Monday morning I got a text after skinning up the resort that someone had paid tribute to Schnoid and skied his regular early morning line on Red Lady. Heading home I looked to the bowl and saw a set of tracks in the spot Jeff would normally ski before his early morning work shift. The turns appeared to be in his style – tight and straight. Whether on purpose or not, I took it as a tribute to a good man that is missed — a neighbor revered for his humor and his knowledge who left this world with his boots on after a tragic avalanche earlier this winter. Seeing those tracks gave me a reason to say a little prayer to Schnoid and his family and friends. That guy always made me feel good. For that I am grateful.
Saturday is March 6. It will be the 31st anniversary of a dark day in Crested Butte that took three of our neighbors when the Crested Butte State Bank exploded. The brick building at the corner of Sixth and Elk was a pile of rubble after an explosion destroyed the building when apparently a spark from a light switch ignited a pool of leaking propane. Three ladies, Jade Woelk, Donna Smith and Monica Henning lost their lives in that tragedy. They are the reason there is a Three Ladies Park in Crested Butte. The town was shaken to its core. Many of our neighbors today were in that building on that day and miraculously survived. I will say a little prayer for each of them this Saturday and be grateful I occasionally see them smile as we pass on Elk Avenue.
It was almost a year ago that this valley became one of the hottest spots in the country with the coronavirus. It was in this month of 2020 that we lost the first of the five counted neighbors to COVID. It is still hard to believe I didn’t see Mikey heading into his shop across from my office just a few days ago. Again, just thinking about him gives me a chance to let the Universe know how lucky I feel that he and I had the opportunity to chat often in his shop or on the trails.
For many, Crested Butte is a fantasy. And while true to some extent, that’s not the whole picture. It’s not the total reality.
We are on the cusp of spring break. The streets and slopes will be crowded with families and students taking a break from their pandemic schooling and Zoom work schedules. They’ll be coming here to get outside and have fun. This place will happily accommodate that.
At the same time all the data points to a dramatic rise of new people moving here to call Crested Butte and its surroundings, home. The so-called Zoom Boom is attracting people of means to nice places. Crested Butte is a nice place and it now takes means to move here. The ones I’ve met recently have been great and are comfortable here in nature at the end of the road. That’s honestly a good thing but it sure is changing the place quickly from what it was 1, 5 or 20 years ago.
I put this all out there because as the valley changes so fast it is important for people, both the newbies and the old-timers, to embrace the reality of place. We are a deep community and like any good community there is laughter and joy but also sadness and tears. We are not immune from tragedy and when we lose a neighbor, whether in the backcountry, to sickness or in a tragic accident, it hits here harder because we are so small. We may not know everyone here intimately but we know almost everyone here. And every soul that chooses to be here contributes to making this the special place it is.
So as we approach the anniversary of the bank explosion, this is just a quick reminder to take that breath and appreciate the good and the unexpected that comes to a special place high in the Rocky Mountains. We are blessed with abundant beauty and a community that is tight. The new transplants will soon understand that what really makes this place special – isn’t just the views – it is the people. Losing any of our neighbors is a fresh reminder to appreciate this life. Not everyone gets to live here and be surrounded by splendor and like-minded people.
Crested Butte is a town of life, full of vibrancy and activity but it is also real. Being real brings both joy and grief, celebration and loss. Do not forget to respect and embrace both sides of the coin that makes this place what it is. Whether you see it as good or bad, it just is. And it is a pretty wonderful place. Look, I certainly don’t like every change that we are seeing right now but that’s part of the reality and I’ll take this reality over fantasy every time.
Take that breath. Honor the past. Remember the real things and the neighbors that have helped shape us…and say a little prayer of appreciation this weekend. You are in a really good place with really good people.