The Class of COVID: How CB’s 2020 graduates changed course

[ By Kendra Walker ]

When COVID-19 first hit Crested Butte a year ago, the 2020 senior class faced a challenging wrap-up to the end of their time at the Crested Butte Community School – online classes, cancelled sports, virtual celebrations that should have been in person. While the end of high school is meant to be a crossroads, none of us, especially our 2020 graduates, ever imagined the difficult decisions that a global pandemic would add to figuring out the next chapter. But this resilient group of kids took it in strides, and has managed to make lemonade out of COVID lemons. Some are crushing it in school amid COVID protocols, some are working, some are helping others in need, and some are traveling and doing what most of us wish we had done after high school. Here’s a snapshot of what some of the 2020 senior class has been up to this past year.

Out of state at UVA
Some graduates continued with their original plans, moving on into higher education. One such student is Livie Nute, who last spring had already committed to attend the University of Virginia (UVA) in the fall.
“Last summer, I went back and forth whether I should apply for a gap year or just go ahead and hope there are some fragments of normalcy,” she says. “Most of my friends took a gap year, so there definitely was a sense of missing out but I felt I was ready for a change.” Livie decided to go ahead with her original plans and is now in her second semester at UVA.

“It’s been great and I definitely don’t regret my decision. But there’s certainly been some adjustments and really recognizing that the pandemic is not over. For first semester I was completely online and most extra curriculars and clubs were operating online as well. The hardest part was meeting peers because so much of it was reaching out over text.”

But Livie says there’s been a positive shift this second semester. “Three out of my five classes are in person, with spaced out seating.” She’s joined an outdoors club on campus, and has gone paddle boarding, rock climbing and skiing with the group. “That’s been super nice to actually have in-person connections again,” she says.

Livie says the university has done a good job of adjusting its operations this year for COVID. She says they’re taking it pretty seriously; everyone is required to get tested once a week, you have to be masked wherever you go and obey social gathering sizes. While protocols are similar to Crested Butte, Livie says Charlottesville is a ghost town compared to Elk Avenue last summer.

Livie lives in a dorm suite with six other students, and says while she is grateful for the interaction, it can be tricky to navigate a shared living space while taking online classes and exams.

Livie hopes to major in global development studies, with a concentration in public health and female reproductive rights. “What drew me to UVA was their global courses offered here. I’d like to learn more about expanding female access to health care on a global level,” she said.

Livie plans to stay in Charlottesville over the summer. “But I definitely miss Crested Butte,” she says. “The hardest adjustment was that a lot of people come from in-state in Virginia. It was hard knowing that I grew up in such an amazing place and people had never even heard of it. I still love Crested Butte and all my friends there.”

Changing it up on island time
For Mya Schaffer, the pandemic instigated a change from her original post-graduation plans.
“Back in the spring I was planning to go to CU Boulder. I was already enrolled, had my housing lined up and all my classes picked out,” she says. But when the school sent out an email announcing that classes would be online, Mya was not interested. “I’m really an in-person learner. So I decided I’d take a year off and get out of the town for a little while and see what else is out there.”

Over the summer, Mya worked at Pita’s in Paradise, and continued the job until the end of the year. At the beginning of January, she moved out to Honolulu, Hawaii with her fellow CBCS friend Emily Chang.

Mya took a job at a Japanese sandwich shop in Honolulu and is also working as a hotline advocate for the Colorado-based human trafficking organization, Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking. “When someone contacts the organization, we have a bunch of resources located all over Colorado to support mental health, shelter, food, etc.,” she explains. “We also take tips, and can report to the police if necessary. We are connecting people to resources, whether they are a community member and looking for information or a survivor looking for resources to get back on their feet.”

Compared to Crested Butte, Mya says Oahu feels a lot more laid-back with COVID because everyone is always hanging outside, but restaurants and businesses are still operating at limited capacities.

And for fun, “I’ve definitely been beaching, hiking around, exploring the island,” she says. She’s learning to surf, and proudly shares that she recently stood up for the first time on the board.

“I really do like the shift toward the beach climate,” says Mya. “I love Crested Butte, it will always be my home. But right now I’m not sure if I’ll go back, or to CU, or maybe I’ll go to the University of Hawaii. I’m just trying to live my best life, I might as well make the most of it and not plan too far ahead.”

Close to home at CU
Another student continuing on with higher education is Rena Elfenbein, who is currently attending the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU) studying molecular, cellular and developmental biology. “I’m on the pre-med track,” she says. “So fingers crossed I’ll end up in med school after graduation. I’m hoping to become a surgeon or a doctor.”

Rena moved to Boulder last August, but not without a close call. She explains she got exposed to COVID at work in Crested Butte about two weeks before headed to school. “It was a big scary thing not knowing whether I would get to move into my dorm,” she says.

