By Dawne Belloise
“When people ask me if I grew up in Crested Butte I say yes, because all my formative years have been here, all my growing up pretty much happened here,” says Alison White, even though she hails from the Boston area. She’s been skiing since she was 12, spending weekends and holidays at the family’s condo in Mt. Snow, Vermont.
From an early age, she was involved with gymnastics until she was 13 and her parents transferred her from a public school to a small private school where everyone was expected to participate in sports because there weren’t enough students. “They needed every body on the team,” she recalls. Alison played field hockey in the fall, lacrosse in the spring and a variety of sports in the winter but decided not to join the ski race team because she didn’t want to waste her weekends skiing the inferior local hill. Instead, she says, “I wanted to ski the better hill in Vermont.”
Alison’s high school was full of privilege and privileged people from whom she felt disconnected. Her interest in photography began there. “That’s where I got my start but even though I had all the resources and college advisors, nobody promoted photography to me as a career,” she says. She explains that the focus was careers that she thought were boring. She enrolled at the University of Rochester, mistakenly thinking it was the home of Kodak cameras and film. “I didn’t know that the university had a really a lousy photography program,” she says. However, it did lead her to Crested Butte.
After two years at Rochester, she was ready to bolt. “It was awful, so I took a year off to do something else for a while,” she says. Alison was hired to work for a summer camp photographer, shooting the young camp kids’ portraits. “We’d go up to Maine and photograph the kids and go up again during visiting day to sell all the photos to the parents.”
In 1993, her friend was exploring various ski towns and asked Alison if she wanted to move. “In September, she called from the pay phone on the side of the post office in Crested Butte and said, ‘I’ve driven all over the west and I’m spending the winter in Crested Butte. Do you want to come?’”
With no concrete plans for the winter, Alison recalls, “I packed my bags, left them on my parents’ living room floor so they could ship them out to me, and flew to Gunnison on October 8, 1993.” She slept on the floor of her friend’s sublet room until they found a condo on the mountain. “My friend lasted one winter and was never seen or heard from again,” Alison laughs, but she felt right at home, having been a ski instructor in Vermont.
In her new Crested Butte life she was a diver at Angelo’s while working as a photographer on the mountain for Carol Case, “and arguing with guest skiers about how to get to Painter Boy from the Teocalli lift. I loved working for Carol but it was a terrible job. It was freezing. I had to stand around all day. I’d shoot in the morning and I was in the lab developing film in the afternoon. It was a dry winter but I didn’t care because I didn’t know what I was missing. It was like skiing back east. I came for the winter and stayed through the summer. I was 19 years old and I thought it was awesome. I knew then and there that this place suited me.”
Alison took advantage of the outdoors, riding Strand and then climbing in the Taylor, sneaking into the Talk of the Town’s back door to hang with friends even though she wasn’t a drinker.
Alison realized she had bigger goals than being a college drop-out and a dishwasher. “It just wasn’t going to work for me so I went abroad for two years, one year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which was accredited through Rochester University.” She traveled all over the Middle East and Europe but came to the conclusion that she just wanted to get her degree and get back to Crested Butte. “I knew after traveling the world that my heart was still in Crested Butte. Traveling gave me a world view of life in other places and I still wanted to come back to Crested Butte.”
She suffered one last year in Rochester to get her degree, but in March 1996, while taking a yoga class, “This guy who was living and working in Rochester asked me out.” That guy was Tim White. Her response to him was, “I don’t care who you are but I’m moving to Crested Butte right after I graduate, like two seconds after I graduate.” After dating for a couple months, Tim said he was interested in moving out to Crested Butte with her. Alison wasn’t sure about that. “I mean, I was young but I wasn’t an idiot. I knew it wasn’t the place for everybody.”
She grabbed her degree in psychology in 1996, packed and headed to Crested Butte, arriving July 3, just in time for the July Fourth parade. Tim followed in mid-August and the two celebrated their 20th anniversary in June this year. “Things went well,” she smiles. Their son, Oliver, was born June 9, 2005.
“Photography has been my skill in my back pocket, basically because I had a camera. I always thought you had to be an action sports photographer to make it but from high school on, I always enjoyed portraiture, shooting people. Landscapes bored me,” Alison confesses. She shoots weddings and personal portraits and with her experience in both, she came up with her Life at Home project, which reflects life in the times of COVID-19, documenting the faces and times of locals during the deep winter and spring lockdown of quarantine.
She provided the photo sessions free because, she says, “I wanted to capture how people were living through this. I wanted to capture their lives as they were. It was my way of giving back to the locals. There were people in tears. There were so many stories.” Alison then donated her photo documentation to the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I’ve spent 26 years here and I still pinch myself,” she smiles. “I can’t believe this is my backyard. It keeps me feeling really grateful.”