Hitting this summer’s sweet spot…

The sweet spot is a place where a combination of factors results in a maximum response for a given amount of effort. In tennis, baseball or golf, a given swing will result in a more powerful hit if the ball strikes the racket, bat or club on the latter’s sweet spot.

Sometimes more is better. Like at our last softball game when more runs for us would have been better. But that’s another story you can read in the Sports Barrel.

In the bigger picture, sometimes less is more. I think that might be the case this summer. I think in mid July, the middle of the peak summer season, we are seeing a sweet spot.

In a totally unscientific survey conducted early this week so I could get out of the hot office and into the mountain village postcard that is Crested Butte in July, I did a little walk-about. Dropping into a random dozen businesses, I wanted to know if my perception was right. It seems to me there are fewer people here this summer than last. And I surmised that could hurt local businesses and workers. I was told by the vast majority of businesspeople that they had a similar perception—but that it was actually a good thing.

What? Business owners and workers saying that fewer people in town than the year before is an okay thing? How could that be?

Well, while everyone said it also seemed to them that the number of people here was down, their actual business numbers were the same or even a bit better, for the most part.

The thing that the business owners liked as much as anything was that the frenetic, sometimes crazy energy that permeated this place last year seemed to be absent. Tourists were more relaxed. The wait for dinner might be a half hour instead of two hours. Instead of a line out the door, the perfect volume was three people in line and guess what… there were three people in line all day. I can attest that the traffic on the road toward 401 this weekend was a lot less than any day last summer. And the people riding or hiking that treasure were all nice and appreciative.

One restaurateur called it a “higher steady.” It’s certainly early in our summer season, but I’ll say maybe this summer is hitting the sweet spot.

You know how when you are someplace new and looking for a good bar or restaurant? You don’t want to go into the empty one just because there’s a seat. You don’t want to go into the overflowing one where chances are it’s four deep and you can’t get a drink. You want that place with one table left and a happy crowd of people enjoying themselves. That might be Crested Butte this summer.

Last year I wrote extensively about the danger of eating ourselves to death. Inviting more and more people to crowd into our valley seemed unwise. Exceeding our carrying capacity seemed like it would destroy what brings people here.

We are so far off the beaten path that we depend on peddling a funky but good experience. The last couple of summers felt overdone. Frankly, workers were stressed and snappy and visitors were impatient and seemed more demanding than normal. The backcountry was getting pounded, the streets were hot and crowded, and no one seemed to be enjoying themselves. That’s not good for anyone.

My theory is that two things brought us all those people last summer. Like it or not, Whatever USA made this place look über cool and made people want to check out Crested Butte. So they did. I also think the Rocky Mountain Super Pass that got a ton of Front Range skiers here in the winter piqued their interest to check out this sweet mountain town in the summer. So they did.

Now, when they got here—with thousands and thousands of their closest friends—they had to deal with long waits for lunch and dinner, no place to park, so many cars in the backcountry that some felt compelled to drive around into the meadows, the only tent site was a couple feet from a stranger’s tent, human poop in the woods and just too much city and not enough mountain.

So a lot of them probably chose not to return.

But the people here this summer are reaping the rewards of that choice.

And so are the people who live here.

There always seems to be one parking space open on Elk Avenue. One seat at the bar, one person in line at the t-shirt shop. The vibe at the Base Area is busy but not crowded. Most visitors are nice, and respectful, and enjoying the place. The trails are full but not filled with angry people. The stores are selling goods and the restaurants are steadily serving food and drink without people asking every five minutes if their table is ready. That’s a sweet spot.

Will it continue? Hopefully. I do not miss last summer. The community came together last fall to discuss and act on the overcrowding issue. I think most people here are having fun this summer. There are still some people driving too fast, some people being impatient and some workers getting a tad snippy. But overall, it is a pretty pleasant change to see fewer numbers of people but local business doing well. That is hitting the ball smack in the middle of the sweet spot.

I have written before that more is not always better. This summer seems to be bearing that out…and that’s a good thing.

—Mark Reaman

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