As one person said to me this past week, “I thought I’d accept the challenge in your last editorial.” So we sat down to chat on Elk Avenue last Friday. There were several others who called or commented to me about the idea of the future of the upper valley. Some were worried, while others said it was all moving fine and the “doom and gloom” aspect of the current vibe was over the top. Refined, it comes down to a few issues, and here is what I heard. These are the main ideas distilled by me… both short-term and for the long haul.
1. Everyone wants a ski area here. People like what it brings and understand the economic driver that it provides. But almost everyone stated that CBMR needs to be more positive in its message to the general “tourist” public. Go ahead and work the system and file the appeals over the Snodgrass decision and even go to court if necessary but stop sending out the message in the New York Times and Denver Post of how unfair the Forest Service has been to you and how little terrain there is here. Hit the reset button. Send a positive message about this great place to attract people here again.
2. One fellow who has been a big supporter of lifts on Snodgrass is now expressing fear that the current ownership/management group will spend all their time, money and resources on battling Snodgrass as the rest of the hill falls into disrepair. “I think I’m now against Snodgrass because I want to live in a ski town,” he said.
3. The most prevalent feeling is to think out of the box, look to the future and get ahead of it. As author Thomas Friedman says, the world is flat and getting flatter. Historical concepts are becoming irrelevant. People want to visit this valley, live in this valley and raise their kids here, but many work globally. People want to vacation here but stay in touch with the London office. Accommodate that shift. Go first-rate wireless everywhere from Gunni or Crested Butte South to Gothic. Prioritize local government funds on that type of infrastructure. Installing new turn lanes at the Four-way is nice infrastructure but installing lightening-fast wireless and seamless video conferencing is better infrastructure.
The valley should look at attracting what is coming and not use the map that worked at other places in the 1980s, 1990s or in 2007. Be ahead of the other resorts. Think new economy. There are a lot of smart people here who could probably give very specific ideas of how to stay ahead of the curve.
Be a leader in the future of what a mountain resort can offer. Be a family mountain destination that is part old wooden beams above the fireplace in the lodge, part historic mining town and part new generation iPad.
4. The Prime the Pump theory. In the worst economic climate in decades, the towns and regulating agencies should relax some of the rules. For example, lighten up the sign ordinance for a year. Hanging a banner promoting community events at the Four-way Stop or Second and Elk is not going to ruin the character of the town. Charge half price for business licenses during the next six months. Give a one-space break for parking fees through the end of the year for businesses looking to expand. People trying to earn a living here have some bloody knuckles. Throw them a Band-Aid.
5. Accept the fact that subdividing the west doesn’t work and isn’t the right thing to do. Accept the fact that Crested Butte is one of the harder places to get to on vacation and so fewer people will want to take a day each way for travel. Accept that instead of 1,500 people living in town, it might be better suited for 1,000 and there will be two places to get coffee in the morning instead of five. Accept that this is part of Crested Butte’s attractiveness. Stay rustic. Stay green. Stay cool. The model of preservation and conservation has worked well for Crested Butte and becomes only more valuable with each year. Sales tax is off from last year but is significantly higher than not that long ago. Those who remain here will enjoy a nice quality of small town life. Be a small ski area that attracts people who like what we have.
6. Cultivate real adventure. Be the brand. Zip lines from Paradise to Goldlink. Give the people something that says adventure. Offer free ski lessons to get people onto Staircase and Big Chute. Once they ski that, the intermediate terrain in Breckenridge will be boring and they’ll be back. Groom the customer and live up to the brand. The numbers will start ticking back up.
Again, these are ideas and concerns I heard this week from people on each side of the fence. The crux is that each suggested action requires a stated goal and direction. As one longtime local said to me at the post office: “There comes a time when you have to stop taking courses and pick a direction to graduate.”
The alternative I suppose, is to spend our time arguing about where to light the fireworks.