimed “Heaven forbid we should ever be like Aspen or Vail” should three decades later be bought by Vail Resorts (VR). A year after that 2018 purchase, there appears to be an irony of a different sort: that the massive scale and reach of Vail Resorts could actually – for now – be a saving grace for the small scale and uniqueness of Crested Butte’s ski area. Tim Baker, the general manager of the Crested Butte ski area for Vail Resorts, noted that the company has a high stake in making sure Crested Butte maintains its character – and stays as different as possible from Vail. The company now owns 37 ski resorts in the U.S. and last year sold more than 925,000 Epic Passes in all 50 states and in more than 100 countries. The company no longer measures success one ski resort at a time; its overall job is serving, pleasing and expanding 46
its Epic Pass base. With that perspective, Vail Resorts wants each of its ski areas to offer a distinct guest experience. (Baskin-Robbins would hardly lure the masses if it offered 32 bins of the same flavor ice cream.) “When we launched the Epic Pass in 2007, that was an epic shift for the company,” Baker said. “We’re not selling real estate to support the resort; that’s an old model. The Epic Pass changed that. We’re in the ski business. It adds greater value to the Epic Pass if we can offer a unique experience at each resort.” With detailed research, Vail Resorts can match Epic Pass holders (Gucci shoppers? Denver-area day skiers? risk-taking free spirits?) with the most appropriate VR ski area. “Crested Butte is not a volume-driven destination,” Baker said. “We can be laserfocused, attracting only people who are looking for the Crested Butte experience. We’re not dependent on the specific success
of Crested Butte.” In its extensive data collection, VR isn’t focusing on CBMR’s skier-day numbers, but on its visitors’ “likelihood to recommend.” Baker said, “What this mountain offers is a certain feel – the vistas, the sense of wilderness. In places on the mountain, you can feel like you have the whole area to yourself. That’s special. To go for huge visitation numbers would defeat the purpose.” While Crested Butte fans may be relieved to hear those words, many still chafe at the presence of a mega-corporation in the valley. Crested Butte’s mining history evidences the worst of big-business domination – with mining companies exploiting workers and land, extracting wealth to line pockets far, far away. No wonder we balk at large companies. So far, VR executives have taken pains to show a different side of corporate ownership. Zach Pickett, who worked for CBMR for six
years in sales, marketing and public relations, had a front row seat to the ski area’s transition from being a smaller, family-run area to being part of a large corporation. “They came in super soft,” Pickett said. “They didn’t blast in here and start making huge changes. They’re listening, observing, figuring out what Crested Butte is all about.” As Pickett and the VR marketing team began brainstorming how to define and market Crested Butte, he felt “they really got it.” Their new tagline for Crested Butte: “the untamed destination at the end of the road.” Pickett said, “It’s been encouraging to see a large, large parent company diving in and embracing what Crested Butte really is.” In late September of 2018, Vail Resorts bought Crested Butte Mountain Resort from the Mueller family as part of a package that included Okemo (Vermont) and Mount Sunapee (New Hampshire) ski resorts. The company perhaps didn’t realize what a gem it 47
Tim and Jennifer Baker and their sons, new fans of Crested Butte.
had acquired in Crested Butte, Baker said. “I don’t think we knew how complementary this ski area would be to the whole portfolio of Vail Resorts. Crested Butte is so distinct, we can take what it’s always been and celebrate that. This place has something we can’t deliver anywhere else: the challenge, ruggedness, its own charm, the chance to get away from the mainstream. The mountain is iconic, with a type of terrain that’s not like anywhere else.” Among its savvy moves, Vail Resorts chose an appropriate person to oversee its newly acquired Crested Butte ski area. Baker, who moved from Beaver Creek, has already won over some local semi-skeptics and has, in turn, “fallen under the spell” of Crested Butte. “I underestimated how much the spirit of Crested Butte would infect me and infect my family,” he said. His wild-haired sons, nine and six, love Crested Butte and spend much of their time outside, skiing and mountain biking. When his wife Jennifer celebrated the start of school with “Moms, Muffins and Mimosas,” she was delighted by the huge and friendly turnout. “This community has welcomed my family so warmly,” Baker said. That welcome was not a given. The
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announcement that Vail Resorts had bought the ski area prompted gasps of disbelief and dismay around town. Jim Schmidt, mayor of Crested Butte, said, “It’s been hard for the citizens of town to grapple with the idea that the ski area is now owned by the largest ski operator in the world. It certainly goes up against the ‘rebel’ and ‘outlander’ Crested Butte spirit.” Baker understands the trepidation. He’s found that most people in Crested Butte carefully chose to move here and work hard to stay, so there’s both pride and protectiveness. Still, he said, “People were willing to give us a chance. I had a lot of candid conversations walking down Elk Avenue – people are passionate here – but they were respectful. Now I get a sense of relief that we didn’t just come in and blow this place up.” Baker meets regularly with community leaders, listening, answering questions and being as transparent and accessible as possible. So far, Mayor Schmidt has found Baker “very open and easy to work with” in their monthly meetings and as fellow stakeholders in situations like the Brush Creek housing proposal. Though Schmidt applauds Baker, he’s still wary of the ski area’s ownership. In Schmidt’s conversations with officials in towns where Vail Resorts runs the ski area, ”They all made it clear that any big decisions were made by the CEO, Rob Katz.” Janet Farmer, mayor of Mt. Crested Butte who works with Baker on multiple boards, praised his “dedication, engagement and enthusiasm.” She described herself as “cautiously optimistic” when she heard about the Vail Resorts purchase of CBMR. “I’ve appreciated the time Vail Resorts is taking to evaluate before jumping into major changes.” However, dealing with the slow wheels of corporate machinery at Vail Resorts’ home office in Broomfield has “necessitated some adjustments” for the town governments and other local entities working with the company, she said. “Overall, I’ve found the relationship with Vail Resorts to be very positive for the community.” So far, most changes at the ski area have been behind the scenes: upgrades to systems that will quietly make the resort run more smoothly. On the slopes, the Teocalli lift has been replaced, which should improve skier flow, Baker said. With Mobile Express capabilities, arriving guests with reservations will be able to skip the lift ticket line. And for Epic Pass holders, the Epic Mix app will 49
