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Profile: Heather Connor

You might first notice the art of her eyes, each one delicately outlined and edged like the wing of a swallowtail butterfly, so when she smiles and laughs, which she does a lot, they dance. Heather Connor has a positive perspective that speaks of a life full of adventure and focus and more than a hint of the non-traditional. 
Her life started on the streets of Seoul, Korea, where her biological parents abandoned her as a baby and where she was found by a young boy who took her to an orphanage. At the age of three, Heather was adopted by an American couple, Grayson and Patricia Connor, who wanted another child, a sibling for their five-year-old son. 
They brought Heather to their home in Black Diamond, Washington and her new family immediately strapped skis on her. 

“I’ve been skiing since age three. My parents owned a ski school on Hyack Mountain, a very cute, small mountain that’s part of the four ski area Snoqualmie Pass,” Heather says. She became a ski cadet, basically an apprentice without pay, and later, an instructor who moved into the race program, Team Alpental-Snoqualmie (TAS). Although she remembers nothing about her young life in the Korean orphanage, one of Heather’s earliest memories is when she was around five years old. Her parents were both teachers and did a one-year exchange program in Toowoomba, Australia. “You trade out everything for the entire year, homes, cars, pets, friends. You leave everything behind,” she says of the international swap. At preschool, Heather laughs, her accent, which was Korean, American English and in a short matter of time also Australian, remained after she returned from down under. She also remembers the ugly face of racism she encountered briefly, not because she was Asian but because she was mistaken as an Aboriginal. “My skin turned dark easily in the sun. I’d go into the playground and they said I couldn’t play there. They were kids and a lot of that comes from when you’re young and taught to be racist… it comes from the adults and surroundings in your life. After I told them I was an American they said okay and we played. Kids don’t know the difference, it’s just what they’re taught,” Heather says, acknowledging that she wasn’t exposed to ethnic diversity growing up in Washington either. Heather graduated from high school in 1998, a year earlier than her classmates. “I was just done. I was taking AP and honors programs and had filled all my requirements,” she says of her accelerated work. “I was then sent to Green River Community College to receive credits to go toward university. In high school I was really involved in a lot of sports. My two girlfriends and I joined the wrestling team. We were the first girls to approach them about joining the collegiate wrestling team and because there were no comparable sports for girls they had to allow us to try out. “What ended up happening is that I was in the 101 class, which was the lightest weight class they had,” Heather says. “I had no background in wrestling—in junior high PE class we had a choice between wrestling or basketball. I didn’t want to sit in a gym filled with women.” Heather laughs, but confesses that she loved wrestling, “I enjoyed it. I had a blast. We were a Triple-A school division and they were very competitive. I did pretty well in my tryouts. Wrestling has a lot of technical skills, it’s not just about strength.” Heather explains that Parents’ Night was the kick-off of the wrestling season and matches were fought to determine qualification for varsity or junior varsity. Contenders had to wrestle in front of their parents and everyone in school, which made it especially tense for the first-time girls. One of the most popular and wrestling experienced boys in Heather’s weight class had dropped out of the program but rejoined specifically to keep the girls from getting on the team. He spewed the usual young male sports bravado of how he was going to kick her butt. Heather wound up pinning him. Yes, he cried all the way back to the locker room and dropped out of wrestling entirely. Heather went on to wrestle for two more years before deciding it wasn’t really her sport, then she won state and nationals for the Junior Cadet Freestyle with her summer all-girl traveling wrestling team, the Wrestling Rhinos. “As the youngest, when I left the house for college, my parents were like, ‘We love you but we’re outta here, see ya,’” she chortles. “They put their house in Black Diamond on the market, bought a Winnebago and traveled full-time for a couple of years, visiting different ski resorts to find the place they wanted to retire. My dad was riding up the lift with Mickey Cooper and mentioned that they had just retired and were looking for a ski town to move to. Mickey pointed to a lot and said, ‘I’ll sell you that one,’ and they bought it, built their dream house, moved here in 1999 and fell in love with Crested Butte.” Meanwhile, Heather was being studious at Gonzaga College, a Jesuit school in Spokane. “During college I had a summer job with Southwestern, a company