By Dawne Belloise
Barb Peters essentially grew up a Southern California girl in Manhattan Beach, which she fondly compares to the earlier eclectic days of Crested Butte. “It used to be just like Crested Butte, run-down with a lot of characters. There were hippies, beach bums, and surfers, beachcomber homes and VWs. Now it’s gentrified,” she says.
But during those childhood years, Barb spent her time practically living at the beach, swimming and surfing and engaging in the era’s hip fashion and music. She qualified to become a junior lifeguard at only eight years old.
“We had to swim a mile in an Olympic pool to qualify to get in, and run down the beach, pier to pier, which was a half mile or more, then swim, do sit-ups afterwards and do another jog for the final qualification. It taught us good skills. We were constantly around water so it was like teaching your kid through an avalanche safety course here.”
Barb’s mom, Bonnie McNaughton, who had discovered Crested Butte on a previous ski trip, moved her here in 1980. “Here’s this California surfer girl showing up in a rugged mountain town where it was dirty and muddy and not the beach,” Barb recalls with a smile. “I liked going to new places as a kid and was always an adventurous soul. Crested Butte was a new adventure and completely opposite from what I had just left. I was excited.”
Barb quickly fell into the Crested Butte kid lifestyle of freedom and fun, as her mom signed her up for the Ski Club junior racers.
“We were called the Crested Butte Cyclones. I had learned to ski in Bear Valley Ski resort, just south of Lake Tahoe,” Barb recalls of the extended family trips. “We’d load up our old wood-panel station wagon, dogs, cousins and parents, and we’d do a caravan up to our cabin there. It was the family hangout. We’d go during summer vacations, winter breaks, and holidays.”
Once in Crested Butte, Barb felt, “The Cyclones were the core group of Crested Butte kids who I really attached to. Me and Annie Clair were constantly getting kicked off the T-bar for fooling around, yanking the T-Bar out from each other. We were all athletes.”
In fact, later, in the winter of 1991 that saw the Extremes competition come to town, Barb signed up to participate and competed for the next decade. “In 1999, I was World Tour Champ in points.” She continued to place throughout her 10 years competing.
“What didn’t we do as kids here?” Barb grins. “We had to be outside because we weren’t allowed to stay inside. We just had to come home when the street-lights came on. We’d build snow caves in the winter and when I was ten, I started working at Fantasy Ranch, the horse stables that were out by Skyland back then, up Brush Creek. I would help clean the hooves, brush the horses, and go get the horses for guest rides. As we got older I was able to guide half-day or quarter-day trips.” Barb worked there until she was 12.
She remembers mountain biking back when those bikes had no shocks, and break dancing in front of the Company Store (now the Secret Stash) because it was the only area that was paved. “Everything else was mud or snow banks. We went sledding on Warming House Hill on inner tubes. Later when I worked at Paradise Warming House we used food trays, or the picnic benches with the metal rails.”
It was the 1980s, during that era of Flock of Seagull androgynous hair and makeup. that Barb moved back to live with her dad in Manhattan Beach. “I was living in Guess jeans, scrunched-up socks with Asics high-tops, laced-up wrestling shoes with Dolphin shorts and frosted pink lipstick, hanging out at Denny’s late-night with my friends, trying to get tickets to Depeche Mode concerts,” she laughs at her 12-year-old self. “I was bummed to leave my new Crested Butte friends. It was an upheaval but it was a familiar place. I was excited for SoCal living again. I played a lot of soccer and I was really good at it.”
But in her sophomore year, Barb headed back to Crested Butte, transferring from a Catholic school and trading in her uniform for the halls of Gunnison High School. “I had missed Crested Butte. California was a concrete jungle, so I wanted to move back here. I loved some of my classes and teachers but I felt that school was a waste of my time, so I got my GED and went to work.”
Her first job then was cleaning condos at Three Seasons on the mountain. She recalls that her teenage summers were amazing as the kids were allowed to go into bars and see the bands at the Eldo. She also tried her skills at acting. “I attempted acting with a group, doing a production of Lysistrata. I also did Dancesummers and Dancewinters, which we performed in the Mallardi Cabaret. And we’d do dance performances at the Depot, back when it was in an open field. We all kept busy doing stuff.”
