By Dawne Belloise
Will Shoemaker pronounces his north-central Indiana hometown in his best Hoosier accent, “La-Fee-ette” and explains that it’s a twin city with West Lafayette, where Purdue University’s campus is. His mom was a special education high school teacher and his father owned a small grocery store chain that he conceptualized when selling roadside fruit as a middle school student. Will was a sports-oriented kid, playing team sports, soccer and wrestling, throughout high school. However, he later became more interested in outdoor sports. “My parents were avid skiers and I had an uncle in Denver so our family vacations were mostly skiing everywhere in Colorado and all over the central Rockies.”
By the time he was in high school, Will was snowboarding full-time. He also became a rock climber and a mountain biker. “We had rock climbing gyms about a 45-minute drive away and on weekends my friends and I would drive to Red River Gorge in Kentucky, five hours away, to climb.”
During spring break 1999, in his senior year of high school, he and a couple of friends drove out to Crested Butte and on their way into Gunnison noticed Western State College (now Western Colorado University) and decided it would be a good thing to be skiing while getting a degree. Will had been to Crested Butte twice previously on family vacations, for both skiing and biking, but it was the drive out with his friends that year that convinced him to eventually move. “That trip was what led me to decide that I was going to live in Colorado one day. I was into rock climbing, skiing and mountain biking so why would you stay in the Midwest?”
He enrolled at Purdue not knowing what path he would take, “but Mom, being an educator, had experience in cultivating that next step. She lined up an interest and aptitude test. It spit out about a dozen possible career choices. I don’t remember a single one except journalist. I had no experience in writing, not even for the high school newspaper or yearbook, but I decided to pursue it. They had a broad field of communications programs but not a journalism program.” However, there was a unique opportunity in the independent student-run daily newspaper that was funded through an endowment and served as the primary newspaper for West Lafayette.
“As a freshman at Purdue, I went to work for the Purdue Exponent. It was actually a paid-per-article job. It was a unique opportunity because there were city, county, sports and editorial desks run by student editors. Each had five or six reporters working for them. It was a large organization and extremely eye-opening for me. It laid the foundation for the career I would pursue.”
But during his sophomore year, Will decided he just didn’t want to live in West Lafayette anymore. “I figured I’d get enough credits and transfer.” His friend, who was already in Gunnison at WSC, was feeding him snow reports, “and I came to the realization that Gunnison was where I needed to be.” So he packed up and headed west in 2002 with a plan to work enough to get in-state residency and then enroll at WSC.
“I ended up working for a little over a year. My first job was as a lift op at Monarch,” he recalls. In his second year, he became a snowboard instructor, working at Monarch for three seasons. In the summers he painted houses, mostly in Crested Butte, while also working at the Wet Grocer in Gunnison. It left him with little time to bike and climb.
When he finally achieved in-state residency, he enrolled at WSC, majoring in English, “because I was still interested in journalism but they only offered it as a minor,” and he graduated in 2006. During his time at WSC, Will served as news editor and managing editor for their newspaper, Top of the World. “I had received a Colorado Press Associate internship and scholarship, which resulted in an internship with the Gunnison Country Times in the summer of 2005.” During fall semester 2005 and spring 2006, he completed two additional internships with the Gunnison newspaper and after his graduation, they offered Will a job.
“I declined. I had always been attracted to the idea of living in Boulder County,” he explains. His girlfriend, now wife, Leora Wallace, wanted to pursue culinary school, so she enrolled in Boulder. “And my plan was that with my experience I thought I was going to roll into any job I wanted.” Will says.
Will interviewed with the Longmont Times-Call as an entry-level reporter. “The interview went great. We had already packed up our stuff to move and they called and said, we’ve given it to somebody else. I thought, what am I going to do now?”
They moved to Longmont anyway, and Will went on the job hunt. “I had experience as a bike mechanic, both in high school and at college so I took a job as bike mechanic, and continued sending my resume to anybody who would look at it in the Boulder-Denver-Metro area. After about three months, I got an interview and job offer from Metro West newspapers, owned by Landmark Communications. I took it.”
He was covering county and city governments and was a general assignment reporter for the north Denver area. “I loved it. It was continuation of the work I had done. What I didn’t like was the commute.” The company was based in Brighton, which was 35 miles from his home in Longmont. “We were spending most of our time in the mountains west of Boulder and really didn’t like the congestion on the Front Range. We reached the realization that we were going to end up in the mountains again.”
About a year later, they took a trip back to the Gunnison Valley to see friends, and about that same time, they both applied for and received job offers, which enabled them to move back in 2007. “Chris Dickey offered me a job at the Gunnison Country Times as a general assignment reporter and my wife was offered a job at a Crested Butte restaurant.” They were finally spending their summers riding bikes and skiing hard every winter. The couple bought a house in Gunnison and in 2011, Will was promoted to editor.
Will started helping his friend Kyle Jones with marketing and communications in 2016 for his Cold Smoke splitboards. “I really enjoyed the work and around the same time I joined the board of directors of the Crested Butte Snowsports Foundation. Through that responsibility, I served as chair of the marketing and public relations committee. It was jointly between my experience with Cold Smoke and the Snowsports Foundation that I realized I really enjoyed the idea of working with communications and marketing within the outdoor industry.” So when Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s senior communications specialist left this past fall, Will applied and was hired.
After all his journalism experience throughout college and his twenties and thirties, Will felt it was a hard decision to leave that career, “but I’m not a person that does well without occasional change. I was at a point in time with my life that I felt like I needed a change and I saw a field of work that sounded really appealing to me, that I had some experience with, so I knew that I needed to pursue that opportunity.” It was outdoor recreation that drew Will to the Gunnison Valley and initially, he says, “That was part of my decision to move into this other line of work. I saw it as an opportunity to bring my passion and career closer together.”
These days Will’s not into mountain biking as much as he is trail running. “Most of my time in summer months is spent on running trails. Over the past decade, most of the time I spend skiing is in the backcountry. To be able to snowmobile up and over and access the Anthracites, and coming over Ohio Pass in the winter, it’s so quiet. In the fall I spend a lot of time hunting for big game. I started hunting white tail deer when I was growing up in Indiana. When I moved out here, I refocused on elk and particularly archery hunting. I get a tag every year either for deer or elk,” Will says. He also loves to fish. “Gunnison River is one of my favorites, from Almont to Blue Mesa, because there’s such a high concentration of fish.”
What Will loves about living in the Gunnison Valley is what most feel is important. “It’s the tight-knit community, the endless recreational opportunities and the character of the people who live here. I think you’ve got to be pretty gritty to enjoy living in a place like the Gunnison Valley on a year-round basis. I feel that goes all the way back to the miners and ranchers who moved here a hundred or more years ago. It’s reflected in the fact that we were never a gold and silver mining town, we were a coal mining town. It’s reflected in the harshness of the climate—winters are tough and the valley is often the coldest place in the nation. The mountains north of Crested Butte get tons of feet of snow in the winters. And we don’t have those larger population centers that offer a lot of comfort and convenience. We instead have Teocalli Tamale and that sign that may be on their door on a powder day that says they’re closed because the employees went skiing.”