Luckily, the coast was clear but Rena says that COVID has certainly changed everything at school. “I have to wear a mask everywhere I go. I can’t get into my dorm without a mask, I can’t get out of my dorm without a mask. I see friends on the street but I don’t recognize them! It’s really changed everything.”

But Rena has managed to find some social outlets at school, having recently joined a sorority on campus. “The sorority rushing process was all online,” she said. “We went on Zoom dates or had Facetime calls with the different sororities.” Rena joined Chi Omega, and has gotten to meet more people and attend social distance events through the Greek system. She has also attended some Shabbat events with a Jewish meet-up group.

“It still has been pretty difficult to meet people,” she says. “I understand why a lot of people didn’t want to come to school this year.”

Most of Rena’s classes are online, but she has one in-person class. She’s interested in joining the ski club next year, “It will be pretty fun to meet other people who like to ski.” Rena also hopes to study abroad at some point in the future when COVID is over. For now, she plans to stay in Boulder over the summer to work and maybe take a summer class.

On the road chasing powder
For former Crested Butte Mountain Sports teammates Kye Matlock, Holden Bradford and Dagan Schwartz, chasing powder has been the number one priority this year.

Dagan’s initial plan last year after graduation was to go to Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, and start working and snowboarding at Mt. Baker. “When COVID hit, school went to 95 percent online. So when I decided to take year off, I started road tripping a week later. I decided to just chase the snow – that’s what this year was going to be all about,” he says.

Last year, Kye had already decided he didn’t want to go to school right away and deferred a year to MSU. “Second semester senior year was online and I hated it so much,” he recalls. After graduation, Kye got a certification to be a wilderness firefighter in Salida and then decided to go to Alaska and fish for three months over the summer. Kye says he used his one paycheck working for his dad in Crested Butte toward purchasing an all-wheel-drive Chevy Astrovan. Kye spent the fall building it out and then met up with Dagan and fellow CBCS grad and teammate Holden Bradford this winter to begin their ultimate ski road trip.

Using storm-chasing apps to see where the most snow would fall, the trio traveled though Washington, hitting Mt. Baker, Crystal Mountain, Snoqualmie, Alpental, then down to Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, and on to California to Squaw Valley, Kirkwood and Alpine Meadows. “We just made our way toward wherever we thought it was going to hit. We got pretty good at it,” they recall. Then they hit up Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Alta outside of Salt Lake City. “Alta was legendary,” they said, recalling having the whole resort to themselves when the roads from Salt Lake had closed for two days.

Being on the road in times of COVID was an interesting experience, they say, but they stuck to their little group. “It depended on the state,” says Dagan. In Washington they wouldn’t let you in the ski base area lodges, only to go in and out to the bathroom. California was looser; lots of people weren’t wearing masks. And in Wyoming you could go in places and sit down.”

“Honestly, COVID makes road tripping a little tricky,” says Kye. “There are a lot of places you can’t camp anymore and we couldn’t go into public restrooms or use rec centers for showers.”

Looking back at this winter season, they agree that every day was better than the last. “I keep thinking, wow that day was the best, but then the next day might have been the best, and then the next day might have been better,” says Dagan. He recalls one late night pulling up to Snowqualmie after driving for 10 hours and realizing there was night skiing. “We immediately got out of the car, still in our street clothes, put our boots on and skied. After driving for 10 hours.”

Kye adds another experience, “We woke up at 6 a.m. in California and drove all the way to Jackson Hole from Tahoe. We got in at 2 a.m., slept a few hours and then woke up and skied all day.” The guys were in Jackson during the Natural Selection Tour competition. “That was super crazy to see those pros,” says Dagan. “Four of my favorite pros walked behind us and I was freaking out.” Meeting up with a former ski coach, they also got the hook-up and skied the venue before it opened up to the public. “We took six laps on a run that hadn’t been open all season,” says Kye. “With jumps built to launch with 4 feet of powder under you.”

The group just wrapped up their last week of travel together, now headed in different directions. Dagan will travel to Salt Lake to prep for his last eligible round of Freeride Junior World Championship in Verbier, Switzerland. “To be able to get over to Europe is why I’m doing it,” said Dagan. “To have an opportunity like this right now is huge.” Dagn says this winter has helped prep him in a lot of ways. “When you’re training with a team it’s definitely more intense and consistent, but at the same time when you’re just skiing what you want to ski you end up pushing yourself a lot.”

Kye is taking the opportunity to ski the Freeride World Qualifier adult competitions for the first time this spring. “I’ll see if I like them with the goal of doing the best I can and get my foot in the door with a ranking.” All of the competitions are within 20 days of each other, including one in Crested Butte on the March 29. “After that I don’t know what I’m doing,” he laughs.

But all in the all, the trio is glad for their time off. It’s really been great, we’re seeing places we wouldn’t have the chance to see if we were in school,” says Dagan. “We’re just flying by the seat of our pants.”

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