Barb relished her return to Crested Butte, washing dishes at the Forest Queen and at night she’d work at Jimmy’s Fish and Grill (where Lil’s Sushi is now). And for many years she was a prep cook at the then-new Idle Spur. “I was a working maniac. From 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., five days a week. I was living in the converted shack in the yard I used to play in as a kid.”
At 19, in 1990, Barb became a raft guide during the short two-month season on Arizona’s Upper Salt River. “They are the early season in March and April and by the time our snow melts up here, our commercial rafting season starts on the Arkansas River in Canon City.” This is where she guided every summer.
For the past few years, Barb has been running the Mountain Man Rendezvous, the raunchy, raucous, historical reenactment of the Wild West’s fur trapping days held yearly up Washington Gulch during the first weekend of August.
“My first introduction to Mountain Man was at Billy Creek, out toward Fairplay. Even though I knew Tuck, Smokey, and Rat, they never mentioned the Rendezvous up Washington Gulch. I was instantly hooked, campfire, cannons, booze, good storytelling and really fun folk. It was like a family and I fell in love with it. Ever since then, I’ve slowly built my gear up and my camp.”
Barb points out that since the event is strictly historical, no modern equipment or clothing is allowed. “All I had was modern camping gear and that didn’t cut it but over the years I picked up pieces, anything that I needed for camp, like cast-iron cooking ware, Dutch ovens, wooden utensils, and clothing.”
In 2001 she moved to Broomfield, and as she puts it, “I retired from extreme skiing with knee injuries and I had to start thinking about getting a real job because being a raft guide and ski bum wasn’t cutting it anymore.”
She enrolled at the Cooking School of the Rockies. She had been working in kitchens throughout her life and felt that culinary school was the next logical choice, because, “I could make money doing what I loved. I had to unlearn everything I learned in Crested Butte kitchens. I finished my education at the Greenbriar Inn in Boulder,” she says of a swanky restaurant at the mouth of Lefthand Canyon. She returned to Crested Butte with her husband and was pregnant with her son, Hawk.
“After Hawk was born, I began cooking at the Crested Butte Academy, bringing Hawk in his playpen. When they went under, I worked at Reuben’s in Crested Butte South, which was convenient because Hawk was at the Little Red School House across the street and I could drop him off and go to work. It was perfect,” she says. So perfect that she stayed at Reuben’s for 10 years. “My dream had been to return to Crested Butte and make a restaurant that locals could afford—nothing fancy just good cooking. When Reuben’s closed, I ended up working at the Nordic Inn, setting up breakfast with Kim and Ken Stone.”
Barb then discovered that she loved landscaping and went to work for Colorado Native Gardening. “I was outdoors and I got paid more than if I was cooking,” although she admits that in the future she’d like to return to the culinary arts.
This summer Barb plans to enjoy the many Rendezvous meets across Colorado. “The Rocky Mountain Nationals will be outside of Gunnison this year in July with 800 camps and 1,000 people in historic dress from all over the United States. Mountain Man Rendezvous will still be up Washington Gulch during Art Festival weekend. It’s been on this site for 34 years but the modern world is encroaching with their Spandex and those sparkly ball caps… and black powder and leather fringe collide with perfume and sequins and don’t mix,” she justifiably smirks.
“Hawk has been going to Rendezvous since he was a baby and now we have a teepee.” She took over the Crested Butte event four years ago.
When she and her hubby parted ways, Barb decided to stay in Crested Butte because she realized, “This is where I grew up. This is where my community is. And I have a place to live,” she says of the foresight of being able to purchase a condo back in the 1990s when real estate was more affordable for locals.
“My home is across the alley from the house I grew up in,” Barb says. “I maintain this home for my son, who’s at Colorado Timberline Academy in Durango. I’m at a crossroads in my life at the moment. I really want to live in this town and work but it’s less and less affordable. There’s more and more demand with less and less compensation. Prices of everything have gone up and you can’t live in this town anymore for less than $25 an hour. I have four jobs and a culinary degree and I can’t find a job that can support me here doing what I love. It’s the first time ever in my life that I have thought about living anywhere else but for now, I’ll just landscape. And I look forward to rafting and getting together with good friends, doing more stuff and chilling with my boy. At this point, the sky’s the limit.”