There’s a part of MJ Vosburg’s story that’s atypical of many of the Crested Butte narratives. She’s a self-confessed mediocre alpine skier and doesn’t like to mountain bike since her first foray into the locally popular sport when she took a hard fall on her face and decided that was the end of that.
She emphasizes that she’s definitely not a mountain climber, although she loves to hike. In fact, she’s an avid hiker.
Essentially, MJ’s story is that she moved to Crested Butte for love, relocating here to be with Joel Vosburg in 1982. “I was never a single person in Crested Butte. Joel and I started our young lives together here.” She traded her career in psychology for life in a mountain town with a guy she was madly in love with.
Born and raised in Nashville until she was 18, she initially headed west to attend Denver University, earning her degree in psychology and social work. “I came to Denver on a plane. I had never been west of the Mississippi but DU gave me the best deal,” she says of her scholarship, and as for coming to Colorado, she smiles, “It changed my life and I never looked back.”
After graduating in 1980, MJ was hired as a counselor at a residential group home for 14-year-old to 18-year old girls. “Most of these girls had been removed from their homes because of their parents, or lack of parenting. You worked 24 hours on and 48 off.”
She and Joel had met and dated in college but as MJ says, “We broke up forever. I was more focused in my life at that point than he was.”
When Joel was hired for Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Crested Butte student employee program, he moved up here. “I was in Denver. By the end of that winter he came to Denver and said we needed to be together.” MJ agreed and thought it would be best for them to move to Crested Butte for a year before deciding where to live their real life, and, she grins, “We never left.”
MJ got a job making sandwiches in the deli that used to be in the Emmons building on the mountain before landing a job as personnel director at Ptarmigan Realty. When Ptarmigan went out of business in April 1982, everybody lost their job, and she recalls the frenzy that ensued.
“Joel and I were getting married in May when they went belly-up and I was the main bread winner,” she recalls. “Lou Costello called me about the complex phone system that Ptarmigan had because everyone at CBMR also used it and it was going to shut down with the company going out of business. No one knew how to run it except me and Dave Lindsey. They offered me a job,” because, she says, they really had no choice except to hire her to operate that phone system.
Later, she evolved into the sales department for CBMR, selling ski packages to groups, when most of the busier skier days saw the slopes thick with tourists from Atlanta, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida.
MJ left CBMR to work for Solutions Inc., then the biggest property management company in the valley, and stayed with them for a decade as director of sales and marketing. “It was before CBMR got into the lodging business and we worked with them a lot. In those days, the talent that was in the ski resort was amazing. Skier days were at their peak in the late 1980s because of the masters of marketing.”
In fact, MJ says, “CBMR was setting the tone for the ski industry for Colorado. We did things first, like the direct flights from Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and eventually Chicago and Newark. They developed so many innovative programs, like celebrity ski events that were a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis, through American Airlines.”
CBMR was also bringing in top-notch musicians who performed in the spacious Rafters (now demolished), amazing talent like the Allman Brothers, Gloria Estefan, Juice Newton, the Bee Gees, Roy Orbison and more. She notes that the X Games started here in the West, as well as the late, great Country in the Rockies.
There were also President Jimmy Carter’s ski events. “President Carter’s auctions, dinners and events raised money that went to help his Atlanta Project, kids that the Carters were very involved with. It was a great hey-day here. It all started in Crested Butte.”
But also during those days, many locals who had children decided to leave because, as hopping as the ski area was, MJ remembers, “You couldn’t make enough money because there weren’t enough consistent jobs. The Crested Butte school only went up to fifth grade and then your kids had to be bused to Gunnison, so most families left. That’s when the groups of people started realizing they needed more school space, because we didn’t want to send our sixth-grade kids to Gunnison and town was growing. There were more of us who had kids and who wanted to stay.”
MJ recalls the consensus in town was that a new middle school had to be built, for sixth through eighth grades. “We put it on the ballot, to split the Crested Butte school district from Gunnison, but it failed since all the votes were in Gunnison. After that failed election, we had more people getting involved and got it back on the ballot to build a K through 12 school at the north end of the valley, and it passed. What changed was that the school district realized that the population had grown in Crested Butte and also the Gunnison schools were aging.”
In 1987 Joel and MJ had their son, Zach, and built one of the only two houses in the town of Mt. Crested Butte, on Paradise Road.
