The hostel, October snow and a crossroads…

It is too bad that the Crested Butte Hostel workforce housing deal fell through. The idea was to purchase the building and use the facility for seasonal workforce housing. Initiated by a group of second homeowners along with local entrepreneur Kyleena Falzone, the building would follow in the mold of the old Ruby Bed and Breakfast that is providing six rooms and nine beds of communal living for local employees.

The hostel would have added about three-dozen more pillows to the workforce housing pool. While it appears the Ruby will soon be leased up, it isn’t exactly creating the longest of waiting lists. It seems the combination of government restrictions, relatively strict living rules in the model of the Ruby and a not cheap price for the real estate contributed to the termination of the hostel contract. Fair.

The communal living situation isn’t for everyone, but it could have helped fill a niche in the broad scope of the North Valley’s affordable housing needs. Not everyone is going to get the two-bedroom apartment in Mt. Crested Butte’s new Homestead project (actually we’re not sure if anyone will get one given the pace of building and how far behind schedule the development is). Not everyone deserves (or can truly afford) a three-bedroom house with a fenced-in yard at Paradise Park.

The Ruby and Hostel housing situation however provides opportunity for what I think of as the traditional ski bum workers that make the place tick when the lifts start spinning. It could be the J1s coming in from another country here on an adventure or the 19-year-old kid from Topeka taking a gap year in a ski resort before putting the nose to the grindstone.

While I wouldn’t want to do it now, I lived in that type of communal living situation in a ski resort in my 20’s and it was a great life experience. I’d recommend it. It was cheap, it cemented my love for the mountains and it brought me many wonderful worldwide relationships that thrive to this day. For me, that is the misfortune of the hostel deal falling through. Like the disappearing “hippie houses” that provide shelter and companionship for people trying out Crested Butte, it is one more sign that the traditional ski town vibe is slipping away to be replaced by a luxury housing market feel.

As an old(er) ski bum (sort of), Tuesday morning’s wind and snow made the heart beat a little faster. I’m not yet ready to hang up the bike and the weather forecast says I might get a few more Hartman trips in but seeing it dump as the wind howled brought anticipation of being in line at the NFL as the weather weeds out the tourists and everyone is surrounded by familiar faces. But that feeling too brought up the concern the place is moving away from its ski and bike town roots to be a comfortable luxury housing community.

Part of it was reading about the Mt. CB master plan discussion, where a big portion of the initial focus seems to be on the base area by the ski lifts. Fair enough. But the conversation appears centered on making it look nice. I wonder how they’ll tear down the old condo and business buildings to make a new entrance and a modern “arrival plaza” in the base area. That sounds pretty darn expensive. Who gets to pay for that and what would they want in return? The conversation seems more focused on the shiny objects of making something look better than it does now (not too hard at the moment BTW) instead of incentivizing changes that draw people up to enjoy the place.

The idea that makes sense to me, and one that has been discussed in the process is focusing on returning energy and activity to the base area. People will find the mountain if there is something worth finding.

Believe it or not, the Mt. Crested Butte base area was once the place to hang out and have fun during the ski season. There were places to après ski whether you wanted to do shots or have an intimate white tablecloth high-end dinner. There was a place for families to change into their ski boots and have lunch with a piece of pizza and hot chocolate to complement their brown bags. But as has been pointed out before, the “fun” was torn down to make room for more condos and parking. But if there is not much to do for the people buying the condos, how long will they keep buying the condos? I’m not hearing that Vail is opening new, fun places at the base area and they didn’t hop on helping the hostel even when they might have a hard time finding workers. Are they leading or following in addressing community challenges? What incentives can a town government use to get people to want to open businesses there? How much longer will this be a ski town and not a luxury club for people of means if we’re not careful?

I get that it’s not 1992 anymore and most now expect many of the softer comforts that have come with recent development. But a ski town needs more than skiing. It needs working people as part of the community and fun things to do after a day on the hill. It needs choices for food and places to chill and places to get wild.

We are at the crossroads of the seasons…and maybe a crossroads for the long-term culture of place. We are fortunate to have geographic gems like Hartman’s available in the valley to extend the warm season opportunities. We are fortunate to have a ski area that hasn’t entirely smoothed out all the rough edges and still relies on T-bars and some hiking to access the goods in stormy weather. But the challenge is obviously keeping the ski/bike town unique and real and that means supporting places for workers of all stripes to live along with the providing the “fun” of a resort community.

—Mark Reaman

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