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tally their vertical feet and number of days skied. Diners might also see adjustments in the mountain eateries as the resort elevates its food and beverage experiences. “We’re still learning,” Baker said. “Bigger changes, like the Teocalli Two expansion, are not on our radar for now.” Having a corporate presence in the community has benefits beyond stability and the financial resources to properly maintain the resort, Pickett pointed out. Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise initiatives center around stewardship of its resort communities. On EpicPromise Day in September, CBMR employees volunteered for projects like removing noxious weeds on Crested Butte Land Trust property and rebuilding the trail near Long Lake; earlier they planted 600 trees in the resort’s Double Top Glades with the U.S. Forest Service. The sale of old chairs from the dismantled Teocalli and Twister lifts helped fund the Long Lake Exchange Project through the Land Trust. Vail Resorts has committed to a net-zero operating footprint by 2030 – zero net emissions, zero waste to landfills and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat. Still, local questions linger. Can Vail Resorts’ corporate policies stretch enough to accommodate offbeat community traditions that involve the ski area – like the Al Johnson costumed uphill/downhill telemark race, the midnight start of the backcountry Grand Traverse, and the endorphin fiends who skin up the slopes each morning? In the long term, how will Vail Resorts’ vision for the ski area fit the townspeople’s? It’s not surprising that people are still uneasy. But Baker has done a lot to calm some initial fears. It’s also helpful to remember that Vail Resorts is just one stakeholder in a valley that’s much more diverse than when miners relied so completely on exploitive mining companies. The historic and rowdy-spirited town three miles from the ski slopes has a life of its own. As a community, we are less dependent on the resort than we’ve been in the past. Summer has outstripped winter in filling our coffers. And winter has more diverse draws; visitors come for Nordic and backcountry skiing, or just to escape from an overwrought world. The arts, music and educational opportunities attract families, remote workers, creatives and retirees. Schmidt often reminds people, “Vail bought the ski area. They did not buy the town; they did not buy our wilderness; they did not buy our souls.”
Designing fine homes for the Colorado high country since 1984.
429 Sixth Street, Crested Butte, Colorado photo by James Ray Spahn Photography
Russell Buchanan Designs Aperture’s First Residence
Simple gabled forms echoing the architectural heritage of Crested Butte are paired with contemporary planning and crisp detailing to make Aperture House the ideal setting for today’s active family lifestyle.
East view from Aperture House
Russell Buchanan is one of Dallas’ most celebrated architects. Founder and principal at Buchanan Architecture, Russell is known for his simple lines and clean, modern look. His projects have won awards and been featured in the pages of Architectural Digest. Buchanan Architecture’s first mountain home is also Aperture’s first residence. The distinctive mountain modern home was inspired by Crested Butte’s history and is being built by Michael Weil Custom Homes. Buchanan describes his inspiration and vision for what he calls Aperture House: “Before Crested Butte was settled in 1874, it was a mining outpost. The early buildings were simple gabled structures made with wood and corrugated metal, a newly invented material (c.1820). These early buildings were unadorned with decorative architectural elements and can still be seen today in the ranches that surround the town. This early architectural history of Crested Butte provides a touchstone for the concept of Aperture House. The design is informed by a fondness for reclaimed, sustainable materials and inspired by the vernacular architecture of the historic local settlements.
Aperture House is designed to capitalize on the panoramic views to the east and south. By orienting the building to align with the peak of Mt. Crested Butte, the residence maximizes the visibility of this spectacular view to the east. The great room on the first floor and the guest suites on the second floor all face toward Mt. Crested Butte. Likewise, the master suites on the first floor are oriented to take advantage of the unparalleled views of the valley to the south. Patios next to the great room and the master suites create comfortable outdoor spaces animated by natural light and mountain scenery. Aperture House is also oriented to maximize energy efficiency. Operable windows throughout provide passive air circulation. Windows facing west are limited and smaller in order to protect the residence from late afternoon solar heat. No windows face north in order to protect the building from winter weather. Aperture House is constructed using the most energy efficient, durable, low-maintenance materials available. High performance wall and roof insulation systems are paired with a radiant heat system to make the building energy efficient in any climate. The insulated windows are clad for durability and the exterior metal siding requires no maintenance and looks better with age. Tailored detailing and superior construction of the house executed by master craftsmen are what make Aperture House truly unique.”
Aperture is Crested Butte’s newest neighborhood. Amenities include trails, Slate River access and a private riverfront park and pavilion in a neighborhood located within walking distance to the restaurants and shops on Elk Avenue. Enjoy the convenience of town with the views, privacy and quiet of a mountain home. Only 23 homesites - 19 still available. PAID ADVERTISING
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If you think our buses are unique and colorful, just wait till you meet our intrepid bus drivers.
