Finding her way home
By Dawne Belloise
Emma Vosburg’s parents, MJ and Joel, showed up in town around 1990 intending to stay only for the ski season that year. Forty years later, they’re still here and so is Emma, having gone out into the world and found her way back home.
As a Crested Butte kid growing up in the 1990s, Emma attended the old school (where the town offices are now) and as a kindergartener, hers was the last class to frolic in those hallways before transferring over to the new school as first graders.
“What was really cool about growing up in the 90s in Crested Butte, it was really special, still small and very local. Fifteen of the 23 kids in my high school graduating class went through school together,” she says. Emma recalls they were little wildings during her childhood. “There weren’t any rules. We ran around and did whatever we wanted with our friends. We rode around on our bikes in the summer and threw snowballs at cars in the winter.”
Emma proudly proclaims, “I was an extreme tomboy. I truly looked like a boy. I had an older brother and I hung out with all of his friends. I wanted to be just like them and I was just as good at sports as they were. I was really good at skateboarding.”
One of the things that stuck with Emma was that there was no concept of differences between kids, rich or otherwise. “I didn’t know how much money my friends’ parents made, and it didn’t matter because there were only 23 of us in the class. Everything was simple.”
Like most Crested Butte kids, Emma skied a lot, learning under the tutelage of local Sherri Vandervoort. “I feel like I had a lot of those special things that don’t happen anymore. I was part of the Sunshine Girls and it formed me. It gave me a sense of community at a very young age to be part of something bigger than yourself. When I was in second grade, my dear friend Holly Prechter was diagnosed with cancer. My class started Holly’s Helping Hands in 1998, which was a fundraiser. We started our own non-profit as a way to help Holly and her family pay for cancer treatments. Everything we did in class revolved around Holly’s Helping Hands. We adapted the entire curriculum around it,” she says. For instance, in math they’d count the money raised, and in writing class they’d compose promotions and ads to tell people about their fundraisers. “We were learning to give back and what it means to be part of a community.”
Throughout high school, Emma was a fierce athlete, running track and cross country, and she was on the basketball team. She was also a team member on the boys soccer team in her freshman year because they didn’t have a girls team at the time. She was involved and competed in every sport, and was captain of every team she was on. She graduated in 2009 as student council president and class valedictorian.
Wanting to go someplace new, she enrolled at the University of Virginia, focused in academics and interested in economics. “U. of V. is a really good school and I saw the opportunity to spread my wings and get a different perspective. We had always traveled growing up, all over the world—Europe, Central America and the Caribbean because we were big scuba divers. I got certified to dive when I was 12,” she says, adding that the family is planning a dive trip to Roatan, Honduras this year.
While she was in college she took a semester to study abroad in New Zealand. “I needed a break from such serious school life and academics. I bought a car there and pretty much backpacked around South Island. It taught me that I needed to prioritize easily accessible outdoor life. I needed that in my everyday life to be happy and realized that Crested Butte was the place I wanted to be to prioritize that lifestyle.”
Emma graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and took to the road. “Right after college, I rode my bike across the country, starting in Charleston, South Carolina and rode to Santa Cruz, California,” It took her about three months because she was riding with an organization that raised funding for affordable housing. “I built houses along the way, working with Bike & Build. I had a friend who had done it and I wanted to go on a big adventure before I started working.”
Emma decided to explore Boulder since her best friends, Emma and Gracie Coburn, were there. “It turned out that the Front Range wasn’t for me,” she realized after her three-year stint there. “I needed more access to skiing, biking and running and I need to walk out my back door to do that. It’s part of my daily happiness.”
Yearning for her home, where Emma confesses her heart and her parents were, she moved back to Crested Butte. She was hired by Benn Dunn, an owner in the software company she’s now worked at for seven years. “It’s a financial software company. I was able to still have a very productive and engaging career while being able to live in a place I loved. Part of what I love about Crested Butte is that here, it’s not necessarily about what you do, it’s what do you love and what are you interested in, as opposed to what your job is. Here, it’s about who you are and that’s important. I get to engage my brain but I get to go out and ride my mountain bike and exercise to oblivion. I’m an endorphin junkie and this is the perfect place to do that.
“There’s no other place I want to be. It all comes around full circle to doing a fundraiser for Living Journeys,” Emma says of her involvement with the local organization that helps those who are living with cancer.
“Living Journeys is so unique in that all their funds go to people and their families living in the valley who are affected by cancer and not just with financial grants but with support groups and therapy,” she says. “In that sense, Living Journeys is really unique and one of the main reasons I chose to support them in my efforts in the Grand Traverse,” which normally heads out into the backcountry to Aspen at the end of March.
However, this year the March 29 midnight event was cancelled. Since Emma’s fundraising goal to raise $15,000 for Living Journeys has been almost fully realized, she and a group of friends are still considering the ski trek to Aspen, weather permitting. “I want to honor the commitment I made to the people who donated.
“My mentor, Mary Mike Haley, founded Living Journeys in 2000. I did the first Peak Hike with my mom in honor of Cheryl Ryan,” she says of the event. “Now I run the half marathon, which is on the same day, because I’m a trail runner.”
This year the race and hike is July 25. “My personal connection to cancer in the valley has grown as many friends have been diagnosed and gone through it so the Grand Traverse and the half marathon mean a lot to me.”
These days Emma’s main sports are skiing, running and biking. “I was super competitive growing up and for a while that competitiveness drove me so hard. I took a break from that in college, now I’m coming back into it but it’s much more of a personalized competitiveness. I’m doing it for myself and it’s more adventure- and endurance-based. My best friend is Emma Coburn, who inspires me to push myself athletically. It’s cool to have a world champion as your best friend in the world. It pushes me to be the best version of myself and push myself to my limits.”
Recently, she was able to purchase one of the town’s local affordable houses. “I feel really lucky. I never thought I’d be able to own a house in town with things changing. We need to keep a lot of the real local people in town. My old soccer coach lives across the street from me. We’re friends and I’m friends with my old teachers and coaches. I have friends from all walks of life. I have friends who are in their sixties and the age difference doesn’t matter. And I love that about here.”