“As young parents, we were working to get the schools built. The land that the Crested Butte Community School sits on now was part of an intricate trade agreement between the school district and the town of Crested Butte,” she notes. Having the necessary new school finally in the works played an integral part in keeping not only the Vosburgs in Crested Butte, but many families.
And town was indeed changing. The ski area had grown enough to provide more year-round jobs. Joel became CBMR’s food and beverage director and MJ was working at Solutions. “We just kept working. We worked a lot. We were a little family and our emphasis was starting to change. My emphasis changed from really focusing on the work that I was doing and being part of the mountain ski industry to being a mother.”
And the shift happened for Joel also, because the food and beverage business was not family-conducive. Joel worked all day and late into the night, oftentimes having to close down the Rafters. Joel quit his job in 1989, not knowing what he was going do, but they resolved the issue, “He became the primary parent and I was still working at Solutions for Crested Butte Accommodations.”
Joel mostly took care of Zach, moonlighting as a chimney sweep and waiting tables at the Artichoke (now the Avalanche) before deciding to go into real estate.
“We had put off having a second child and we had considered leaving but didn’t want to,” MJ says. Even though real estate was in the tank at that time, they decided to have another child anyway and their daughter, Emma, was born in 1991. With Joel now at Becky Hamlin Realty, MJ took the big step, leaving her long-time job to once again be a fulltime mom. “It was the best decision I ever made for my family and myself,” she realized. “The beautiful thing that happened was that I let go of all this drive and career stuff,” which then opened the door to far more interesting opportunities. “I started working for the Lodging Tax Panel, now called the Tourism Association. Their goal was to market summer and fall in Crested Butte and Gunnison. Back then, our summers weren’t so crazy and there needed to be more emphasis on summer tourism.”
In 1993, MJ began working as the ad sales person for the Crested Butte Magazine, a position she still has after 25 years. “I get to work with my best friend, Sandy Fails, it’s the best gig ever,” she smiles. MJ also sells ads for Elk Mountain Real Estate Review as well as the In-Room Guide, a tabbed book that goes into almost all the rental hotels and condos. In 2005, she and Sandy Fails published Where the Road Ends, a coffee table book about Crested Butte. “I did the business legwork. I was the publishing and marketing sales side of it. I’m not a writer,” she says modestly, although she did contribute an entire chapter. “But it’s fun to be associated with such a talented writer,” she notes of her best friend.
MJ met Sandy when she offered her a proposition, knowing Sandy was home with her son, Chris, and MJ needed a reliable babysitter for Zach. “I called Sandy and said, you don’t know me but would you consider taking care of my son two days a week?” and Sandy said, “No.”
However, a few days later, after considering the offer, Sandy decided to give it a try. So began the relationship of Zach and Chris, who are still very tight friends, and Sandy and MJ in 1988. “I can’t even imagine having a better friend than Sandy. Our sons grew up together and she’s Emma’s godmother,” MJ says.
MJ served on the school board for more than seven years, from 2003 through 2010. “The school district was on financial probation with the state—bad decisions were made for good reasons. It was hard, it was a mess and required so much time and you’re messing with people’s kids, so everybody’s your boss. We had a fantastic group of people who stepped up and joined the board. We had to get out of the financial mess we were in and the community stepped up and passed the mil levy override, which provided $1.2 million to the school budget in the whole school district in 2005. Already the Crested Butte school, which had been built for 350 kids, had started to burst at the seams, so we started working toward expansion, doubling the numbers of classrooms and building an additional gym.”
The 2008 election’s $55 million bond issue passed and doubled the capacity by expanding the CBCS. MJ laughs, “They told us we were crazy. We built this school to accommodate 750 kids and we’re already up over 700. Now the district is looking again at having to do another expansion or build another school. Though I was quite reluctant to ever go on the school board it was truly one of the most rewarding and taxing things I’ve ever done.”
These days, MJ prefers to spend more time inward. “I still try to spend time with friends and family but I spend a lot of time on my own. I’ve gotten quieter. Today, the big change that I actively seek is a slower pace and to take more time with whatever, to not be a part of the frantic, busy world and to be present and appreciate and notice and live each day with gratitude.”
Above all, she cherishes her relationships. “I feel like Crested Butte, although it’s gone through many changes, is still the best place I’ve ever found to foster and support relationships. I’m extraordinarily ordinary,” she thinks, “and this is the most amazing place to be ordinary. Every morning I look out my window and look up Paradise Divide and every day it’s different and every day it’s the same. And that is what fills my soul.”