By Beth Buehler
Four bus systems in the valley safely deliver people through sun, rain and snow to the slopes, school, work, airport, trailheads, weddings and more. And, just as each Mountain Express bus is unique and colorful, so are our bus drivers – and the stories they’ve collected at the wheel of the bus (where some have passed three decades at their jobs). Luckily, most thrive on interacting with their passengers and maneuvering through the challenges that the seasons deliver.
DAYNA CHRISTY, MOUNTAIN EXPRESS LOCAL BUS ROUTE When Dayna Christy began driving for Mountain Express 28 winters ago, the buses didn’t operate year-round and the guidelines were noticeably looser, since there was no federal funding at stake. “It was my third job, and I was going to drive for only a year or two. I was the only female driver at the time, and it was an eclectic mix of drivers,” Christy reflected. Drivers didn’t get insurance and benefits then, but they had plenty of fun playing hacky sack among the Camp 4 Coffee, t-shirt and hotdog carts at the ski area base while waiting for passengers to board. Musicians in a local bluegrass band would play in the aisles and receive tips, and during Ski Free, drivers managed packed buses and rowdy crowds. “You had to be prepared for a party, but it was fun,” Christy said. For an end-of-the-season party, the drivers would take a Mountain Express bus to Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, more than two hours away, and in the summers they formed a softball team called Global Warmers. Christy noted, “We were super athletes in our own minds (after a few beers), and there was much fun and laughter.” Today, she has only one job in the winter, driving the Crested Butte to Mt. Crested Butte route for Mountain Express. After “serving a tour of duty” at night, Christy now sticks to day shifts. “When you first start out, you take what routes and hours you can get, as it goes by seniority. [Longtime driver] Vinnie Rossignol gets whatever he wants!” Christy actually prefers making sure the wheels on the bus go round and round in the winter. “I like driving in snow, and people are excited to go ski,” she said. “If it’s a badweather day, I’d rather be the one driving!” She also enjoys the camaraderie with riders. “You get to know people like the second homeowners who come back to ski.
Dayna Christy and the bug bus.
It’s always fun to catch up with them and their families.” Like gardening, driving for Mountain Express keeps Christy on the go and out of a desk chair. “I’m outside waving to friends and talking to visitors who ask all sorts of questions. Most people who come here are relaxed and just having a good time.”
JIM SCHMIDT, ALPINE EXPRESS AIRPORT/SHUTTLE BUSES Not many visitors to other resorts can claim the mayor picked them up when they
arrived. Jim Schmidt, the current mayor of Crested Butte, has been an Alpine Express driver for 30 years and in the early eighties managed Mountain Express for three years. Usually, Schmidt lets riders know he is mayor to spur interaction and questions, while other times he keeps this status to himself. “If I say I’m mayor, the conversation is better. I have a set conversation about the valley, history, population, wildlife, elevation, etc., but try not to get political. Most of the questions are about good restaurants, because I live in Crested Butte and go out a lot.” 55
Jim Schmidt, Crested Butte mayor and transportation veteran.
Before moving to Colorado, Schmidt grew tired of the “rat race” involved in overseeing a charter bus company in Illinois from 1973 to 1976, having 12-15 buses on the road around the country at any given time, and getting paged all hours of the night. He waved goodbye to the job, hopped on his motorcycle, and departed on a bicentennial tour of the West in 1976. During the excursion, he arrived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to visit friends, only to discover they’d moved to Crested Butte. Schmidt followed their breadcrumbs 56
south and spent his first two weeks sleeping on the second floor of the Elk Avenue building that now houses Talk of the Town. “It was a totally empty apartment, and the lower level was an empty shell that had been a store,” he said. In 1981, Schmidt took the helm of Mountain Express as transportation director, at a time when there was “quite a cast of characters” at the wheels. One guy was a survivalist and had a place up Spring Creek with gun slits on the side and a stockpile of rifles and ammunition. Another driver,
James Scott, had been living on a ranch in California when Charlie Manson arrived there; as that scene got too weird, Scott left and ended up in Crested Butte. Tuck had served in the Army and as a policeman elsewhere and became a favorite mountainman personality behind the wheel for years. Schmidt left the post in 1983, enjoyed another break from the bus business, then began driving part-time for Alpine Express later that decade. “It’s flexible, and I can take time off for meetings. But the best thing about Alpine Express is I’ve met some fantastic people — from Graham Nash, Robert Earl Keen and Hank Aaron to a physically challenged man who is a national triathlon champion and a really neat guy.” Mainly handling airport transfers and transportation for weddings, Schmidt moves guests safely and efficiently – but has collected some surprising stories. One was a wedding last September at the Community Center in Gothic. “We took guests out at 3 p.m., and the last vehicle was set to pick up at 12:15 a.m. When I arrived, the 11:45 driver was still there, and 35 to 45 people were dancing totally naked.” With a laugh, Schmidt recalled, “There were a lot of things bouncing you rarely see bouncing.” Thankfully, everyone got dressed before boarding the buses, except a man wearing only underwear and a sash who had officiated the wedding! A few rough miles down the road from Gothic, the trailhead of the West Maroon hike to Aspen can present equally challenging times when picking up passengers. Schmidt once waited there for eight hours. He said, “A couple ended up having to bed down in a horse trailer on the way over; I don’t know why it took 12 hours to hike over from Aspen!” When people ask if driving the same road gets old, Schmidt responds by asking, “’Do you get tired staring at the walls in your office?’ The scenery outside the windshield always changes… and when I’m driving home at dusk, the scenery is so spectacular. Or I look at some place I haven’t noticed before and am surprised at how beautiful it is.”
