For those of us in a ski town, this weekend marks the start of a new year. We don’t have to wait for the calendar to turn. For us, it is the start of a ski season that signals a new beginning, and that season starts Wednesday, November 23. Hard to believe lifts will be turning before the next issue of the News hits the streets.
In what’s become an annual ritual, the Chamber of Commerce hosted a winter preview and as reported by Alissa Johnson on page 1, it appears changes are ahead. Everyone from the Adaptive Sports Center to the new Irwin 11 experience to Crested Butte Mountain Resort is trying to figure out how to make the overall picture better. Not everyone is depending on just the resort to fill every need, and that’s a good step forward.
The Nordic Center is looking at ways to keep the Grand Traverse participants in the valley longer. They want some new trails and hope to have a new and improved nationally acclaimed Alley Loop. Yoga is the latest winter event, with a seminar in February. Irwin has upped the ante in the valley for luxury experience and that was evident as they showed off their elegantly redone Scarp Ridge Lodge last weekend. It sets a new bar for the community and adds a different type of client to the Crested Butte destination.
CBMR has hired a young, family guy to lead them into the next era. CBMR vice president and general manager Ethan Mueller is showing a desire and ability to bond with the overall community that the previous administration didn’t. He, along with the similarly aged new mayor of Crested Butte, Aaron Huckstep, have a real opportunity to work together and bring some new life and energy to this place. Throw in cooperation between Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison, the county and perhaps even the college and things feel different. The collaboration model worked last summer and that energy should be taken into the winter.
As pointed out in a recent Notions column, the people who come here really appreciate the “character” of Crested Butte. It is real and it is still here. We have a long way to go before we can go toe-to-toe with the Aspens, Park Cities and Vails in terms of ski resort amenities. We probably will never be able to compete in that arena. They have too much terrain compared to us and have had way more money thrown in their cauldron. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit back and watch the numbers shrink here and rise there. With some new energy and hard work by those who can make a difference, Crested Butte can entice more clientele by building its product. That doesn’t mean selling out and plastering up some Euro-feel buildings, but it does mean thinking about how to be the unique, character-filled place that draws people who want a real Colorado adventure experience. A product with a character that reflects this place will set us apart.
I was in Vail a few weekends ago and the place blew me away. It was high-end and frankly, quite nice. If I had a wallet full of cash, I could see the appeal and even the charm. But like parts of Disneyland, I was ready to get out of there after a few days. Crested Butte can learn from the good things places like that have done and stay true to its roots.
Giving people a memorable experience with more things to do while they’re here is a good idea. Making them comfortable counts. Not everyone will be comfortable in a place with painted buses and runs named Body Bag. Working together or coming up with new and interesting draws like Yoga Rocks the Butte, an expanded Grand Traverse, a high-end snowcat operation at Irwin, or a revived Songwriter’s Festival is a great start. They all speak to this place.
Real people. Honest product. That’s a smart focus—because we sure can’t compete with size and high-end amenities. That’s not part of our reality right now.
Now, going beyond simple optimism, the ski area still sets the tone up here. The new blood heading up CBMR can help change the company’s old perception at this end of the valley and in the county as a whole if it wants to put in some work and open itself up a bit. CBMR is still the big dog at this end of the valley, but everyone wants to speak his or her peace and at least be heard about how to get to the next level.
Ski area executives might consider the suggestion I’ve heard on the street for a “Town Hall meeting” in early December (during a slow time after the opening). It could be a place for citizens to brainstorm and the ski area to listen and perhaps take a few notes. It shouldn’t be a debate or dialogue. You can bet CBMR would get a bit of criticism and more than a few crackpot ideas—but the execs may actually hear a really good idea or two that has never been thought of before. That would make it worthwhile and be another example of inviting the community into the fold to collaborate toward success and bring a real community a bit closer together…
Seeing Huck and Ethan share a drink (at an Irwin event, no less) and talk about future potential is cause for real optimism. But optimism is a feeling we all have at the start of a new season. Heck, I hear it’s going to be another huge La Niña snow year.
Now it is time to take that optimism and turn it into something real. Real like Crested Butte.