So much for the plan to write all summer about the change this place is seeing. That went away with the announcement that the granddaddy of all change just happened. When we woke up Monday we weren’t as cool as we were when we fell asleep Sunday. That’s just what happens when world ski resort behemoth Vail Resorts buys our cool, little but extreme CBMR ski resort at the end of the road. It did confirm every “CBMR Just Sold to Vail” rumor headline and April Fool’s story we have written the last 30 years. Told you!
Let’s be honest: Being part of the Vail corporate conglomerate chips away at the patina of funky ski town independence. There was a certain melancholy, if not downright panic, shock and hostility at the news on Monday. Social media went nuts as some of the mid-timers expressed disbelief that they have to sell the Subaru and buy a Lexus under the new Vail rules that go into effect this fall. Some of the oldsters kept parroting the platitude that “change is the only constant” before ducking punches from the kids who grew up here with a unique mountain town pride.
Let’s be honest: Our pointed laccolith is no longer under the management of a mom-and-pop family-owned ski resort. And honestly there is good and bad that come with that change. There will be money for ski area improvements—maybe the torn seats get replaced before November. Maybe the chairlifts run a bit more smoothly. Perhaps the ski patrol has the resources in money, manpower and explosives to get the steeps open earlier. Teo-2 might happen in a year instead of seven. Waffles might not be the biggest draw at the base area that folds up after 6 o’clock and maybe they can figure out how to change the spring scent at the Paradise lift line, but I’m not sure even Vail has that much money.
What Vail bought was a ski business, after all, and they haven’t been afraid to spend money to make the ski experience better for guests. The guests who come here come for the Crested Butte terrain and character, and that means the steeps. That is good for those of us still skiing.
The biggest difference might be speed and money. Vail likes to spend money that makes money and they will apparently do it fast—at least, fast for us where nothing is ever fast. So they’ll throw green into the product and bucks into marketing. The winter crowds that the Muellers and Callaways only dreamed about will likely be enticed here pretty quickly. What would have taken the Muellers a decade to accomplish in terms of skier days will probably take Vail a season or two. Goodbye, midweek private ski area. Hello, better ski mountain.
Let’s be honest: It is business. Vail bought a ski business. They didn’t buy you, so I don’t get some of the panic. To take the Vail executives at their word—as most of us do in this small town until proven otherwise—they like what Crested Butte is. They like the slightly outlaw, individualistic feel and plan to offer that as an alternative to their growing clientele. In business parlance, the corporate ski area wants to capitalize on the value of the Crested Butte brand. It is real, quirky, a bit more duct tape than fresh fur. It is Patagonia instead of Bogner. It is the Grateful Dead instead of Kenny G. It is Body Bag and Funnel instead of the Back Bowls. The Vail VP rightfully pointed out they already own a Vail in the portfolio and don’t need a mini-Vail that is hard to get to. Real is the key. If someone treats you as a prop in this authentic ski town, my guess is they’ll get a harsh dose of authenticity.
On another business note, did I mention that if you own property you probably saw a pop in your value this week? Internet research says prices could rise more than 20 percent following such a deal. The price of free-market houses in the valley ain’t going down. That may be good for homeowners but not so good for those hoping to raise a middle class family somewhere near Crested Butte in the future.
Let’s be honest: We are moving to a land of more. There will be more people coming. It will take more money to own a home here. There could be more need for parking lots. There will be more lift lines and lines in general. But waiters and bartenders should make more money. Businesses should see more bottom-line profit and be able to not sweat the offseason as much. Maybe there will be more and easier flights from Gunni that benefit everyone. Governments might want to soon consider more regs that keep the scale of the valley intact and find an equitable way for big second homes to contribute to small employee housing.
Let’s be honest: This place is about the people, and the people weren’t part of the purchase contract. The Chainless Race will still go on and the Al Johnson shouldn’t go away. How “interesting” do you think the Vinotok fire will be this year? Weed will still waft from the chair in front of you and Mountain Express buses will continue to be rolling pieces of art. You can still be weird and the black sheep of your family. You don’t have to suddenly wear Gucci, and duct tape will still be a regular addition on ski pants and Kincos. The “Gone Skiing” signs can still go up on a powder day and we can all still argue about dog poop bags or snowbanks on Elk Avenue.
Yeah—it will probably be different in a few years. But it’s the new resort executives who will have to adjust to the different as well. They get to see and experience a real, sometimes crusty, independent ski town attitude. They say that’s what they want. They are fortunate to have come into a community with the attitude of a ski town at the end of the road that is still not easy to get to and draws a different breed of character. It attracts refugees, crazed young powder hounds, barflies, poets, dancers, middle-aged bikers, senior-citizen shredders and people who care a little less about what the world thinks of them. Authenticity.
Every time I go to another resort and the workers hear we are from Crested Butte, they get a faraway look in their eye and whisper that they would love to live in Crested Butte. My kids’ college friends from Breckenridge and Summit are blown away by this community and its authentic small-town vibe with no stoplight, no Starbucks, the crazy lost and found on KBUT and trails you can hit 30 seconds from the one main street that is filled with colorful buildings and even more colorful local business owners. And whether the new corporate owners like it or not (and I think they will like it), that is what they get as part of this deal. That is what you will continue to have, a chance to shape and celebrate and share with the new corporate execs who just might suddenly understand what burning a Grump means and have a life-changing moment.
Maybe we are as cool as we were last Sunday. It’s still the end of the road after all.