BILL KASTNING, GUNNISON SCHOOL DISTRICT AND ALPINE EXPRESS After Bill Kastning retired from 19 years of teaching at Gunnison Elementary School, both the superintendent and director of transportation for the Gunnison School District put a full court press on him to drive a school bus. They knew he had a
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Bill Kastning: taking school bus driving to a whole new level.
commercial driver’s license (CDL) and years of experience driving for Alpine Express on the side. Intending to help out for only one semester, Kastning discovered he enjoyed watching the kids grow up, learn and excel, especially when he was driving for field trips and extracurricular sports. “I really got attached to the Crested Butte boys soccer team last year,” he said. “They thought I was their good luck charm, but I enjoyed being there to watch. They put my name on the bottom of the state trophy after team members and coaches, and 58
the moms included me with the coaches in getting mugs with our names on them, so that was really special.” However, he acknowledged that driving a school bus comes with an extra layer of stress, knowing “little lives are in your hands and you have to be laser-focused every second.” On the flip side, he said, “I really enjoy meeting all the parents and having more of a relationship with them. Everyone is so nice and thanks me, which is great.” After seven years of driving for the school district and 33 years for Alpine Express
(formerly Crested Butte Limousine), Kastning plans to retire in 2020. His first days behind the wheel were in 1986 after selling his photography business to Dusty Demerson, who is the man behind the lens for this story. “I’ve driven one or two more years than Jim Schmidt, but he has a ton more hours.” Driving for Alpine Express was an ideal job while Kastning earned a teaching certificate at Western State College years ago, raised a family, and drove on winter weekends and during summer to help grow a college fund for his two children. Like Schmidt and Christy, Kastning has observed huge changes in the laws governing bus systems and drivers. “It was looseygoosey back then; I didn’t even have a CDL my first year or two.” Over the years, he has safely handled hundreds of airport transfers, trailhead drop-offs and pick-ups and wedding guest transportation for Alpine Express. His favorite assignment was leading 4X4 tours. “My mission was to send people home with a better understanding of Gunnison County: how we use land and the people, wildflowers, wildlife, history, mining and ranching,” Kastning said. One harrowing memory resulted from a family that went over the wrong pass hiking from Aspen to Crested Butte. “They went over East Maroon and showed up in Gothic after I made three trips to the base of the West Maroon trail. I knew there were children and parents, so I was worried sick,” he remembered. “All of us who do pick-ups walk up the trail a ways and start worrying if people don’t show up.” In the summer, approximately 90 percent of his schedule with Alpine Express is driving for weddings, with brides and grooms embracing the beautiful setting, even if they haven’t spent much time in Crested Butte. “The destination wedding concept is such a big change. In the 1980s, we didn’t see anything like this,” he said. Human relationships have kept him at his job, Kastning emphasized. “Not everyone is a nice person, but in my 30-plus years driving for Alpine Express, there hasn’t been a time I’ve wanted to get rid of the trip; people are in a pretty good mood, especially when they get off the plane.” Schmidt has equally kind words for his co-worker. “Bill must be one intrepid driver for the snowy roads he’s negotiated with a bus full of precious kids and the rough backcountry roads with loads of mountainnovice visitors.”
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Employment: After the stress of completing a college degree, she was seeking a job that could be left behind at the end of the day and was hired by Mountain Express. Upon completing extensive training and obtaining her CDL, she felt part of a big family. “I’m never going to leave this job; it’s one of the best in the valley, and they make it easy to schedule around other jobs.” In mid-2019, she gave up her custodian job at Western and began driving one day a week for RTA. Two jobs, two systems: Since many RTA passengers are locals who ride from Gunnison to Mt. Crested Butte, they know where they’re heading, resulting in little interaction on the bus except on festival weekends like Vinotok. “It’s a vacation from the insanity of Mountain Express, where I’m like a tour guide multi-tasking, driving and answering questions. I’m exhausted by the end of the day,” Elder said. “I really dig RTA as well.”
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Memorable moments: Driving the “moon bus,” when riders bare their backsides out the window on the last day of ski season, and transporting costumed participants in the Chainless Race up Kebler Pass during Crested Butte Bike Week. “This community is defined by bikes pure and simple,” she offered. “It was true local camaraderie, and I was proud to be part of this valley. I really love living here, and I really felt it then.”
How the Mountain Express buses got so For results
BUY & SELL WITH MICHELLE Michelle Gerber Associate Broker Lydia Stern
Artist Lian Canty unveils her wildflower bus.