based in Nashville that takes students and trains them in door-to-door sales of educational materials. We sold homework books to help kids with their day-to-day homework and as a tool to help parents help their kids. I did that for four years. It was hard work, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and one of the best things I’ve ever done. I believe a lot of the skills I have for running my business today was developed in my door-to-door job.” The job helped get her through college. Heather also coached ski racing and played competitive soccer, in which she won state. Although she started off in business administration she graduated in 2012 with a bachelor of arts degree in public relations as her major and speech communications as a minor. “I didn’t have a lot of plans for it,” she says of her degree. “I just wanted to graduate. I’m the only one in my family who’s not a teacher. My brother and parents are all teachers.” In that transition period after graduation, Heather realized that she didn’t want to be in Spokane anymore. “I ended up coming to Crested Butte. I had been coming here in the winters to ski because dad was a ski instructor at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. I was sending out job applications and was about to accept a sales job in Seattle. I had gone through all the interviews and drug testing. I was ready to accept the job but it was one of those potentially high-stress jobs even though it was right up my alley. “Dad looked at me and said, ‘Will you be happy? If you don’t think you’ll be happy, why don’t you stay with us until you figure it out?’” Heather considered the wisdom of her parents and got a low-stress job at the Starbucks in the old Sheridan Hotel in Mt. Crested Butte, with minimum wage and a free ski pass. “I was happy. I was skiing,” she says. “Then I phased into other jobs, bartending at various bars.” Toward the end of her tenure at the Eldo, she founded Watchdog Property Management, LLC. “The reason I started Watchdog was because I bought property and I had to learn to manage it since they were rentals. There’s a lot of tenant-landlord law that needs to be learned. I was still bartending and it came to one of those moments where it didn’t make sense to keep bartending since I had someone in the office while I was working at the Eldo,” Heather says. Heather later earned her broker’s license in real estate. “We manage vacation rentals, long-term rentals, caretaking, and the newest service we offer is HOA management,” she says of Watchdog’s services. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that a lot of people think it’s about learning how to manage properties, but that’s the easiest part. It’s really about managing relationships. “You’re talking about people,” Heather continues, “emotions, and feelings, such as their attachments and even fears. People take emotions and attach them to something inanimate and homes are usually the largest investments people make. It becomes an extension of themselves, part of their identity. It’s a source of pride and love for them, like their garden or maybe they remodeled their kitchen by hand and they did all the work themselves. “You’re not managing that property, you’re managing all those things that come with it,” she says and points out that not everybody has attachments. “There are some who just invest, for some it’s a business and I think that you have to know your clients’ priorities.” Last off-season, Heather traveled to Portugal and Spain to join her parents, who had a sailboat there named Paradise Divide, with its registration painted proudly on the stern under its name—“Mount Crested Butte.” Heather grew up sailing and reading charts with her parents on Puget Sound, even sailing up to Alaska when she was in her teens. “I come from a very adventurous family,” she smiles and confesses, “I have a pretty high need for things that pump your adrenaline.” She decided to get a dirt bike. “It’s challenging and it takes all of your mental and physical skills. Skiing is still my first love, and I’m moving into backcountry skiing but because I grew up with skiing, for me it’s more of a natural part of my life so I wanted something else that could take me to that place. Also, snowmobiling is another thing that does that for me. I like things with motors. I’m a little bit of a gear head. In a previous life I must have been a redneck,” she giggles. “My philosophy is that I like trying new things and I like to grow and experience. I always like to be growing, I don’t like to be complacent,” Heather emphasizes. “Some things stick and they stay in your life and some don’t and you move on and learn from it, even if there’s something that you try and you don’t do that in the future you still take something with you from that experience.” Despite her adventurous spirit, Heather loves her community more with each adventure. “It’s not that I grew up here and it’s the only place I know. It’s more that I have traveled to a lot of places and Crested Butte has a rare community. I just love it here.”

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