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Manicure versus the scruff

You can gain some local perspective when you leave and come back to the valley even for a weekend or if you host someone not from here. This last week we did both. My wife’s sister and her family came in from around the country to do the West Maroon hike.
Arriving last Wednesday for the first time in a while, they noted the summer growth in Mt. Crested Butte below the condo they had rented. They commented that it looked good and there was a new vibrancy since their previous visit.

Town itself was a lot busier than they remembered but they tried out the new taco place for lunch and loved it. Watching the local cousins crush play-off softball was a new experience for them. The energy, trash talking, boisterous crowd and camaraderie all made an impression. Small-town softball captivated the visitors from Atlanta, Seattle and Boston.

The hike itself was, as expected, beautiful. The weather held and there were small patches of colorful flowers hanging in there on the Crested Butte side. There was also a little early yellow starting to appear. There was no shortage of people on that trail, with probably 30 people at the pass itself. It was a tad crowded but not obnoxious.

Aspen was Aspen. Honestly, that valley is gorgeous with its red-tinted rock shimmering beneath blue skies. It too was dry but a certain manicured elegance was actually pleasant. Everything was tidy. The streets were well marked and the big horse properties looked groomed. Compared to Crested Butte, the houses are bigger and fancier, the celebrity second homeowners more well-known than most of those in Crested Butte (do we even have any?) and everything just feels cleaner. The restaurant where we had dinner was upstairs in a bookstore and the cuisine was unique and really good.

The Aspen Farmers Market on Saturday had a Crested Butte Arts Festival feel while the pedestrian mall was relaxing and great for people-watching. And there were a lot of people. They too appeared more manicured than most of the people we see in Crested Butte. Coiffed and more made-up, with a bit more “work” than I’m used to seeing here, I could see why Arnold and Jack would enjoy spending summer days in Fat City. It was really pleasant and striking. The typical Aspen tourist also sounded different from the typical Crested Butte tourist—more New York East Coast than southern Texas and Oklahoma.

There is a certain kinship between the working people of Crested Butte and Aspen and the servers, hotel personnel and clerks we encountered all appreciated our little town. They too enjoy the hike connecting the two mountain ski towns and there is an immediate connection between workers in any resort community. I like that.

As we left the relatives Saturday afternoon, they commented that both mountain towns were beautiful with good, fun energy. The noticeable bike trails, rivers, ski runs and things to do were impressive. What I gathered was perhaps the most lasting impression for the city folk was the night sky. They all commented on how the stars popped and blanketed the sky. They could actually see the Milky Way. That is something they don’t experience much where they live and the high valley, brilliant night sky is something they will keep in their minds for a long time. It is something none of us should take for granted.

Now, my favorite part of the weekend visit to Fat City was coming back into Crested Butte. Driving down the dusty west entrance to Crested Butte after a beautiful dirt road journey over Kebler was sweet. The mountain looks huge from that perspective and the little houses are a comfortable welcome to a small town. There’s the cheesy speed-monitoring trailer followed by weathered signs telling you there is No Parking, No Dumping and No Speeding. But it was the lack of the manicure that made me really happy. A lonely, old, throw-away chair with a scratched “Free” sign taped to it made me smile. The empty lots on Whiterock are definitely not manicured. Even most of the mowed yards would not feel welcome in Aspen. There are the gravel parking spaces, the dirt bikes that haven’t been used in weeks, the snowmobiles on trailers, the old fish bus sitting behind the fire pit that is behind a bunch of old doors. How can you not love it? Some might say Crested Butte has a more, shall we say, unkempt, rugged feel for a mountain resort town—others might say it is more ghetto. And it is great. It is comfortable. It is real and it is what keeps us different.

We may share the stars and the mountains and even a mountain town attitude with our brethren in Aspen but it is the little things that make us different. It’s the rough edges that separate us. Both locales have their place and can be fun and interesting. A trip to the glossy, manicured ski town is certainly fun for a weekend. It really is. But I’ll take the less manicured, scruffier mountain town for the long run.

—Mark Reaman

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