In 1983, Mountain Express, with financial support from Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), purchased six new buses from a fleet acquired for a project in Parachute, Colorado, that ended up not happening. Jim Schmidt, manager of Mountain Express at the time, put out a call for a new logo design for the buses, and local artist and Paragon Gallery member Barbara Greene suggested taking it up a notch and creating a series of moving murals. “I figured it would be a great idea to have each bus individually painted, but at that time two individuals from CBMR served on the Mountain Express board and hated the idea. They voted against it, fearing they would be hippie buses,” Schmidt said. However, the yeas outweighed the nays, and local artists painted the buses and unveiled them at a Paragon Gallery reception held that November. “The people from CBMR loved them.” The practice of transforming white buses into artful public transportation has continued ever since. Schmidt’s all-time favorite: Kate Seeley’s fish bus, which has been retired for years. Dayna Christy also loves the fish bus and still enjoys seeing the repurposed vehicle in Seeley’s yard along the bus route on Whiterock Avenue. Caitlin Elder, a driver for Mountain Express and RTA, is a big fan of Lian Canty’s art and her most recent bug bus. “She blows me away with the detail, but I wonder why there are no mosquitoes or ticks. That would have been fun.” Drivers don’t get to pick their favorite buses for each shift. Instead, mechanics rotate buses, so a driver might be steering wildflowers or pets one day and mountain bikes or aspen trees the next.
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The 50th Armistice Day reunion, November 1968: Emil Lunk, sitting at Kochevar’s with fellow World War I veterans Frank Hodgeson, Anton Danni, John Panion and Ralph Falsetto. Immigrants from varied backgrounds, the five men were part of five different armies; the latter four fought against Emil Lunk’s German Army. All became part of Crested Butte’s multi-cultural mining community.
THE ART OF WELCOMING Looking back over the decades, Crested Butte could learn from its uneasy history of greeting immigrants and newcomers. By George Sibley Photos by Sandra Cortner
The Community Foundation for the Gunnison Valley has come up with a positive and interesting idea for the valley that counters a top-down national trend: be a welcoming place. And don’t just say, ‘Welcome!’ Instead say it in more than 30 languages – a global array of languages, all spoken by someone who lives and works in the Upper Gunnison valleys. This in a population of only 17,000. Some of these languages are spoken by recent immigrants; others are spoken at home by long-time residents – meaning they or their people immigrated here some time ago, maybe as long as a hundred years ago. The Community Foundation idea at this point is fairly straightforward: it is collecting funds this winter to purchase yard signs with the word ‘Welcome’ in a couple dozen of the languages spoken here. These signs will all be put out on a valley-wide Day of Welcoming around the time of Western Colorado University’s graduation in May, and they’ll stay out for the summer: a sign to visitors, work-seekers and anyone else interested that the valley communities are as diverse as the natural world we’re located in, we’re comfortable with that, and we’ll welcome anyone who feels the same way. It does raise a question in my mind. Has this always been a welcoming place for those not born and raised in the valley – or even in America? A tour through the local cemeteries reveals a lot of names suggesting that international diversity is not a new thing here. Crested Butte’s cemetery especially indicates a history peopled by ‘a majority of minorities,’ and the historical record, both written and oral, reinforces that, especially for the town’s mining era (1880-mid 1950s). But the record also shows that the welcome extended to the successive waves of immigrants during that era was often mixed and ambiguous, and occasionally displaced by outright xenophobia – fear of the stranger, like the fear currently pervasive in the federal government. We are fortunate to have a monograph by Michele Veltri, a Crested Butte native born to Italian immigrants (Benvenuto!), who did a study of the large migration of South Slavic people to Crested Butte in the decades before and after World War I – We Are All Brothers: The Slavic Fraternal Lodges of Crested Butte. He portrays a cultural environment that mostly went to no extremes to either welcome or reject the immigrants that came in waves to work the coal mines. “It is well documented that mass resettlements of longestablished peoples is neither easy nor pleasant,” Veltri wrote, “regardless of what caused them to leave that which had been dear and comfortingly familiar. The universality of ethnocentrism is also manifest. Of the successive arrivals few indeed were welcomed by a Massasoit [Indian leader who welcomed the Pilgrims in 1620] or a Jane Addams.” Ethnocentrism – the tendency to view all human activity through a lens ground by one’s own cultural upbringing – cuts two ways when an immigrant arrives, like Moses in Midian, as a ‘stranger in a strange land.’ Even if immigrants are fleeing from a place in economic, political or environmental chaos (the situation for most immigrants), they will still be looking at the ‘strange land’ through the lens they grew up with and they will find it strange. And those beholding the immigrants will see only ‘strangers’ through their cultural lens, ‘others’ to be watched until some level of familiarity is established. There doesn’t even need to be a sense of conscious cultural superiority on one side or the 65
Michele Veltri studies old fraternal lodge records discovered in Frank and Mary Yelenick’s attic, 1988.
other; ethnocentrism is probably most difficult to overcome when it is unconscious. Veltri’s story of the ‘Yugoslavians’ who came – Croats, Slovenes and other South Slavic people from the Balkans who had been thrown together as Yugoslavia following World War I – indicates that anyone coming “with stomachs after bread,” as one of them put it, was welcomed economically immediately – if they were willing to work cheap. Which most of them were: anything seemed to be better than nothing, until you tried to feed and shelter a family with it. The fabled American melting pot was really more of a pressure cooker that filled from the bottom, offering the newcomers the hardest, dirtiest and most dangerous work that paid the least. That industrial ‘welcome to America’ made it easy for the industrialists to keep wages low; there were always ‘stomachs after bread’ willing to replace striking workers asking for a living wage or just safer working conditions and reasonable hours. The welcome to the social and cultural environment of the community was not so quickly forthcoming. ‘Live and let live’ was the apparent standard, but it could deteriorate into hostility as the number of immigrants increased. Children had to go to school, but there were no English as a Second Language opportunities there; they were as much on their own as were their parents. Some of the earlier Croats or Slovenes were promoted to foremen in the mines to bring the new workers up to speed in their own language, but the mine mules got better care than the workers. The women fell back on village ways to keep food on the table, growing kitchen gardens and feeding a pig scraps all summer for fall butchering and winter meat. Religion got in the way of a welcoming attitude. The earliest 66
The former Croatian Hall on Second Street, 1977.
