Anyone can ski powder: Part II—Revisited

Dear Than,
First of all, happy 40th birthday. You have been an amazing friend and advisor for over 16 years. As a birthday tribute, I decided to bust out an old editorial that you inspired six years ago. Thanks for helping me see that the glass is not just half-full, but that the glass is overflowing. So, here it is from the Golden Vault in fresh ink at the start of a fresh ski season. Have a great winter, old timer.

Your brother,

(Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran November 22, 2002 but it sure seems pertinent today…)

It’s snowed five feet since September. Last year by this time, it hadn’t snowed five inches. In preparation for last winter’s ski season, Than Acuff, one of the local producers of our weekly small town pulp, wrote an editorial entitled, “Anyone can ski powder.”
Anyone can ski powder? What? That’s like saying, “You may only go around once, so get plenty of sleep.”
For some, Than’s title was confusing, but for me it’s crystal clear and has been since I first heard it at the end of a backcountry run two years ago. The conditions were wind-crusted, breakable, heinous. When we got to the bottom, I turned to Than.
“WELL?!” he responded like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. “Well, let’s take another run. Anyone can ski powder!”

This winter might be huge. This winter might not be huge. But here comes the one-question test: Can you be a positive member of this community through a few tough or lean years? As a friend of mine always says, “When the going gets tough, the tough turn pro.” Let’s turn pro this winter.
I’m not in Salt Lake City, Lake Tahoe, or Vail for a reason. No, “This is not Vail.” This is Crested Butte—a tough old mining town turned resort town that has seen its fair share of booms and busts. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m staying.
I’ll teach your children; I’ll play you tunes on KBUT; I’ll say “hi” on Elk Avenue; I’ll welcome the new ski bums this fall like I was welcomed during the mid and late ‘80s by those that came before me and stayed—Vic and Candy Shepard, Frank Magri, Gary Prechter, Xavier Fane, Dean Kooiman, Jimmy Faust, George Reinhardt, Glo Cunningham, Steve Griggs, Jill Barr, Art Thilquist, Dave Scheefer, Angie Hornbrook, Mark Hochradel, Tuck, Aaron Lypps… the list goes on and on and on. But here’s the punch line. All of those who acted as my “welcoming committee” 15 or 16 years ago are still here today making Crested Butte a bit more colorful, fun, funky, kind, and real.
It’s not about powder. It’s about a history that has heart and soul. It’s about bringing something to the party. It’s about giving back to the town. It’s about being kind to people. It’s about skiing on a nasty day and loving it. It’s about appreciating the raw beauty of this valley. It’s about remembering your first winter. It’s about having the humility to know that the goofy label of “local” doesn’t mean a darn thing. It’s about getting off the better-than, “I’ve been here 16 years” trip and realizing that you’re just one, small member of a larger, ever-changing, and often dysfunctional family. I’m no better than the Texas tourist or the sledneck or the second homeowner on the hill or the new hippie in town. No, this is not Vail or Sun Valley or Monarch or Dry Hill, N.Y. or Toledo or Newark. This is Crested Butte. Any more questions?
A lot of people these days are nervous about the future. Will the economy bounce back? Are we going to war with Iraq? Why did I invest in the stock market? Are my T-shirts going to sell? Do I dare disturb the universe?
What does the 2002-2003 winter season have in store for us? The fact is we really don’t know. But, let’s help usher in a self-fulfilling prophecy of positivity, hope, and bliss rather than that of negativity, fear, and despair.
Anyone can ski powder?
Yes, that odd paradox is the essence of my 16-year experience in Crested Butte. I’m not here for annual snowfall or the potential for upward mobility. I live in Crested Butte because as James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, says, it’s “got soul, and it’s super bad.” I live in Crested Butte because its natural beauty has saturated every cell of my body. Words cannot express my gratitude for this valley, town, and its people. Yeah, I can ski powder. You just lean back and wiggle. How hard is that?
So put down the national newspaper for a minute. Say “hi” to the new 22-year-old ski bum in town. Have faith that the economy will bounce back (think globally; ski and shop locally). Take a good, long look at Paradise Divide. And when the eager newcomer gives you his best Opie Taylor look and proclaims, “Gosh, I hope it snows a lot this winter,” put on your best Clint Eastwood face and say, “Hey, kid, anyone can ski powder. Welcome to the greatest ski town in the West.”
No, this is not Vail. This is Crested Butte. Pure and simple. If it dumps this winter, great. If it doesn’t dump, great. Many of us live in the Gunnison Valley for reasons which words simply cannot express. So why bother? Have a great winter. I’ll see you in the lift line. Until then, stay positive, stay tenacious, stay open-minded, stay human.

Patrick O’Neill

Crested Butte skier, teacher, DJ, citizen

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