Giving thanks

Despite a pandemic that has certainly brought a tainted hue to 2020 along with a divided presidential election and even local sniping over political and administrative decisions, there is a lot to be thankful for up here in the Rocky Mountains. Aside from family and friends, who make it all better wherever you live, here are a few others:

Joni Reynolds and the public health team in the county. Under Joni’s steady leadership this county has navigated its way through extremely turbulent coronavirus waters. Gunnison County was one of the three most impacted counties in the entire country when the pandemic began at the end of last winter. A broad group of people came together under Joni and began the hard process of making decisions to slow the spread of the virus in the valley while paying attention to the business and personal side of things. This, while some of our neighbors were dying or dealing with COVID ramifications that hobbled them for weeks and months. While not every decision was spectacular (can you say second homeowner postcard?), the overall guidance steered us to a place where Gunnison County avoided many of the traps seen in other places. The economy, on many fronts, actually has done pretty well the last six months. Joni took a lot of heat early on, most of it coming from those in an understandable place of fear, but she took it in stride and stayed focused to the benefit of all of us. Even now with big positive numbers in November, the team has used testing and contact tracing to keep a handle on the spike. Joni and her team have done a phenomenal job under the incredible pressure of a 2020 pandemic. We are lucky and I for one am thankful to them all.

Snow. Not everyone in the world gets excited when they get out of bed and see a half-foot of heavy snow in the driveway. But if you live here you probably do, and that was the scene Tuesday as a surprise six came in overnight. That little dump will actually help set up a good base over the rocks in Phoenix Bowl and on the Last Steep. Most of us living here understand the dozens of names for different types of snow and we are lucky to be in a place where the more snow we get, the better it is. Bring it.

Living at 9,000 feet in the mountains. Choosing to live in or visit a village in the high mountains of the American West is not always easy but it sure is rewarding. The raw natural beauty, the interesting people, the opportunities to avoid the mainstream are all a blessing. We may not always get along with all of our neighbors all of the time, but we mostly understand how special it is to make the same choice to be here. It is “easier” to be in the city if you want quick access to “things,” but here we get experience. Sometimes the experience is pushing a snow shovel at 7 a.m. Other times it is finding peace in the aspens during a quiet winter’s storm. Buying a pair of underwear might be hard but sharing your backyard with wild animals is not. We have the opportunity to experience a postcard small town where you can walk the main street and be sure to run into someone you know. Your successes are celebrated by the village and if by chance you need help, the village will be there. It may seem claustrophobic at times but the positives outweigh any negative even in this time of fast change—so take the time to draw in a deep breath and remember what it means to live in an interesting place full of interesting characters.

The ski area. Okay, this one will likely get some pushback, especially since the ski area is now owned by the corporate giant, Vail Associates which has brought some buttoned-down attitude to a weird place. But VA has money along with experience and has put both to good use on the hill. I am a resort skier and appreciate being able to ride chairlifts (that don’t stop three times each ride) to the top of a mountain to ski.
Of course some things don’t always translate well here. Some bureaucratic red tape was put in place over things that used to be done with a wink and a handshake. This season’s “reservation” system still has some kinks to work out—maybe use text alerts for those that sign up when there is actually space on the lifts even when reservations say it is full but isn’t—but Vail’s local management team is trying to run a ski area during a pandemic! Show them some grace.
Overall, the ski resort team is doing what it can to make the ski mountain a better experience for skiers and not trying to quash the funky downtown community character. It understands the value of the Extreme Limits terrain and is not ignoring it to groom another run off of Painter Boy. They want as much as us to keep that resort open this year and are trying everything they can. Hopefully they stay nimble and keep the things that work and ditch those that don’t. So yes, I am optimistic, and thankful.

Issue awareness. Whether it is something like climate change impacts or the state of people of color who are part of this community, the valley is not always blinded beneath a fairy tale. Hard discussions are being held and decisions being made to address real issues. Sure, it would be easier to ignore the hard conversations (says the middle-aged white guy who likes being warm in the high mountain climate) but people here generally want to do the right thing and aren’t afraid to try to figure out how. That might mean some disagreements over policy and direction but the leaders of the community haven’t shied away from the issues. And while I’ll maintain it is difficult to claim the mantle of being an environmentalist when we live in a place that takes sometimes extraordinary effort to live and make a living in a climate sense, we can do what we can.
Not only should we be taking concrete actions, but we can use our unique stage to send good messages through good examples for people from around the world who come to visit. And that applies to climate, support for people of color, figuring out how to maintain a deep community as the economic disparity between community members widens, or just being welcoming.

All the groups working to make the valley a better place. There are too many to name and they run the gamut, from helping people overcome food insecurity, to keeping people safer in the backcountry or providing a physical place for community organizations to hold their events in a safe and socially distanced manner during the pandemic. The latest organization to pop up is a group of folks who have been getting together since last March to “try to spread the light, love and connectivity in the Gunnison Valley.” Called the Gunnison Valley Resiliency Project, their goal is certainly worthy. Their latest brainstorm idea is to help spread light and love by distributing luminarias around the solstice. And they are well on the way to success, with more than 7,000 little bags of light being ordered for people up and down the valley. So here’s a quick nod of thanks to them and the scores of local non-profits and other groups of neighbors putting in their time to help make our lives and the lives of people who struggle a little bit better.

Lack of political signs. And finally, perhaps the thing to be most thankful for as we approach the holiday season is that it appears all the political election signs on Highway 135 have been taken down. Whew—and just before the heavy snow. It took longer than normal, but hey, we can now travel between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte without the plethora of political billboards. Thank you.

We are blessed to be in a good place filled with good people. Not everyone has that luxury—so try to appreciate it all.
Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone.

—Mark Reaman

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