immigrants to Crested Butte had been mostly Anglo-American prospectors from ‘back east’ (another country to westerners) and immigrants from the British Isles – ‘Cousin Jacks.’ They had been first to work their way out of the melting-pot mines into town businesses or small ranches, and were mostly Anglican or Protestant, while most of the South Slavs and Italians were Roman Catholics – ‘Papists’ – which attracted the unwelcoming attention of the Ku Klux Klan that was powerful in Colorado in the 1920s. Veltri told how the South Slav immigrants and Italians responded to being kept at arm’s length – not in an aggressive way but just as ‘strangers in a strange land.’ They established local lodges of national ethnic fraternal societies that provided modest health and life insurance benefits for members, but perhaps more importantly, gave them a connection with others in the same situation and a tie with their lost Old World heritage. The first of these fraternal lodges in Crested Butte was created in 1894 by Slovene immigrants; the Croats soon followed. When the Italians began to arrive – some of them via railroad work – they also created fraternal lodges. Some ethnic minorities created more than one lodge, either for religious or political differences. Because they were primarily organizations of workers, the issue of whether to support the union movement loomed large in the lodges. As beliefs intensified or moderated, the lodges either split further or combined. All of the lodges walked a tightrope – helping the immigrants assimilate into American society, while at the same time keeping their own language and culture alive as a kind of spiritual refuge. A local lodge might be holding on the same night English classes or citizenship preparation for adults, and native language and homeland history classes for their children. They also showed solidarity in tragedy. When a miner died in a mine accident, Veltri said, “an impressive funeral publicized cohesion in a hostile or, at best, indifferent world. To enhance this display of fraternal solidarity, all the lodges usually marched together, even if the deceased belonged only to one… and for years the combined memberships were able to force the coal mines to suspend operations on a funeral day, for en-masse attendance left hardly anyone but the bosses.” An early breakthrough for the South Slavs came in 1902, when the Croatian St.
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Mary’s Lodge scraped together enough to purchase the old Knights of Pythias hall, which became the Croatian Hall on Second Street (between Sopris and Whiterock avenues). Downstairs was a bar, and they held dances with their own music; they would also rent out the building for other parties, dances and events. Crested Buttians then, as now, enjoyed a good time, and the Croatian Hall became one way that, as Veltri put it, “the South Slavs did weave their members into the fabric of local society”– as much through being true to the community spirit of their native culture as through assimilation. Welcome – and give us some more of that accordion and tambura music. Another immigrant story: Emil Lunk, a German immigrant who arrived in 1927, told me about his Crested Butte welcome. He got here in the fall of that year, just in time to see evidence of the growing American worker solidarity (which was mostly immigrants). It was a march on Elk Avenue as the miners walked out of Big Mine in a regional strike against Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) – not another United Mine Workers strike, but a Wobbly strike, organized by the International Workers of the World (IWW) – the organization that wanted not just concessions from the owners, but the ownership itself of the factors of production. They were striking in this case for the restoration of wages that had been cut, and also for a five-day week with six-hour shifts, and a guaranteed minimum work days per year. Emil Lunk cussed his luck at first, arriving broke at the beginning of a strike with no work available. But he also came with a bandonium, a form of accordion, with which he had entertained the Kaiser’s troops in the Great War, but the music worked as well for the Americans as the Germans. “There were dances and parties practically every night,” he said – fundraisers for the strike as well as morale boosters. “I always had an invitation to play somewhere.” There was no money to pay him, but this was still a village culture that knew how to put up food for the winter, so there was always something to eat and a place to sleep in exchange for the music, which was all there was either way that winter and it was all welcome. A lesson from that history might be that the welcoming process is not a oneway responsibility for the inhabitants to extend to the newcomers; maybe there needs to be a way, some kind of venue, for
let’s make moves together
Emil Lunk and his bandonium, 1968.
the newcomers to show the inhabitants the cultural contributions they can bring to the community besides a willingness to work hard for low wages. I think of the annual Summer Fiesta that St. Peter’s Church in Gunnison has started holding, where in addition to some great Mexican food and music, you can also get foods from the rich heritage of the remaining South Slav and Italian descendants. Helping facilitate that kind of moveable feast might be a worthy follow-up to the welcome sign project for our Community Foundation. As a kind of a coda: Emil Lunk got out his bandonium again 40 years after that Wobbly strike, in November 1968, to play some music for the fiftieth Armistice Day reunion of Crested Butte’s World War I veterans. Maybe an indication of the role of patience in getting the welcome right. Gathered for the event – a spaghetti dinner at Starika’s Bar and Restaurant – were Frank Hodgsen, who had fought with the English Army; John Panion, who had fought with a South Slav unit; Ralph Falsetto, who fought with the Italian Army; Italian immigrant Anton Danni, who was part of the American Expeditionary Force – and Emil Lunk, who fought against them all with the German Army until he took a bullet in the leg, not inconceivably from one of other four at the table. A strange gathering from many lands, of strangers no more. Welcome to Crested Butte.
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The last days of autumn at Lake Irwin: Samantha and Daniel Siegfried with kids Skylar and Ayden; John Biro with sons Tucker and Logan.
By Dawne Belloise
For three hearty families, wintering in snowbound Irwin is sometimes “a Disney movie” and sometimes “insanely hard.” 70
Trea, Mandy and Vinnie Sciortino gather wood for the long winter.
Photos: Dawne Belloise
ucker and Logan Biro grab a couple of canoes from the shore of Lake Irwin and shove off into the frigid water, although it’s reached its peak summer warmth. Ruby Mountain’s perfect reflection breaks into widening ripples as the boys paddle down the lake. Though only 11 and 7 years old, these toughened mountain children have been taught how to play and survive in the harsh extremes of Irwin. Later, back at the Biro complex, a three-story, off-the-grid log home, the boys show off their menagerie. Aquariums and reptile tanks house the “pets” captured by the curious boys -- two red slider turtles, Frogzilla the bullfrog, snakes, fish and salamanders . On the upstairs deck lives a young duckling, rescued from the highway. It’s summer and the living is easy, but winter is always looming at 10,000 feet elevation, where it arrives much earlier and lasts much longer than in town. Winter is made harsher by the fact that eight miles of Kebler Road between Crested Butte and the Irwin townsite is closed after Thanksgiving snows blanket the land. Then the only access is via snowmobiles, snowcats or converted track vehicles, which takes getting the kids to school to an entirely different level. John Biro moved to Irwin for work in 1976. “I was a good hippie working on an organic farm in Paonia,” he says, when he heard that the Amax mining company was hiring in Crested Butte. Since he had worked on drilling rigs for coal exploration, he was hired. He bought property in Irwin, built and sold a house, then built his current house
in what he calls a barren wasteland. Back then, Irwin had essentially no population. Most of the buildings that had housed the silver mining camp’s 5,000 residents in the late 1800s had been moved down to Crested Butte or had succumbed to the Irwin winters after silver was demonetized in the 1890s and the town emptied out. Biro’s sons, Tucker and Logan, have lived their entire lives in Irwin. Life here is challenging for a single dad living off the grid and steeped in winter most of the year. Biro claims the boys have been adept at starting and driving their own snowmobiles (sleds) since they were five years old; should anything happen to him, the boys would be able to get help. At two years of age, Tucker had a tiny Kitty Cat snowmobile. Last winter, they rode triple to school, Biro having installed an extra seat on his sled to accommodate the whole family. It was a hellacious year for deep snows, and the cloudy, windy and frigid weather made riding difficult and dangerous. Some days he kept the kids home because of high avalanche danger. “I’ve seen it slide everywhere from my house to Coal Creek Condos in town over the 40 years I’ve lived up here,” Biro says. “Your kid gets hurt skiing or biking, that’s one thing, but you make a bad decision and get your kid killed in an avalanche….” Last winter, the unthinkable almost happened. “Tucker almost died in a roof slide up here. It was a Friday with scary conditions, and I had emailed the school to say avalanche danger was too high to 71
bring the kids in.” As the weather lightened that afternoon, the kids went outside, and then Biro heard the roof slide. A 15 x 10-foot debris field covered the area where Tucker had been. “I started digging like a madman. He was about two feet down, spread eagle, but he had been trained to make an air pocket and was breathing through the arm of his coat.” After Biro finally got him dug out, Tucker, unharmed, crawled over the snow back into the house and filled himself a hot bath. He later told his father, “I did think about my funeral.” Tucker says that after the avalanche, “Snow is my worst enemy ever.” During the day, the Biro boys snowmobile, ski, and make and destroy snowmen. Tucker loves the summers in Irwin, “but not the winters. I liked snow more before the snow slide. I’d rather be somewhere along a beach,” although he admits that he’s never been on a beach. Logan, on the other hand, thinks Irwin winters are fun. “I like to snowboard down the hill behind the house, and I have my own snowmobile. But sometimes we get bored.” He confesses he might rather be in Grand Junction in the winter. Biro tries to get the kids “somewhere warm and civilized at least once a month -- Paonia, Glenwood Hot Springs, Grand Junction, the Dinosaur Museum, Nature Museum, watch the planes take off from the airport, go to the train station. These kids do more than most, and it’s for my mental health as well.” He laughs but acknowledges, “Last winter sucked.” Biro isn’t a young dad, and he needs serious back surgery. Snowmobiling jounces his spine. He thinks he could spend another winter in Irwin if he has to, and there’s always home schooling, but he’s searching for an alternative living arrangement. “I’m glad the kids still think shoveling is fun. Every year around February I always say that no one in their right mind should live in Irwin in December, January and February. But there’s no way to be depressed with these two kids around. They wake up happy, fighting and jumping off the porch into the deep powder.”
John Biro pushes his son’s stroller atop five feet of snow.
Skylar and Ayden Siegfried with the family hens.
the road is the Siegfried family of four, who are about to spend their fourth winter in Irwin. Young Skylar cuddles Chubby Cheeks the hamster. Outside, a flock of hens and one duck, who apparently thinks she’s a chicken, range in the yard, while a gray bunny wrinkles his nose and munches his food. Their black cat is off wandering, and their two dogs nuzzle everyone who’ll let them. Skylar, five, and Ayden, seven, excitedly share their paintings, drawings and toys with visitors. “Wanna see my fairy fort?” asks Ayden. 72
The Biro and Siegfried kids at Lake Irwin…before it froze.
Tucker Biro, age three, powering his Kitty Kat snowmobile.
Beside the house in a small, treed ravine is a secret arched doorway leading to a fantastical world he’s created: tiny houses, tchotchkes and trinkets, a fairy-sized swing and furniture, and moss-covered villages composed in flower pots, all arranged in separate nooks in about five square feet of woods. Surely fairies actually live here. Samantha and Daniel Siegfried moved from Maryland, Samantha having spent her vacations in Crested Butte from the time she was six months old. “When we were first married we had a little farm with chickens and goats in Maryland,” Samatha says. She held a highpaying job at the National Cancer Institute, and Daniel worked as a bike mechanic. But they wanted a wholesome place to raise their kids. Daniel moved to Crested Butte sight unseen, having heard so much about it from Samantha. In 2014 they rented a house in Irwin, in the midst of Crested Butte’s housing shortage. After experimenting with the Irwin lifestyle while the kids were still very young, they bought the home a few years later. Their house is well insulated, and even though there are high cathedral ceilings with a third-story loft and bedrooms, it’s cozy and homey. Heat comes from a large wood-burning stove centrally placed in the open living area of the second floor. A small propane heater in the ground floor entry keeps the water lines from freezing, but they have occasionally awakened to 36 degrees in the house. In the dead of winter, the house might hover around 50 degrees, but they smile; you get used to it. The Siegfrieds try to be ready for winter by Halloween, filling the propane tanks, gathering firewood and tuning up the vehicles. Last year the winter lasted so long, they went through all 1,000 gallons of their propane, and Daniel had to haul tanks up on his snowmobile so they could cook and shower. Their composting toilet in the basement eventually churns out rich compost. Like all the houses in Irwin, their lights run off solar panels hoisted high above the snow, which often covers the second story deck. But things do break down, from household mechanics to vehicles, especially with daily use in harsh conditions. Luckily, mechanic Daniel can fix almost anything. Articulate little Skylar says, “It can be very intense, all that snow, riding in the rocket pod.” The “rocket pod” is an enclosed chariot sled pulled behind the snowmobile, which is the fastest way to get the kids to school. The converted Suzuki Sidekick, a four-wheel-drive car Daniel converted to a sort of mini snowcat, is slow but perhaps safer, especially in arctic temperatures, because it’s more solidly enclosed
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and has heat. As long as you have gas, you can survive in it if you get stuck and have to spend the night. Skylar tells of having “super fun because my dad made us a sled track.” Daniel used his snowmobile to carve a luge run for the kids and sent them flying down on saucers. In addition to building snow caves and drinking lots of hot chocolate, the kids have grown adept at pelting their dad with snowballs, a favorite activity. Daniel converted a dirt bike into a snowbike for Ayden and built an impressive skateboard ramp in the basement, where they watch movies and hang out when deep winter sets in. Winters are definitely intense. The Siegfrieds have seen avalanches run and have ridden over them to get home. When the midwinter sun sets so early, it’s a dark ride home after work and school. ”I’ve found Sam on the side of the trail in the snow car with her flashers on. Everything breaks; there’s a lot of maintenance,” Daniel states matter-of-factly. “Sometimes there’d be four of us on one sled, because it would be the only sled working. The first time we broke down on a sled, I could tell it really scared the kids, but they’ve learned to deal with it,” Samantha
says. “Every family deals with stuff. Raising kids is difficult.” Daniel adds, “It’s just a little harder when you can’t just drive home.” The Siegfrieds use a GPS phone attachment to communicate, using Bluetooth to text each other. The equipment is essential, Samantha says, “but you also have to have rules. You don’t want to travel after a certain time because you know no one is coming behind you.” They check in with each other when leaving the house and arriving in town and repeat the procedure for the trip home. Everyone in Irwin has backcountry access radios, so they talk to each other when home. Now, they also have high-speed Internet, thanks to Eleven, the resort group that put in a tower. The first person arriving in town can email road conditions back to the house. They can also check avalanche conditions through the Crested Butte Avalanche Center’s website each morning. “I don’t risk taking the kids in or going to town. You can forecast avalanche danger, but you can’t control the people above and around you, and that’s my worry.” Samantha refers to inexperienced snowmobilers who cut across the hillsides, which can trigger avalanches
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across the roadway. Daniel describes a normal Irwin morning commute. “You dig out your snowmobile to get to town, then dig out your car and get it started once you get to the trailhead.” “You just have to accept that some mornings are going to be insanely hard,” Samantha warns. Last winter’s snowfall tallied more than 600 inches in Irwin. The Siegfrieds had to snowmobile to their house, at least from the Irwin road turnoff, until June 18. The lake was still frozen on July 4th. But the hassle of big snow translates into great snowmobiling conditions. ”It’s my favorite thing to do,” Daniel says.
a hill overlooking the Siegfrieds’ house and the rest of the valley, with the Ruby Range looming just beyond their deck, Trea, Mandy and Vinnie Sciortino are preparing to spend their first full winter in Irwin. Vinnie, 11, has been coming to the Irwin house with his parents during the summers and for winter visits since they bought the place four years ago. They decided to move here full time because, Mandy feels, “Town’s getting a little crazy. It’s nice to get away from it. We’ve been coming up every
Vinnie and Trea Sciortino at the endless task of wood prep.
photo: greta starrett
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